I start this post not with a story about marriage, but with a vulnerable story about parenting.
I do have a point about marriage, though, so hang in there with me.
I’ve felt humbled lately. And by lately, I mean the past three years.
You see, our youngest child has struggles. I wish I could say they were “run-of-the-mill strong-willed child” type of struggles, but I’m long beyond naivety of that shade.
He is 7, but from the time he was about 3, his defiance has been beyond challenging. It took 3 years to potty train him (and even now it is questionable if he truly is completely trained in that regard. That, however, is the least of our worries).
All of kindergarten last year and all of first grade this year, he has told us he hates school — to the point there are days when he would try to pull the fire alarm in the school if he is not restrained.
He is awkward socially — a prime candidate to be bullied, or to possibly be a bully someday.
Keep in mind, this is a kid being parented by good parents. Oh, we are not perfect (who is?), but as far as homes to be born into, this kid scored the jackpot.
He has two parents who love and respect each other, he has stability of a full tummy, a safe home, a warm bed and foundational Christian values.
We regularly pray for him and with him. We encourage him, laugh with him and listen to him.
We are his advocates in every possible way a kid like him could have an advocate.
He has structure and discipline. We are involved in his life, aware of his schoolwork and present in countless ways.
He has an extended family who loves him. He gets to do many of the activities typical of childhood… swim lessons, day camps at the zoo, baseball, fun family outings, holiday traditions and so forth.
And yet, his behavior is incredibly unpredictable. He is by every definition I could imagine, a tormented soul.
He can be delightfully kind and profoundly tender one moment; and have a complete lack of empathy and self-control the next. Incredibly volatile behavior.
We’ve been to counselors and child psychologists. We’ve had him tested for Asperger’s. We’ve ruled out ADHD and a slew of other conditions that would offer us textbook answers to his erratic behavior. Lately he is telling us he wants to harm himself. Can you even imagine what that does to our hearts? We find ourselves second-guessing, “Is it just a manipulative ploy? Or is it a sign of more pain to come?”
He is 7, people. 7.
What is my point and what on earth does this have to do with marriage?
Well, sometimes all the good parenting in the world is no guarantee that the struggles aren’t going to be intense with a child. Nature? Nurture? If someone walked in our shoes for 48 hours, their philosophical banter would vanish into thin air.
Such is true with marriage.
In some marriages, you can have one spouse who is doing all the “right” things… all the “textbook” things… all the things that clearly reflect God’s heart and design for marriage.
And yet, the struggles continue.
- The pain.
- The disappointment.
- The disconnect.
- The confusion.
There are no guarantees.
Now, I know that walking in the direction of health and righteousness, whether it be as a parent or as a spouse, certainly ups the odds that things will turn out nicely.
After all, I regularly write with such tone on this blog… that it is better to walk in the direction of health than to resort to destructive ungodly behavior. And often, heading in the direction of health does indeed open up the floodgates of unbelievable blessings.
All that being said, I just want to write a post of affirmation to those of you out there who are desperately and prayerfully trying to improve your marriage, all to no avail.
Nothing tangible that indicates a stable marriage is reflected in your life now — or on the horizon, as far as you can see.
Two steps forward is inevitably crushed by three or four steps back.
Things aren’t getting better. They may even be getting worse. A lot worse.
If that describes you, I pray you allow such tragic sadness to drive you toward the Savior.
As a parent in the midst of a heart-wrenching journey, I find that the Savior’s arms are all that are getting me through. Seriously.
I have to trust that someday, all of this will make sense to me. I’d prefer that “someday” be sooner than later, but maybe it all won’t get better… at least not this side of heaven. I have no choice but to prepare my heart that my “someday” with my son may not come in the way I long for it to come.
I try to lean toward optimism. But honestly… lately… I’m just leaning on the Lord.
He is consolation that the world has yet to give me. My hope is indeed in Him.
Where is your hope if things in your marriage don’t get better?
Copyright 2012, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog.
34 thoughts on “Crappy Marriage? What if it Doesn’t Get Better?”
Julie – Thanks for your vulnerability. You know we’re praying for you.
Julie, first let me say thank you! Your blog has changed my life and marriage. For good; for the better. Thank you!!!
Secondly, as I was reading your description about your son, I immediately thought of a friend of mine who has a son with similar issues. It turns out he has APD (auditory processing disorder). It’s very complicated, but a generic definition might be dyslexia for hearing. She’s been blogging about her family’s experience over at http://thebackgroundnoise.blogspot.com/
It might be worth at least checking out.
Thanks again Julie! You really have changed my marriage.
Julie, am praying for God’s daily grace, strength, wisdom for you and your husband in the midst of this, and that, Lord willing, a resolution would soon be found.
Julie – My prayers are with you and your family.
While the message certainly hits home and touches on things I would like to not be true, it’s nice to have someone post about just what reality may be so we can all look at things differently and accept what is. Thanks.
Julie, that must be very difficult for you. I do wonder, however…is your son saved? My brother was a very strong-willed little monster when he was younger. To the point that he would kick and scream at my mother and things like that. He grew up in a Christian home, but he had serious anger issues, even as a toddler. But he got saved at age 5 and he changed (almost overnight, it was that sudden). Jesus makes a difference, even at such a young age. Many parents don’t realize that children that young can understand the gospel and accept Christ and so don’t explain it to them. Obviously, you can’t make your son get saved, but you can explain the gospel to him and give him opportunities to accept Jesus.
Of course, the issue may be something else entirely, but this is what came to my mind. May God grant you patience, peace, and wisdom as you deal with this.
Thank you Paul, S Faye, Greg, Ryan and Lindsay for taking the time to comment and pray… it has been a challenging journey.
Thanks Lindsay for pointing out the role of the gospel… yes, our son is saved and at times demonstrates such a deep understanding of relationship with Christ. For this, I am so grateful.
S Faye… I am so glad that I have encouraged you in your marriage. That you would take the time to tell me means so much. As for the condition of auditory processing disorder… I have looked into this some, but not extensively. I will check it out.
blessings to you all…
Julie-Thanks so much for opening up and letting us see the struggles you and your family have. I have often wondered what the church would look like if we were all so open and honest with our crosses that we bear. To show where we don’t have the answers and it’s only by the power of the Spirit that we can even begin to breath some days, instead of having it all together and in neat little sections. Life is messy and it hurts and we bleed. Thank the Lord for His love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, support & Him being able to put all the pieces back together again.
Again, thank you for sharing, you never ever know who will be shaken to the core with what they read here, and what the Lord is capable of doing with it.
Hang in there, Julie.
For what it is worth, I get the strong impression that you are a sensitive but firm, well-balanced parent, and I am sure your husband is too. Please don’t blame or beat yourself up! We live in a time where it is tough to be a kid, and equally tough to be a parent.
Most of all, I encourage you to continue aggressively seeking help for your son. (It sounds to me like there might be a subtle, uncommon medical issue at work here.) Keep trying new approaches/solutions and watch what happens until you find a combination that works. There has to be a solution.
Don’t give up. He may not seem to appreciate it, or even notice it, but your son can see that you are willing to do the hard stuff everyday as his parents. And seeing that, he knows he is “worth it” to you. That unspoken message is powerful.
Prayers with you and your family.
Thank you so much for sharing of yourself. I know it is hard to see children struggle as I see my niece (10 yrs old) struggle with depression and anxiety that dominates her life right now. I will say a prayer for you.
Also, thanks for the encouragement for marriages that struggle. It is so hard to watch people desire the best for their marriages but be met with such resistance from their spouse. You have done much good by shedding light on it from a personal standpoint.
This post seems to have been written just for me about my marriage! My heart has been breaking for the past 7 years with no sign of hope on the horizon. Thank you for this word of encouragement!
I enjoy reading your blog. I normally don’t comment on any blog I read but I have a similar story. My wife and I had behavioral issues with 2 of our 4 boys. We figured out that 2 of our boys where sensive to ingredients in many of the foods they where eating. The short of it…anything with artificial colors and flavors was out. There was other ingredients too, but after a couple of weeks their behavior was noticeably different. We did this for a couple of years with them and then started introducing normal foods (snack foods) back in. There are days even 10 years later where we can tell if they have eaten something they shouldn’t have. If you want additional information on this diet, it can be found at feingold.org
Wow! That was exactly what I needed to hear. I too have been struggling with our son for a couple years now and nobody will listen to me and try to find out what is wrong. So, that is a daily strain on my energy level. Then, I had a death in the family two months ago along with my husband and I having horrible marriage problems. We are both hurting so bad from past hurts and so many things going on and this was another reminder yet again that God has given me that I need to give it to Him and rely on Him instead of using up all I have on all the things that are going on in my life. Thank you so much.
Thanks for ALL the encouragement that you give me for my marriage! There are days that the Lord uses you to give me EXACTLY what I need when I need it!
I am SO very sorry for your struggle… we have a different struggle with our oldest and I searched and searched until I got answers, which ended up in us taking a trip 1/2 across the country for help. BUT.. we deal with NOTHING like you. I know that you more than likely could write a book with all the advice people give you. I am going to throw one more in the pot to think about, even if it were to help a little! have you looked at his diet? We do the feingold diet with our children and I can tell a HUGE difference (especailly in my 3 boys) when they eat dyes, BHT, TBHQ, HFCS, etc. I know people think that is whacky, but it is true. There are MANY moms in our homeschool co-op who also do feingold, and they too see more anger, agression, defiance, etc when their kids get those things in them, too. Just a thought.
I will be praying for you! As I am going to do NOW.
Lord- Please be with Julie and her family. Give her and her husband wisdom as they try to help their son. Give them comfort and when times are really tough let them feel your arms around them keeping them extra close to you. Be with their son, give his small body a touch of healing and grace. Let them all know that you are with them and that they are never alone. Thank you Father for your promises.-Amen.
Thank you so much everyone for your encouragement about our son. Two of you have mentioned the feingold diet, so I’m going to definitely look into that…
I wonder if I can take the comments another direction…
Because for me, the question that’s stamped all over this is “Why won’t God answer my prayer?” I mean how can it NOT be His will for me to have an intimacy-steeped marriage? For my kid (yes mine too!) to be “normal”–or at least find a happy and productive life and not be a danger to himself or others? He seems to answer for others–why not me?
My human inclination is always that there’s something wrong with me–something I’m doing wrong or not doing right, and if I can just find it…stop the hidden sin, feed my kid the right juice, whatever…
You know what I mean?
Right now I do go to the Saviour’s arms, as you say, but it’s only because I have nowhere else to go. At the heart of it, I’m not really SURE He loves me…because if He did, maybe I’d see change or progress in this stuff I’ve been praying about for 5 years or more.
Our daughter is similar to your son, but on a milder scale, and we are just now looking into testing and therapy for sensory processing issues. (Auditory processing is just one form.) I will pray for your family as I am praying for our daughter and family.
Julie, I just know that God sees your heartbreak, and that He sees all the work and pain and everything that goes into parenting your son. And that He has a heart for parents with difficult children (since He is one!).
I’m in a situation now not nearly as difficult, but I sometimes feel, “is God mad at me? Does God think I’m doing a bad job or something?”
And I’ve come to realize that He really doesn’t. He doesn’t expect perfection from me; just humility and learning to lean on Him.
It sounds like those are two things you’re doing in spades, so my prayer for you today is just that you will feel God’s pleasure and approval of you.
@Quercus – I’m sorry to hear about what you’re going through, as I am sorry to hear about what Julie’s going through. I hope from the bottom of my heart that things get better for the both of you.
I think that the reason sometimes we feel that our prayers go unanswered for so long is that we forget we’re often dealing with people. God is all-powerful, but it is not in his plan to directly take away the moral agency of his children. He send them the whisperings of the Spirit, but he can’t make them behave or value intimacy or whatever. I feel the Adversary would take away our agency, but God gives us freedom, even if it means that some of His children may hurt others or suffer because of another’s agency.
Try not to blame yourself for all of your afflictions, Quercus. I’m of the opinion that the Adversary would also have good Christians consistently blame themselves for their trials, as it helps him to discourage them away from the path to happiness.
Just keep praying and loving (both Him and those around you). The Lord loves you and in due time, it’ll become as apparent to you as the light of day.
My heart goes out to you. My husband and I are going through something very similar with our 17 year old son. People from the outside looking in have no idea. They advice they give us is not helpful. We do have a Specialist and they are looking into things such as Aspergers, OCD, ect. Still, it is very, very hard. We are “stable”, christians and yet our son seems so very broken. It’s hard to be hopeful some days yet I know that God can be trusted.
We are learning how important it is to take care of ourselves as we are always so drained from son’s behaviour. We have joined a gym and try to get on dates when possible.
I will be praying for you. Keep on going and don’t give up! Thank you for writing this post.
Dear friend! My heart aches for you. Please know we are praying and that we are here if you need anything. Brad is always here as well, if you ever want to pick his brain, truly! We love you dear friend and are praying for you all! Love ya! Kate
Wow, I’m so sorry for how difficult it has been for you with your son, but that was also an awesome example for marriage as well. I cannot tell you how many people I have heard who assume that marriage will – of course! – get better…sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it just doesn’t get better within their timetable and they jump ship before God works His miracle. Thanks for sharing your story!
Having lived through similar experiences, I’d like to share my deepest empathy. Our son is now 6 and has had some serious behavior issues from years. He has been so miserable that he said he would kill himself, and yet could be so patient, generous, kind and just at other times.
At this time, I give thanks that he has been able to find freedom from his torment, by managing his diet. Wheat is his biggest trigger and we try to be strictly gluten free. When it is out of his diet entirely, the boy I’ve always known was there. There are a few other contributing foods and as a family we went through an elimination diet to test what might be effecting him. It was a difficult process and we eliminated foods and challenged them several times to be sure of the effects. Even after knowing the triggers, we still had to unlearn some bad behavior habits. Recently, we relaxed our diet hoping that he might be able to allow some gluten on a limited basis. Eventually, the symptoms began creeping back and he again said he would kill himself. While he has never harmed himself and I do not actually fear for his life, his agony is very real. I don’t want to give you false hope since I cannot know what would help your son, but I cannot hear of this kind of pain without sharing our journey. We’ve been able to navigate this on our own, but you might have a homeopathic doctor near you who could help guide you through the connections between diet and the brain.
I pray for other mothers who bear this kind of burden all the time, and now I’ll add you by name. God grant you and your son peace.
Holly, Kate, Elizabeth and Jenny… thank you so much for your encouragement and prayers and insights. Means the world to me. So many of the comments have given me additional things to explore…
Thank you for helping me feel less alone…
We experienced a very similar situation with our now 13 year old. We got good results from a naturopathic doctor in town who does detox from toxins in immunizations and various other sources. We struggled hugely up until the last year!
I second Jenny and Becky on the diet and detox matters. And here’s a link:
for you to find [yet another] good [hopefully] diagnostician – because from your article it results that specialists are not yet out of the woods about what’s causing this to your son. Iridologists are trained to read a diagnostic just from studying the iris of the patient’s eye.
Years ago, we took our kids to an iridologist and we were very content with his diagnostics.
Look for the nearest doc and give it a try.
In the while, we’re also praying for you and your family!
As you know, my thoughts and prayers are with you for your parenting walk.
I love the conclusion you draw for marriage. It is so hard to have someone come to you in pain wanting the best for their marriage and running up against a wall over and over. What do you tell that person? That it will get better? It might. It might not. However, we are responsible for doing everything in our power to be the person God desires us to be, to be the best husband or wife we can be. It definitely increases the odds (and there are plenty of amazing success stories with this approach), but there are no guarantees. Still, it reminds me of the verse: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 14:18. That intimates that it isn’t all up to us, but we must do our part.
I’m praying for you Julie. What a challenging situation full of heart-break and sadness, but God. Those have become my two favorite words for any situation. But God. He alone is good even when the circumstances we’re facing aren’t. He bids us to follow Him, to trust Him and like you said, to lean on Him. He is our only constant whether life gives us lemons or lemonade. I am in awe of those God has chosen to face such difficulty because I believe they hold a special place in God’s purpose for glorifying His name. Only eternity will reveal all the reasons, but to hear your faith and trust while your son is in such dire need makes me want to worship our Savior. Thank You for using this post to make much of God, whether we understand what He’s doing or not.
Blessings to you on the journey,
Thanks for such a vulnerable post and allowing us to pray with you. And your application to marriage is spot-on.
I understand what you are going through with your child. Mine is 14 and very angry. He came to live with us as a foster child. I hope you can find good therapists. We’ve had no luck. There really isn’t much help out there. They meet with him for awhile and say he’s fine. He knows how to talk to them but the holes in the walls speak for themselves. Stay strong in the Lord and I’ll continue to pray for you.
What a sharp and fitting analogy of a hard marriage.
I’ve walked in that agony. After 14 years of being married to an antagonistic non-believer, I discovered that God had a question for me. “What will you do with Me if your husband doesn’t get saved and you are called to live the rest of your days married to this non-believer?”
“What if he never changes … What will you do with Me then?”
Sounds harsh, I know … but that was His question. In retrospect, it wasn’t my circumstances He was so concerned about; it was my heart.
I’m certainly not saying or even hinting that your heart, Julie, or anyone elses for that matter, needs pointing at from any human. That’s God’s job. What I am saying is that I know. I know what it’s like to live, day into week into month into year(s) … praying for circumstances (or husbands) to change … to no avail.
It is the living testimony of being forced (squeezed actually) to look up to Him. The safest place to be, as Julie so aptly phrased, “I’m just leaning on the Lord”
Julie, my dear mentor, I have HOPE for you. God is molding your entire family through your son’s issues. You will arrive victorious on the other side. My oldest son, at age 9, wanted to kill himself. He is 25 now. He was raised knowing the Lord, like your son. It was a long hard road. But, my saving grace was asking the Lord each day to show me one tiny positive action from my son. The Lord was faithful in giving me tiny bits of HOPE each day. I will be your prayer partner in parenting your son.
What a true real life testimony. Sometimes we are stuck with hard issues. But, all things work to the good of those who love the Lord…..
Oh this line brought tears to my eyes: “If someone walked in our shoes for 48 hours, their philosophical banter would vanish into thin air.”
Yep. That’s how I feel about alot of things where we act like we have more answers than questions. I’ll be the first to admit I live the other way around.
Bless you dear friend, and all those you touch with your words. I will believe that indeed, Joy comes in the morning.
Thank you for sharing your heart on a subject that I know is so difficult. I would like to bring up a point that may not be a popular point of view, but that I know to be valid from a biblical basis and from my own personal experience. And I also apologize that this may be a long post, but I will try to make it as concise as possible. I don’t know how you feel on the subject of spiritual warfare, but I strongly believe that Satan and his demons are on the warpath, doing whatever he can to destroy families and lives. It seems the Church is so willing to ignore either his existence, or his power on this world (allowed of course by God, for a time). My hubby and and I went to a Lifeway marriage conference several years back where Mike Smalley gave his testimony about an issue with his son, who was 8 (I believe) at the time. He was constantly acting out, disobeying, angry. I can’t give all the details of his story, but I believe you can find it on the family’s website, but in short it turns out that he was being demonized. (Now, I’m not talking about “possession”, but demonization, which is different.) Once they figured that out, they could go from there and fight the issues effectively. When I heard this, I basically just thought to myself how horrible of a situation it was. I believed in demons and Satan’s power, but I never believed as a born-again believer that it could touch my family.
Nearly a year later, we started having issues with my 2 1/2 year old son. He had been a wonderful sleeper, always happy to go to bed and slept all night every since infancy. All of the sudden, he was refusing to go to bed, saying he was scared, crying, screaming, the whole nine yards. He talked about shadows all the time, they were so scary to him. We let him cry it out, we laid down with him, prayed every night for God to take away his fear, all with no real success. He would wake up several times a night with blood-curdling screams, so much so that I was nearly afraid to go in his room myself. There were several times I actually thought there must actually be a burglar or something in his room. It continued to get worse over the period of 3 months. These were not night terrors; he has had those and they are not nearly as frightening! I had discussed with a pediatrician about taking him to a psychiatrist, although for the life of me I didn’t know what illness it could be. One night, the worst one yet, I was putting him in the bed and leaning over to kiss him as he was crying as usual. He looked up at me, hysterical, with sheer terror is his eyes which were as wide as saucers, begging and screaming, and actually tearing at my clothes trying to get me in his bed. I finally left in tears. After 3 hours of me and my husband taking turns going to his room to calm him, my husband was finally able to get him to sleep. When he came in the room, I asked him what on earth finally worked, and he was actually worried that I wouldn’t believe him. In the moments in my son’s room, he was reminded of Mike Smalley’s testimony about his own son. My husband, out loud, rebuked anything/anyone who was present in my son’s room who was not sent from God. He used scripture to command it to leave and not come back, and prayed for God to enforce that and to put a hedge of protection around our home. My son was asleep for hubby could put him back in the bed. I was amazed, and terrified. And somewhat dubious- after all, he was TWO YEARS OLD! Every night afterwards, he went to bed, happily. No fear, no talk of past nights, no talk of shadows. In fact, about a year later, when we read a book that said something about shadows, he said “Shadows used to be in my room. But we prayed and they aren’t here anymore.” There is no doubt in my mind that God freed us from that demonization. Afterwards, we started some intense research into the subject. Mike Smalley has info on his website and did a series called Protecting Your Family on this subject. While my son’s problems were fear, his sons were behavioral. His testimony is definitely worth hearing, and he is much more articulate and knowledgeable on the matter than I am. There are a few other ministries that touch on the subject as well, but that is a good place to start.
All that to say, there are many areas that can give us trials- physical, mental/psychological, and spiritual. As a church, we need to remember that aspect of life not only exists, but masquerades as other things. As a medical professional, I’m the first to say that medicine is wonderful! I know that there are many true psychological issues that plague our lives today. But just think of how many children are being diagnosed with one illness or another. It isn’t because of malpractice, but perhaps lack of knowledge, or belief in the spiritual realm by practitioners. Even so, it pains my heart to think how many children may be enduring therapies, or worse psychotropic meds, simply because we didn’t address the real issue. Not because we’re bad parents or bad Christians, but because we just didn’t realize the truth. There may be many who read this who think I’m nuts. Even I thought kids were off limits, I mean, they’re KIDS. They’re innocent and that’s just not playing fair. My first thought was pure fury that Satan would even think to attack my BABY. I mean, how dare he. That goes against all rules of warfare. Why not “man up” and come after me or my husband?? But then I realized that line of thinking was absurd. He is Satan. He is the complete antithesis of God, who is good and just. Satan doesn’t play by any rules. He plays very dirty. This may not be the issue in your family. But I feel that God allowed my family to go through this trial and come out stronger on the other side. I feel led to share with others, after all, to whom much is given, much is required. I hope this is helpful to you or maybe another of your readers. I encourage you to give it prayerful consideration.
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