By Lynette Kittle, Crosswalk.com
*Please note article is not discussing enduring abusive marriage situations but rather through sickness and health, thick and thin, and for better or worse marriage situations.
A recent episode of “90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After” featured a father talking with his daughter about her considering filing for a divorce.
Married for two years, she felt like her husband hadn’t changed much and she didn’t know if she wanted to keep trying. To her response her father replied, “two years is nothing.”
Assuring his daughter how it takes time, he challenged her by saying he didn’t think she was one to give up so easily.
Like his daughter, there are husbands and wives finding marriage not meeting their expectations. Couples enduring hardships and suffering in their relationships. Husbands and wives who are experiencing difficult marital relationships, where they feel like the best option is to leave it.
Maybe you are suffering in your marriage? If so, what does long-suffering look like as a couple and what rewards does it bring to a marriage?
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What Does Long-Suffering Mean in Marriage?
Like 1 Timothy 6:12 encourages us to fight the good fight of faith, this includes our marriages. Unlike love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, long-suffering is a fruit of the Spirit most of us don’t want to develop (Galatians 5:22).
Long-suffering in marriage is something most of us hope to avoid because it means not running away when we experience distress and misery in our relationships. It means walking through it by letting God do His work within us.
It's dealing with the suffering rather than looking for an escape route. Of looking for ways to endure by taking a look at the big picture, like 2 Corinthians 4:17, explains, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
It’s understanding how the feeling of endless suffering in marriage is in heaven’s reality a light and momentary trouble.
What Cultivates Long-Suffering in Marriage?
Serving as pastor and chaplain within the church and community, my husband counsels many couples dealing with difficult marital relationships. From ministering, to a husband or wife caring for a dying spouse, to facing unfaithfulness within a marriage, many couples find themselves in challenging marital relationships, ones they didn’t anticipate having to address.
Many couples are suffering through heartbreaking situations — circumstances where they feel they don’t have the strength or endurance to make it through another day, much less years to come, with many feeling like running is the best option and will bring the quickest relief.
Unfortunately suffering husbands and wives, even within many churches, are discovering a lack of compassion for those working through marital challenges.
Often if a marriage is hard, unhappy, inconvenient, or experiencing uncomfortable issues, a spouse is encouraged to leave, told they deserve to be happy. Sadly present-day culture isn’t very tolerant when it comes to long-suffering in marriages.
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Is There a Biblical Example of Long-Suffering?
1 Samuel 25:3 offers a biblical example of long-suffering. “His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”
Although many jump to the conclusion that Nabal was abusive to Abigail, Scripture doesn’t record it. It does describe him as so difficult no one could talk to him (1 Samuel 25:17), leading us to believe she definitely was suffering in her marriage to him.
Once Nabal disrespected David, Abigail had the perfect opportunity to save herself and escape from suffering, letting David annihilate him and their household. But she chose to put others’ welfare before her own.
When Abigail told Nabal the following day how she had generously given supplies to David without his permission, his heart failed and he died 10 days later, but Abigail didn’t see it coming (1 Samuel 25:37-38).
As far as she knew in telling him, she would face his great displeasure and continue to suffer as his wife. Still, despite Nabal bringing the trouble on himself, Abigail risked her life to save him and their household.
Nowadays few couples understand this type of long-suffering in marriage. For many who make their personal happiness their priority, Nabal’s actions would be the last straw and a ripe opportunity to justify walking away from their marriage.
Do Long-term Couples Experience Long-Suffering?
Often in hearing of long-term marriages today, many assume these couples didn’t face challenges in their relationship, thinking their marriages have been easy, trouble-free, and without conflict, disappointment, and distresses.
But in most couples, it just isn’t the case. Many if not most enduring marriages have faced difficulties, some which at times have seemed impossible to overcome.
In the classic film “Monkey Business,” Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers play a long-term married couple facing the ups and downs of re-experiencing their younger selves. After reliving some of their past relationship issues, they soon discover how much they love and appreciate who they’ve grown to be as a couple.
Like Colossians 1:11 encourages, God can strengthen and empower husbands and wives with great endurance and patience in their marriages. Like many spouses can attest, God is able to move in remarkable ways to renew and transform their lives.
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What Happens When Long-Suffering Is Lacking?
Nowadays it seems like even some Christians are quick in looking for a biblical reason to justify leaving their marriages to find a new and improved spouse. Instead of enduring long-suffering in their marriages, many seek to start fresh with a new husband or wife.
Sadly this includes some pastors who are too busy with their churches to experience long-suffering in marriage, putting their ministry careers before their marital vows.
But God takes marriage vows to Him very seriously. As Deuteronomy 23:21 explains, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.”
It's important as well for our spiritual leaders to model the importance of keeping our vows to God because, “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it” (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
When pastors don’t keep their marriage vows, leaving one marriage to soon enter another, a domino effect usually follows with church members following in their footsteps.
What Does Long-Suffering Communicate to Our Children?
Lots of people like to reassure couples that it’s better for children if their parents separate than grow up in an unhappy marriage. But if we ask children, most would choose to have disagreeable parents work through their unhappiness than to part ways.
With happiness and self-fulfillment as the goal in our culture, many have lost what it means to be long-suffering in relationships. Many believe personal happiness is more important than supporting each other through thick and thin, sickness and health, or staying together through good times and bad.
When children see their parents suffering through tough times in their marriage, it helps them learn how to endure through troubled times. Movies like “The Parent Trap,” tell the story of children who would much rather have two imperfect parents together than one parent all to themselves.
Long-suffering parents prepare children for their own marriages, by being an example of how to get through the rough patches that most marriages experience.
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Are There Keys to Long-Suffering in Marriage?
So how do couples stick with each other through the tough times? Are there keys to making it through the better or worse parts?
1. Resist Divorce by not even considering it as a possible answer to our marriage problems. Rather see it as an enemy to marriage and not a solution. Choose to believe, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
2. Cling to our spouse remembering that God sees us as one flesh when we marry, so to separate is to rip our own flesh (Genesis 2:24). “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).
3. Keep our hearts soft towards God, which in turn will help keep our heart softened towards our spouse. Jesus explains how hardened hearts cultivate divorce (Matthew 19:8).
4. See suffering as temporary, even when it feels never-ending. 1 Peter 1:24 reminds us how compared to eternity, a lifetime is like a blade of grass. And the Apostle Paul who experienced much suffering, explains how God’s glory revealed in us through it, is not worth comparing to what we experience during it (Romans 8:18).
4. Reach out to others by attending a couples support group, or speaking to a pastor or counselor, or seeking out a seasoned married couple as mentors.
6. Rely on God for help because long-suffering can seem unbearable at times. Still, 1 Peter 4:13 urges, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”
Likewise, Isaiah 40:29 reassures how, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
As well, Jesus understands long-suffering. Because he does, He knows how to comfort us in the midst of it, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
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