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Thriving despite a difficult marriage

Is there hope for your marriage, if it hasn’t become ‘happily ever after’?

‘Sometimes people need permission to acknowledge what is true about their marriage—that it may never have a happy ending or a resolution that is satisfying,’ say Christian psychologists Michael and Chuck Misja in their book Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage.’

This is a hard reality, but it is made more difficult by two big lies that Christians believe: Firstly, that Christian marriages should be great and we should live ‘happily ever after’. And secondly, that if they can’t be great, then we must live out our marriage in ‘noble misery’, living parallel but separate lives.

But there is a third way, say the authors, which they dub ‘thriving despite’. This is essentially saying to yourself, ‘I’ve got one life to live, and I will live it well no matter what trouble comes my way. This is not the same as giving up on your marriage: ‘If you can find something to improve your marriage, utilize it. But don’t put your life on hold until your marriage is healed or until your spouse changes in the way you desire.’

‘Thriving despite’ is not so much about a change of behaviour, but a change in thinking. Misja and Misja outline three truths that can help us thrive, in the midst of difficult times:

Marriage means partnering with God—holding a belief that God is in it.  - God loves you and your spouse and is moulding and shaping you. Marriage is one of the prime ways he will shape our character. You’ll be challenged to love and grieve with an energy and wisdom that can be drawn only from his resources. Your pain is not without purpose.

Marriage is bigger than you—maintaining a conviction that marriage is worth giving yourself to no matter the cost.  - Marriage has a meaning and purpose far beyond personal happiness and the need for satisfaction.

Marriage requires honesty—we are masters at believing what we want to believe and choosing to deny the truth - But a willingness to continually pursue an authentic awareness of the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful about yourself and your spouse will eventually shatter the denial and distortion system, and lead to a refreshing freedom.

This third model of marriage has a unique understanding of hope. The hope in the ‘happily ever after’ marriage is for personal fulfilment and pleasant circumstances. In the ‘noble misery’ model the hope is that God will provide enough strength to survive the mess. In the ‘thriving despite’ model, the concept of hope looks like this:

Your hope is that God will give you the wisdom, courage, and strength to remain alive and passionate. You will offer a powerful love to whomever God puts in your path, especially your spouse.

By accepting and grieving the loss of things that are not possible in your marriage, you become free to focus on what is possible.