IN THE BEGINNING marriage was God’s idea! He had a very specific plan and design to melt and mold two distinct and unique personalities together until they blended so perfectly that the two would become One Flesh. By design you could not tell where one stopped and the other began. He did it for a purpose. How and why He designed marriage in this way is a mystery. But the Word clearly reflects that marriage is a prototype; it is an image of Christ and the Church. In fact He said it in Ephesians 5:25, “Husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”

As the beginning has faded into the distant past, we have shifted our thinking into “ONCE UPON A TIME…” Whether it is a fairy tale or the big screen, starting with Cinderella when we were barely old enough to discern the story from reality, an image of marriage has been programmed into our minds. The guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after. As we got older, skilled novelists and screenwriters picked up the ball and intensified that image on the big screen. Many of us bought into that image when we were younger because we really did not want to believe that marriage for us was going to be played out the way it had in the parental relationship that we watched unfold over the course of our young lives. Somewhere along the way we got the idea that the image on the big screen was waiting for us and we too would live happily ever after.

Unfortunately we do not live out our lives in a story line or on the big screen. We live them in the reality of the moment. If a person grows up in a dysfunctional home, without intervention, much prayer, and some education, dysfunction is what they bring into the marriage. The situation is complicated by the fact that people tend to marry when they are very young; the norm is somewhere between the ages of 18 and 21. Many have just moved through the turbulent teen-years where rebellion rages and where family and parental relationships are either severed or stunted in their growth due to irreconcilable differences. From there they enter into a covenant commitment for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. If they last that long and the heart of the marriage is not molded by Christ the dysfunction is intensified and perpetuated and generations of untold casualties result.

It is evident that the sanctity of holy matrimony is waning. Beyond the courting relationship and the fairy tale wedding, the road ahead is treacherous. When a couple starts out in life money is usually a tight and it is difficult to cover all expenses on a shoe string. When they begin to add children to the mix and financial and emotional frailties, stress in the home goes through the roof. When that kind of stress overwhelms a man and wife, aspects of their personality come out that even they themselves did not know existed. At some point they look at each other and wonder, “Who is this person and where is the person I married?”

When that question comes to mind, what are the available options to not only survive the situation but also to overcome and move through life’s traps and obstacles? Of course there is always the option to end the marriage and divorce. When such decisions are made in haste in the middle of a personal or marital crisis, the effects are always devastating. The love is lost and at a relatively young age the couple has learned to escape a bad situation rather than negotiate it through to a stronger place of maturity and strength in life.

A more appropriate option would be to pursue a two-fold approach. One or both partners must find the strength to exert their faith and seek direction in life in the place of prayer. The second step involves seeking the wisdom, advice, and counsel of a trained counselor or minister. This is necessary because in the midst of marital turmoil the partners lose perspective and often can’t sort out the truth from the lies. An intervention from a trained and experienced, neutral third party can very often cut right to the heart of the matter. When the heart is revealed and both parties are willing, healing can begin.

If some or part of this scenario sounds familiar, let me exhort you with some thoughts. You can be certain that stress and problems will come. Don’t forget that you love your spouse and the value of the relationship is greater than the intensity of the problems you currently face. The problems at hand can be a proving ground, a place to learn, and increase maturity. On the other hand they could be your undoing. You can control the outcome. You can take the first step and move forward to a better life. The choice is yours!