I had an almost ruined marriage. Almost. That almost is an important word. I recall the story (I can’t remember where I heard it) of a wealthy noblewoman commenting to Charles Spurgeon after a sermon he preached on 1 Corinthians 1:26 (“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”) that her faith rested on a single letter. That God did not say any wealthy, wise, or noble—but only not many. Words and letters are important.
There was a yearish in my marriage where I was a complete and utter jerk. Many who knew me during that time period in my marriage would be shocked to know who I am today. I am in Christ and I am loved. I recently had a friend ask me, “How did your marriage bounce back?” You might think that’s an easy answer, but it isn’t honestly. It’s complicated, and I don’t hold up our path as ideal. But whenever anyone asks me that I often add, “I’m not sure, but I know it was the grace of God. I did some things which I can share, but God did the work.” If they’re asking this because they’re marriage is struggling, I also add something like, “Don’t give up before God does what he does best—makes things new.”
Although I don’t have a clear path to your best marriage now, I can share some pro tips on how to have an awful marriage. (Many of these have been personally tested) I had very little to do with turning my marriage around, but I had a lot to do with messing it up. Thankful it was an almost ruined marriage—but for the grace of God.
Pro Tip #1: Always Assume the Worst
Assuming the worst is so easy. Just always assume motives. Never give room for conversation and explanation. Be slow to forgive and hold stuff over your spouse’s head even when they’ve asked for forgiveness. As you become more bitter (because you aren’t forgiving and assuming the worst), you will stop repenting and less likely to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Mission accomplished. Awful.
Pro Tip #2: Talk About the Gospel As Little As You Can
The gospel always attacks our idols first and regularly calls us to love, sacrifice, and give. So if you really are intent on having an awful marriage, talk about the gospel as little as you can afford. If you make it too central to your marriage, you might just change. You might just love. You might just forgive. You might just repent. You might just have joy. These are really bad things if you want to have an awful marriage.
Pro Tip #3: Avoid Laughter At All Costs
Laughter means you’re having fun together. That’s a no no! It’s difficult, nay I say impossible, to feel awful and to be in an awful marriage if you’re regularly laughing with your spouse. Avoid this healing balm at all costs.
Pro Tip #4: Never Argue Well
Man do I struggle with this one still. My wife and I still are learning to argue well. I guess we’re not all that into awful marriages anymore. Here’s some pro tips for arguing poorly: introduce secondary concerns into the argument, while avoiding the primary issue, assume motives, never budge or compromise, call each other names, snipe, introduce rabbit trails, and make veiled threats (“We’re not having sex again until you change your tune,” or “You’re really gonna regret this.”). Manipulation is the key to bad arguing. Learn to do it well—if you want a really awful marriage.
Pro Tip #5: Keep Secrets
Awful marriages have lots of secrets. Don’t share your hopes, struggles, or daily activities. Every husband and wife for themselves. Stop being transparent with your spouse. Hide insignificant things, so that when really important things come up, you can hide them without feeling as guilty. In this way, you will progress down roads you never thought you would travel by only taking one step at a time. Absolutely, and I mean absolutely, don’t have any accountability in your marriage—not an older married couple mentoring you, not with each other, and not by pouring yourselves into a younger married couple. The more people in your life—the harder it is to keep secrets. Avoid people.
Pro Tip #6: Avoid Having Regular Sex
Forgot that God’s first command to Adam and Even is to be fruitful and multiply. Later he also says husbands (and by proxy wives) should enjoy the spouses of their youth. That whole sex is good, to be enjoyed, and to be done a lot is rubbish. Did God really even say that? For the awfulest marriage you can muster, set up unrealistic expectations of beauty and sexual performance for your spouse. Make your sexual fulfillment supreme (so it doesn’t matter if it’s with them, another person, or by yourself). And, by all means, never make sex more than the physical act. Doing these things will ensure you won’t have a lot of sex in your marriage. Awfulness achieved.
Pro Tip #7: Rule the Purse With an Iron Fist
If you do the finances, rule the purse with an iron fist. Never leave room for fun. Hoard all the money for yourself. Never be generous with your money—not with others and especially not with your spouse. Be an absolute miser. I mean Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch were awesome to be around, weren’t they? Forget that God is a generous God. That his love, mercy, and grace overflow upon us. Stop considering these things—and especially stop connecting them to your own finances.
Abschließend (That’s German for “finally”)
I hope you get the tongue and cheek nature of this post. It feels off even having to point it out, but I want to be sensitive to those who might be in awful marriages. To some extent, we all have components of each of these in all of our marriages. Recognize them now. Mark them down for repentance when they come up. And remember this. Let this sear into your heart: God loves your marriage more than you do. He is infinitely more faithfully to your marriage than you are. His love is a cascading waterfall of Trinitarian love in your home. He is so serious about your marriage that He sent His own Son to die on the cross, and said marriage is a picture of His love for the Church in that supreme act of sacrifice and love. Don’t put the weight of your ultimate satisfaction, love, and hope on your spouse. Put it on the dead, risen, and reigning King Jesus. The always faithful, covenant-keeping Savior who died for you. Selah.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He blogs at Grace for Sinners and Marginalia: On the Margins of the Writing Life. His family is covenanted at Downtown Presbyterian Church.