MARRIAGE ON HARD MODE: What To Do if Your Marriage Actually IS Hard

by | Sep 27, 2021 | Marriage | 17 comments

What Do You Do if Marriage is Hard?
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For some people, marriage honestly is hard.

We’re concluding our marriage on hard mode series this week. All month we’ve been looking at whether or not we’re doing marriage on hard mode–or making marriage harder than it needs to be. We looked at how our beliefs about marriage can make marriage hard; how gender roles can make marriage hard; how financial decisions can make marriage hard; and so much more. We even did a podcast on doing sex on hard mode!

And all along, I’ve been assuring you that it’s not normal for marriage to be hard.

Life is hard, yes. But marriage shouldn’t be something that makes life worse for most of us. Yes, someone can get sick and then we need to care for them, and that’s hard. Yes, when you’re married, you inherit their side of the family, and that can be hard.

But these things are about life. Sometimes life is just hard, and when we get married we have more life things that can be difficult–life with kids is busy, in-laws are frustrating, or you both get job offers in different cities and have to make a tough decision about whose dream job to pursue. But again, these are not issues with the marriage–they’re just life.

These kinds of “life” things can make marriage hard, though, when they aren’t handled well because of really bad relationship dynamics. Bad relationship dynamics in a marriage can definitely make life harder–and we’re concerned that when some people say “marriage is hard,” they really mean “life is hard, even if you’re married” but people in bad marriages here, “What you’re going through is normal.” 

Your relationship dynamics should not be something that makes your life harder, and if they are, that’s a sign that there’s some attention that needs to be paid so that it doesn’t remain like this.

But what if relationship dynamics seriously are hard? What if marriage really is rough?

Let’s look at five questions to ask if your marriage honestly is hard:

Is marriage hard because you’re in an abusive situation?

If you find yourself always walking on eggshells trying not to set your spouse off; if your spouse never admits any wrongdoing, or makes you feel like you are crazy; if your spouse blames you for everything in the marriage–it may be a sign that you’re in an abusive relationship. 

If you feel in danger, please call a domestic abuse hotline. Otherwise, please see a licensed counselor who is trained in abuse issues by yourself to decide on next steps (you shouldn’t seek couples counseling when abuse is involved). 

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2. Is marriage hard because you need to deal with some stuff?

Sometimes what makes marriage hard is our own expectations.

I’m not talking about expecting fidelity, expecting an equal partner, or expecting your spouse to care about you. These expectations are entirely reasonable and right! Not all expectations, after all, are bad.

But sometimes we’re miserable because we have our own issues. We notice what our spouse does wrong, but we don’t notice what we do wrong. If your own attitude could be causing your marriage to falter, please read 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage!

And sometimes one or both of you have deep seated issues from childhood that haven’t been dealt with that are taking their toll on your relationship. If you’re just not connecting, or you always go around and around about the same issue and never get it solved, then it may be time to see a licensed counselor. If you have untreated mental health issues in your marriage, then talk to your doctor and a therapist about medication and therapy options to help treat whatever issue you or your spouse is facing. Whatever the help is that you need, there is no shame in seeking it out–and it can make a world of difference.

 Many times marriage is hard when there are personal issues that need addressing because you simply don’t have the tools–whether relational, emotional, or psychological–to cope in a healthy way, relate in a healthy way, or communicate in a healthy way. This does not need to be your life forever, you and your spouse can learn these skills, and there is help for you. 

What’s holding you back from a GREAT marriage?

Do you find yourselves taking each other for granted?

Has marriage lost that “spark”?

Learn how to feel connected again–and how changing the way you THINK about marriage can make all the difference.

3. Is the difficulty in your marriage something temporary?

When my husband was in residency for pediatrics, life was just hard. He was barely home, and when he was home, he was exhausted.

We knew, however, that this was only temporary. So I made an effort to build things into my life that gave me friendship and fun outside of Keith, so that I wasn’t just sitting around waiting for him to get home. I kept busy with the girls anyway. And we made it through those years just fine.

However, I could not have sustained that long term. What kept me going was that it was only temporary.

If you’re going through a temporary season that’s hard–say a military deployment; living in two different cities; job or education demands that are abnormally high–have grace for both of you. Realize that this will be rough. If you can, spend some money on things that make life easier, like hiring a cleaner or ordering in meals more often. Prioritize the time you do have together.

But most of all, build some fun things into your life, even if you’re having fun by yourself. Doing nothing and waiting for when things get better only builds resentment.

Couple Resolving Conflict

4. Could big life changes make your marriage easier?

If you’re in a situation that is untenable in the long term, like I talked about in my post on how Keith and I grew apart, then do something about it as soon as possible. If life is untenable now, it isn’t going to get any better by seeing how long you can keep going like this. You’ll only wear each other out.

If you need to make a job change, then it might mean one of you going back to school for a few years. That may cause even more problems in the short run, but perhaps it gives you a better life in the long term.

It may mean moving to a different city, either one where you have more child care and support, or one that’s cheaper where you can work less. It may mean moving away from family that’s toxic.

Just remember: If you’re going to eventually have to make a change anyway, it’s often easier to do it sooner rather than later!

5. What if you feel that it’s just gotten too hard, and you don’t know if you can keep going?

We hear from spouses all the time who are in marriages without abuse or infidelity, but who are not sure their marriage is going to last–or if they even want it to last. They’re exhausted and have felt that the entire responsibility for the household is on their shoulders, and they’re not sure they can keep going any longer. They’ve tried talking to their spouse, tried to get them to see, and every promise that things will change lasts about a day or two and then things are back to normal. 

It’s like their spouse has emotionally checked out of the marriage and takes no responsibility for the household–and these spouses (most often women) tend to see it as, “Frankly, life would be easier if I were a single parent because at least I wouldn’t have to pick up after my spouse, too.” They don’t want to get divorced, they still love their spouses, they just don’t feel like they can stay married like this.

If that’s where you’re at, here’s a suggestion: look at how your life would change if you weren’t married, and implement some of those changes now. Often what happens is couples split up and then all the changes happen at once: she gets a job, the kids go in daycare, they start swapping babysitting time on weekends with friends so the errands get done, etc. 

But if you’re struggling in your marriage because of emotional burnout, carrying the entire mental load for the household, or feeling like you’ve lost all joy in your life and don’t know how you’re going to find it again, it’s prudent to figure out if this is a “grass is greener” kind of situation. If your options are either stay married and have the kids at home or get divorced and put them in daycare, why not add a third option: stay married for now and put your kids in daycare and see if that gives you some emotional breathing room to be able to deal with the deeper issues in the marriage. 

If you communicate to your spouse that you are at your breaking point and so you are starting to make changes now, that may be the wake-up call your spouse needs, and it also gives you a chance to recoup some emotional energy to be able to figure out what you want long-term and give your spouse a clear view of what needs to happen to save your marriage. 

Marriage isn’t supposed to be hard; it’s supposed to be life giving.

Woman in Menopause with Husband; Dealing with Menopause as a Couple

Yes, adjusting to living with someone can be difficult, and it can be a refining experience. But marriage should be a blessing, and if it’s really, really hard, that should be a sign that things need to change, not a sign that “well, this is just what everyone goes through.”

Sometimes the change is in us–we have personal issues we need to deal with. Sometimes we need to do life drastically differently because we’re way too burned out and disconnected. And sometimes we need to address deep-seated issues.

But I hope that we can start talking about marriage in a more nuanced way, after this series. Telling everyone that marriage is hard can prime people to marry people that aren’t good matches–because relationships are difficult, after all. And they can prime people to put up with difficulty instead of trying to get to the root of the problem.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the LIFE. Living in Jesus is life-giving. That means that our closest relationship, when rooted in Him, should also be life giving. Let’s prioritize that, and then maybe we’ll help people see that marriage at its best doesn’t need to be hard. And instead, it can be one of the biggest blessings to walk through inevitable hard seasons of life with someone you love beside you.

5 Questions to Ask if Marriage is Hard
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. A2bbethany

    I think we’re about to move jobs again, and I’m kinda sad. It was fun having him working at our church! But our church is forgetting to make his work a doable level, and keeps piling it up. So I’m adjusting to yet another change coming up.

    But I’m proud of him for having boundaries, because getting up at 3am to work every week was already blah! Having easier work days between was important, and they’re not remembering that. (Basically Tuesday-thursday they had him Totally. Now they’re wanting him Sunday-friday and he’s too overwhelmed!)

    • CMT

      Bethany that is sad. It’s so difficult when your church “family” is part of the problem. I’ve been in a church where certain people were expected to serve more and more, no matter what toll it took on them or their families. They were doing marriage AND church on hard mode! It was one of the reasons my family left that place, even though it wasn’t affecting us directly. If your church won’t hear when someone says they’re overwhelmed with everything that’s being asked of them, that is a major red flag in my book. I hope you find a church that really treats you and your family like sisters and brothers.

      • A2bbethany

        I actually feel better now, after we met with the Church’s insurance person. And they were very sympathetic and agreed that sometimes people can let themselves be abused just because they work at a church. And my husband failed to mention the person attempting to boss him, was a chef. Which explains why he’s always complaining about cleaning projects, which aren’t hubby’s job. I think he will be able to ignore it and keep going, at least for another month or so. (And he can ignore the chef’s complaining and still have reasonable hours. He’s just got to explain things to him.)

  2. Rebekah

    What if your spouse has emotional and mental issues, including alcoholism and potentially a personality or mood disorder, but refuses to acknowledge the problems those cause and won’t get help?

    • Jane Eyre

      This is one of those “ask why and keep asking why” situations. Some people are just that way: they don’t see or want to fix the problems they create, and here, the problem is a mood disorder. Sometimes, people feel the stigma of mental health and would rather not fix the situation because doing so comes with a stigma. Sometimes, the stigma goes the other way: Americans almost pathologically pretend that life is full of unicorns and rainbows, and as such, it is hard to overcome the idea that there is an Actual Problem. Sometimes, people get tired of being blamed for everything even if they are most of the problem: solving this works best when both people set aside their egos and work on issues.

    • R

      Rebekah, the book “Boundaries in Marriage” has the answers to your question. Highly recommend. In my area at least it’s available as an audio book for free through the local library. Sorry you’re going through this.

    • Anonymous305

      If you’re asking yourself whether divorce is appropriate, I recommend Gretchen Baskerville’s YouTube channel. If you want to save the marriage, that’s understandable, too, because leaving is hard and staying is hard, and it’s not clear which would be worse in the long term since you don’t know how many years he will hurt you.

      Even addicts who are getting help go through relapses that cause instability and pain for the family, but yours hasn’t even started that process. So, it’s not your fault if you can’t save the marriage, but it has to be your choice (not the church’s) whether you try. ☹️❤️☹️

    • Maria Bernadette

      The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk has a variety of ideas for addressing mental health issues. On the OFF CHANCE that your spouse really does want help, or would if he knew of options that fit him… maybe this book will help.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Rebekah, that’s really tough! I’d say that YOU should get help. See a licensed therapist. Join some support groups. Figure out how you’re going to deal with this, because it is really hard, and you can’t really do it alone.

  3. Jane Eyre

    #5 is brilliant: stay married but solve the problem. I’m going to remember this one.

    One of the few times we have managed to solve a problem in our marriage is by putting that option on the table.

  4. Lisa M

    This is so important. The marriage itself shouldn’t be making the hard things in life even harder.

  5. Jen

    I’m one of those people who feel like marriage is “hard.” I don’t want it to be!
    One question I have. One of my issues was stated in number 5. Burn out. I spent 20 years trying to help my husband understand how unbalanced our life responsibilities were. It might be better for a few days and then we would back to unbalanced.
    The most recent two years we are finally making progress!!!! Intellectually I am grateful but feeling wise I’m struggling to let go of the resentment and hurt, And honestly, most of the time I just feel numb towards him.
    I’ve worked so hard on this but I can’t seem to feel towards him. Any thoughts?

  6. B. Smith

    Marriage is hard because of husbands autism. We didn’t find out he had it til after 45 yrs of marriage. It’s hard.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry. We’re interviewing a counselor couple who works with neurodivergent marriages for our podcast in November. I know there are many people in your situation, and it is a lot to navigate.

      • Jon Chui

        I was recently diagnosed asbergers… late diagnosed ADHD (husband) – I’d love to hear more about what and we’re finally going through a 6mo “healing separation” now – i didn’t realize how unhealthy our marriage was in soo many ways but GOD used your books/podcasts to first show my wife, and later me, how wrong purity culture (and honestly, my mom’s undiagosed mental health conditions and how she over-spiritualized everything ) …

        where can we find this podcast? what is the name/

    • Erin

      It’s so hard! My husband has autism and bipolar. Both diagnoses long after we were married. Looking back he was manic during our dating relationship and so super fun. Yet the majority of our marriage he has been depressed which has made everything hard.

  7. Erin

    My husband has asbergers and bipolar disorder. Marriage is just hard and I don’t really expect that to change. It’s livable. But I find it hard to not be jealous of people with better relationships.


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