< Back

The Right Way to Ruin a Marriage

Malachi 2:11-16

11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.

12 The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.

13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.


Several years ago, a young man came to me to discuss his marriage that was on the rocks. In despair he said, “I seem to know all the right ways to ruin a marriage.”

There are many people today who seem to be demolition experts when it comes to marriage. I perform wedding ceremonies for so many people that are not prepared for marriage that I sometimes feel like the little boy who was performing a mock wedding ceremony with some of his friends. He was playing the role of the minister but could not remember the right words to say, so he began the ceremony by saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

It is no new thing for people to have trouble in marriage. The scriptures often speak of the long-standing difficulties people have had in marriage. The book of Malachi is a book of indictments against the people of God for their sins. In chapter one, Malachi indicts the people because they have perverted the worship of God. In chapter two, he indicts the priest and the religious leaders because they have become careless and immoral in their service. In chapter three, he indicts the people for robbing God by failing to tithe. And in the midst of all these other charges, he indicts the people for failing to honor their marriage vows.

He accuses the people of doing two things that are wrong. First, they were marrying heathen women. This was a constant menace to the Israelites. Jewish men fell in love and married women who worshipped idols. This was destructive to their faith. These women soon influenced their husbands to practice idolatry. Mixed marriages almost always lead to a weakening of religious faith.

Second, he condemns them for disregarding their marriage vows. They were divorcing the wives of their youth and marrying younger and more attractive wives. Very few people are as attractive at forty as they were at twenty. When you have shared the same shower, the same bed, the same breakfast table, and the same house with a person for twenty years, some of the glamour of marriage is bound to wear off. Without regard for the marriage vows they once took, the Israelite men were divorcing their wives and seeking new ones.

God says several things worth noting about marriage. He says, “I am a witness to your marriage vows.” When you get married, not only will your friends and family be there, but God will be there also. He hears the commitment that you make and he expects that commitment to be kept.

God says, “I detest divorce.” He describes it as a treachery to his law. In the beginning God created Adam and Eve. He intended that they be one flesh. Divorce frustrates and perverts that creative purpose of God. He tells us why he is so against divorce. He says, “It is my desire that you become one so that you might produce godly seed.” This is the only place in the Bible where God tells us why divorce is wrong. He oftentimes tells us that it is wrong, but he never tells us why. Here he tells us why.

It is God’s intent that marriage should produce godly children and that is most likely to happen when the child is brought up by his own mother and his own father who love each other. In that kind of atmosphere, a child has the best chance of growing to be a godly person. There is never any guarantee, but the best possibilities are in those circumstances.

God says, “Take heed to your spirit.” The basic problem in marriage is the spirit or the attitude of those involved. If we will give attention to our spirit, we can solve most of the problems that we face. One reason why this young man was such an expert in doing the right things to ruin his marriage was that he had never taken heed to his spirit. There are at least five things that I discovered that he did that were detrimental to his marriage. I share them with you in hopes that you might be able to profit from them.

1. Gary started with an unrealistic view of marriage.

Have you ever had the experience of going to a place you had heard or read about, and when you got there, you were greatly disappointed because it was not as you had expected it to be at all? Your problem was an unrealistic expectation. You had built up in your mind an imaginary picture of what it was going to be like, but when you got there, it was not like that at all, so you were disappointed in the experience.

Many people enter into marriage with the same kind of unrealistic expectations. They are expecting something that is not going to be found in the relationship, and when they do not find it, they are disappointed and they want to get out. We enter into marriage the first time without any previous experience. So we do not really know what to expect.

A Roman Catholic bishop was visiting one of the churches in his diocese for the purpose of administering confirmation, and with the priest of the parish at his side, was examining a little girl candidate. Naturally the priest was especially anxious to have his charges make a good showing. Also, the candidates were nervous in the presence of the great man.

The bishop said to the girl, “What is matrimony?” and she replied: “Matrimony is a state of terrible torment that those who enter it are compelled to undergo for a time to prepare them for a better and brighter world.”

“Oh, no, no,” broke in the priest, “that is purgatory, not matrimony.”

“Let the child alone, Father,” said the bishop. “What do you or I know about it?”

A lot of people enter into marriage without knowing about it. When they discover that it is more like purgatory than like matrimony, they look for a way out. Marriage is not a treasure chest full of love and affection and other goodies to be drawn out by people. Marriage is not a treasure chest; marriage is an empty box. If you don’t put anything into it, you don’t get anything out of it. The more you put into it, the more you are going to get out of it. It is as simple as this: if you put understanding, love, appreciation, support, and encouragement into your marriage chest in unusual proportions, when the time comes that you need love, support, and encouragement, you can go there and you can find an abundant supply inside. That’s why a marriage can never be just a 50-50 proposition. If you put something into the chest and you take something out of the chest of equal proportion, then the chest will always be empty. You must put more in than you take out or the box will forever be bare. Marriage is a demanding relationship. To think otherwise is to have an unrealistic view of it.

People sometimes say to me, “There is no love in our marriage.” I reply, “There is not supposed to be. Love is not in marriage. Love is in people. You must put it in the relationship." Gary’s problem was that he started with an unrealistic view of marriage.

2. Gary refused to adjust.

He remained rigid and unbending in his attitudes and in his habits. Before we marry, we are usually so blindly in love that we only see the other person’s strengths. Once we get married, we begin to see their weaknesses also. We think it is the weaknesses of the other person that demand adjustment. In fact, adjustment is learning to live with another person’s weaknesses. When you get married you bring a person, yourself, into the marriage. You have spent a lifetime in becoming that person. Everything that you have experienced up until that time has helped to make you the person that you are. The home you lived in, the way you got along with your parents, the way your parents got along with each other, the kind of food your mother prepared—all of those things had a part in making you the person you are. But you not only bring a person into marriage, you also marry a person. That person likewise grew up in a home and had a relationship with parents. They too saw parents in relationship to one another. So a person marries another person and they must learn how to live together. This requires adjustment.

Before I got married, I had lived with only one other woman—my mother. Naturally, she did things in a certain way and in my mind, that certain way was the right way. Once I got married, I discovered there was more than one way to cook, iron, clean house, and do almost everything. In fact I discovered that in some people’s opinion, there was not only another way but a better way for all those things to be done.

Someone has well said, “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” How true! The background and the experiences that we bring into marriage determine how we see things. Unless we are willing to adjust, our marriage can never be a rich and full one.

Marriage is really a mixture. Two people mix all of their experiences together and find that common ground where they can live comfortably together. Most of the best things in life are mixtures. There are 12 basic notes in all of music. All music comes from these 12 basic notes being put together in the right relationship. I could bang on a piano and I would be hitting notes, but they would not be in a harmonious relationship. There would be disharmony. If you can arrange those notes properly, a beautiful melody can come forth.

There are only 26 letters in the alphabet. Every word that we know comes from the right arrangement of those 26 letters. You could put those 26 letters in a box, jumble them up and have nothing but confusion. But rightly arranged, those 26 letters become a beautiful poem.

There are only ten numbers—zero to nine. Those numbers can be jumbled up so that they have no meaning, or they can be put in right relationship to one another so they can give you a clean financial statement. If they are set in right relationship, they suddenly have great meaning. In the same way, marriage is a mixture of two people. If the mixture is right, there is harmony in the relationship and something beautiful and good comes from it. If it is not mixed right, there is confusion and frustration.

Gary’s problem was that he not only started with unrealistic expectations, he also refused to change, compromise, or adjust.

3. Gary didn’t deal with conflict correctly.

Life involves conflicts! When you have two people who are both sinners in varying degrees attempting to live together, conflict is inevitable. Sin involves things like pride, temper, stubbornness, and selfishness. When you have people who are proud, stubborn, ill-tempered, and selfish, it is inevitable that they will have strife and conflict. The question is not, “Are we going to have problems in our marriage?” The question is, “How are we going to deal with our problems?” This young man’s problem was that he did not deal with his problems in the right way.

There are six things that will help you to deal with conflicts constructively. First, handle the problem when it arises. Most people do not deal with their problems immediately. They ignore them until they canker into resentments. I used to worry that I had such a poor batting average in saving marriages. People had been coming to me for 25 years with their problems, and I so seldom seemed to help them. Then one day it dawned on me that by the time I get up to the plate, it is already the last half of the ninth inning, there are two outs, and I’ve got two strikes against me. Under those circumstances, they were expecting me to hit a home-saving run.

If you are having problems in your marriage, see a counselor before it is too late. Don’t allow your problems to canker into such resentment that you no longer care. That time will come if you do not deal with your problems as they arise.

Second, confront one another with courtesy. Treat each other with respect.

Third, stick with the issues. Most often we start out talking about a problem. Then we end up calling each other names. When that happens, you are no longer trying to solve the problem—you are trying to win the battle. If you will stick with the issues it will help.

Fourth, listen as much as you talk. James gives us good advice about marriage when he says, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). In all relationships in life—in business, in church, in the home, wherever—if we could be slow to speak, slow to hear, and slow to wrath, we could solve most of our problems.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to harvest, a time to build up, a time to tear down, and there is a time to be quiet (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7). If we would practice being quiet as much as we talk in marriage, it would change our relationships.

Fifth, seek a compromise. Find that mutual ground that you can both accept, where neither of you feels you have suffered defeat, and then live by the conditions of that compromise.

Sixth, learn to forgive and forget. The five most important words that you can ever say in marriage are these: “I am sorry. Forgive me.” Pride and stubbornness keep us from saying them, but it is amazing how much good can be accomplished when we say and really mean those words. To forgive means I accept your apology and I am now ready to live in the present and future and not in the past.

Nobody needs to live under the burden of all of his past mistakes. Even the writers of the Constitution recognized that a person must not forever have to live with the mistakes of the past. So they wrote into the Constitution that there would be no double jeopardy. A person cannot be tried twice for the same offense. Once it is settled, it is to be put behind us and that is the end of it.

If you want to find happiness in marriage, you must learn to deal with your conflicts in the right way. Gary ruined his marriage not only because he entered into it with unrealistic expectations, and not only because he refused to adjust, but because he did not deal with conflict correctly.

4. Gary fell into the habit of being critical and faultfinding.

If you do not deal with your conflicts, the tendency is to become critical and faultfinding.

You can become so preoccupied looking at the hole, that you fail to appreciate the doughnut. There are some people like that in marriage. They are so busy looking at the little faults and failures in the life of their mate that they forget the virtues and the good qualities their mate has. That is a terrible habit. Not only does it make the other person miserable, but it makes you miserable also.

William James says that the greatest need we have is the need to be appreciated. Marriage ought to provide that. We ought to give and to receive appreciation. If we give it lavishly, we receive it lavishly. It is hard enough to live a triumphant life when you have the encouragement and support of a mate, but without it, it is almost impossible.

5. Gary left God out of his life.

Gary left God out of his life until he got in a bind. He turned to God only when it looked like there was no other hope. If you are committed to Jesus Christ and you are drawn closer to him, and your spouse is drawn closer to him, you will be drawn closer together. The nearer the two of you come to Jesus Christ, the nearer you will be together. The greatest guarantee of a happy, harmonious marriage is for two people to be committed to Jesus Christ.

We are all made in the likeness and the image of God. Without God, you can never be a total person. We were made physically like the animals. We were made to live on this planet. We were made to live by burning the fuel that is provided by the food of this earth. We were also made in the likeness and the image of God. It is only as we are related to God that that image can ever be complete. For example, God loves. That means that since we are like God, we are capable of loving. Animals can’t do that in the fullest sense of the word. We can love, but love can be perverted and twisted and it becomes lust. It becomes a selfish expression of a desire.

God can get angry. Over 400 times, the Bible tells us of God’s anger. We can get angry too. But seldom is our anger righteous indignation. It usually becomes a selfish indignation. Our anger turns to hatred, bitterness, and destruction. That good quality can be twisted and perverted.

God is jealous. He will not share his people with idols. We are capable of jealousy also. But our jealousy, instead of making us protective, can make us suspicious. It creates mistrust and deep suspicion that drives a wedge into the relationship. That good quality that makes us like God can be perverted and twisted.

God rules the universe. And we, made in his image, are capable of ruling also. But there is the danger that that ability to rule be twisted until we become overbearing and dictatorial.

The fact that we have been made in the likeness and the image of God gives us tremendous potential to love, to be angry at the right things, to be protective of the right things, and to control and to lead. But those same qualities, because of sin can be twisted and perverted. Without God in your life, you cannot love like you ought to love. Without God in your life, you cannot lead like you ought to lead. Without God in your life, you cannot protect like you ought to protect. You need God in your life.

Gary’s problem started with unrealistic expectations. He refused to bend or adjust. He allowed problems to canker into resentment and bitterness. He slipped into a critical, faultfinding attitude. Worst of all, he had no place for God in his life. Don’t let that happen to you. The right way to save your marriage is to give yourself to Jesus Christ. Ruth gives us a beautiful expression of the kind of love that ought to exist between husband and wife when she said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

That’s the kind of the togetherness that ought to characterize marriage. “Whither thou goest I will go and whither thou lodgest I will lodge” means together physically. “Thy people shall be my people” means together emotionally. “Thy God shall be my God” describes together spiritually, and “whither thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried” means together permanently. Together physically, together emotionally, together spiritually, together permanently. That’s God’s ideal for marriage, and you can never have it until you have him at the heart and center of it.

Broad categories to help your search
Even more refined tags to find what you need
Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

Today's Devotional

Missed yesterday's devotional?

Get it

Want to search all devotionals?


Want to receive the weekday devotional in your inbox?