How Can I Live With a Difficult Spouse?

Aim for Empathy

To some degree, we all face the challenge of interacting with difficult people. But the challenge heightens when it comes in the form of a spouse. What does it mean to love someone whose behavior regularly causes you trouble? Is there hope? Winston Smith thinks so. As a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF), he leans in to this topic to give practical insight for setting proper expectations and living out day to day faithfulness out of love for a difficult spouse.

Winston has served as a counselor for more than fifteen years and holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. Winston is the author of Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments as well as several mini-books: Divorce Recovery; Help for Stepfamilies; It's All About Me—The Problem with Masturbation; Who Does the Dishes?; and Help! My Spouse Committed Adultery.

Winston listed two specific points of advice for those living with a difficult spouse:
  1. Begin by accepting the fact that you are in a difficult situation.
  2. Hold a realistic expectation of your place.
Each of these contributes towards relieving some of the associated shame and provides a greater sense of hope for your interactions going forward. 

Would you identify your spouse as presenting abnormal difficulties to the marriage? If so, why? How have you reacted to those difficulties previously? Can you identify any areas of your response that need to change? If so, what are they?
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Psalm 103:13-14 (ESV)

13As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Winston noted how easy it is to shame ourselves in the midst of struggling to love a difficult person, especially as a Christian. But life is hard and admitting as much is not an act of faithlessness. In fact, God sees us in our trials and offers compassion and the comfort of His presence in the midst of them.

Do you struggle with accepting the difficulty of your situation? If so, what do you think are some of the reasons behind this? Do those reasons cause you to experience shame as a result? If so, why do you think so?
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In the midst of these kinds of difficult seasons, Winston talked about how it is important to turn to God and others for help. How are you depending on God for help in this time? Who are you inviting into your life to bear this burden with you (Gal. 6:2)? If you have not asked for help, who could you reach out to this week?
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When someone else's behavior brings about trouble in our lives, we typically respond by trying to change them. But many times, this is not realistic, especially when it comes to someone dealing with issues like OCD and paranoia. Instead, our job is to hold out the love of Christ in simple ways.

Winston shared the examples of patience, gentleness, and long-suffering as ways to show Christ's love to a difficult spouse. What are some of the opportunities you have for day-to-day faithfulness? Are there any ways you would like to improve? If so, how?
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It is important for any husband and wife to connect mercifully with his or her spouse's struggle. Winston described how those who contend with OCD and paranoia are not that different from anyone else when we think in terms of the basic experience of fear. Would you say that you empathize well with your spouse's struggles? If not, why? How can you strive to connect with the challenges your spouse faces this week?
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Living with a difficult spouse is hard work. It requires perseverance, faithfulness, and a continual dependence upon God for strength. If you are in a challenging situation, refuse to allow shame to steal your hope. Instead, rest in the compassion of God extended to you in Christ. Let His love compel you to invite other believers into your life for help and look for opportunities to live out daily acts of faithfulness for your spouse.

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