Written by: Gio and Suzy Llerena.

All marriage relationships go through ebbs and flows throughout their time together. We certainly remember those wonderful times when we had no cares in the world. We also remember those times that were difficult, when we didn’t even feel like we knew each other.

Depending on your life circumstance, you will be navigating through what Don and Sally Meredith call the Four Stages of Marriage. An in depth look at these stages can be found in their book, Two Becoming One.

Recently, Suzy and I were facilitating a Two Becoming One small group and going over the four stages of marital decline: Romance, Reality, Resentment, and Rebellion. One couple that had been married for 5 years, with a toddler and newborn, quickly blurted out, “Oh man, we are knee deep in reality!” Everyone in the group laughed because we all understood where that comment was coming from! 

Every couple comes to the altar with the hopes for a “happily-ever-after-marriage.” No one gets married thinking, “I can’t wait to mess this thing up. I hope we divorce within the first year of marriage!”

With our desire to live the happily-ever-after dream, we quickly find disappointment and conflict come sooner than expected.  Understanding these stages will give you a tool in your toolbox to help you determine the success and trajectory of your future together and discover how to have a good marriage.

The Four Stages

1.     Romance: A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love. 

This stage is the one that gives you “all the feels.” Nothing your spouse does bothers you…yet! You talk for hours about anything and everything. The flowers are fresh, the cards are abundant, and the dates are well planned and executed to perfection. Your focus is your spouse and no one else. You make time to spend with them and are willing to sacrifice other things in your life to make sure you get good quality time together. Romance has you face-to-face as a couple.

2.     Reality: The world or the state of things as they exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

This is the stage we all live in. Work, kids, responsibilities, school, parties, friends, church, and the list goes on. You cannot avoid this stage, as it is the reality we all navigate. In this stage it gets real. Face-to-face time seems to be less due to the hectic lives we live. We need to go to work, take care of the kids, visit with friends, assist our elderly parents who are not doing well. It’s not bad to be in this stage – it is a fact of life. We need to be careful the stage of reality does not spiral out of control and send us to stage. In reality we are shoulder-to-shoulder living out our lives together.

3.     Resentment: Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.

In this stage you have allowed the realities of life to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Satan has lied to you about whether your spouse cares about you. You think they are not pulling their weight with all the realities you are dealing with. Perhaps you have placed expectations on each other and have not, in a loving way, communicated them. The anger is welling up and you have a feeling you are in this alone. Your spouse has become your enemy! The arguments and fights have become the norm and the lies of Satan seem to be truth! When you and your spouse resent one another, you are standing back-to-back!

4.     Rebellion: An act of violent or open resistance.

The rebellion stage is where the word divorce comes up. You do not feel like it is worth it anymore. Your anger and hatred have trumped true love and care for each other. You have allowed resentment to fester without truly working on your issues and coming up with a solid game plan towards resolution. You have believed the lies Satan has so subtly told you about your spouse. You guys have different backgrounds, you will never figure it out. You might find yourself thinking, You both need to give 50% otherwise you are not in this together, if he/she truly cared about me they would… And the lies go on! In rebellion spouses are not standing anywhere near each other.

How Did We Get Here?

Our desire for every couple is to live together healthily in the reality stage while pursuing regular romance. The truth is that living in romance every day is not attainable, but we can venture into it on a regular basis. 

God is the designer of marriage and following His blueprint is important in order to find out ways to have a healthy marriage. Our gradual decline from Romance, to Reality, to Resentment, and ending with Rebellion, is a result of us building our homes with our own blueprint – or perhaps building with blueprints the world has given us. Let me encourage you to take a good look at what God has to say about marriage.

We slip into these stages because we are self-focused and want our own way. We impose unrealistic expectations on our spouse and get upset when they are not met. God’s design is different. God challenges us not to live in a performance-based marriage, but rather in a faith-based marriage. 

Performance vs Faith

“The faith relationship is opposite of the natural performance-based relationship in two significant ways. First, it is not natural at all – it is supernatural. You will only learn about this kind of relationship from God through His Word. Second, the faith relationship does not focus on human performance but on God’s character, promises, and faithfulness. Relating to each other from a faith perspective can make a mediocre marriage amazing and even restore marriages when husband and wife are ready to call it quits.”

Two Becoming One

A question that commonly comes up when discussing faith relationships is, “Can God fulfill my needs in this relationship despite my spouse’s shortcomings and weaknesses?” The answer is yes! If God can meet your needs, then your spouse’s weaknesses no longer limit you. This fact frees husbands and wives to love one another unconditionally as they thank God for His gracious gift – their spouse!”

Action Steps to Take Today:

1.      Ask God to search your heart and to expose to you (not your spouse) what areas you need to work on in drawing closer to the Lord, and then drawing closer to your spouse. (Psalm 139:23-24)

2.     Spend some time writing down and discussing with your spouse, what activities, responsibilities, and events have caused you to develop some resentment in your marriage. Allow an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability to get the most out of the discussion.

3.     Identify the true enemy! Tell your spouse they are not your enemy! Fight together with the power of the Holy Spirit against the one trying to destroy your marriage. (Ephesians 6:12)

Christian Family Life is a marriage discipleship ministry. We are here to offer resources and support no matter what condition your marriage is in. Our passion is to Build, Enrich, and Reconcile Marriages. Find out more at https://www.christianfamilylife.com/

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