You think you have an unhappy marriage? Imagine what things were like for Leah. Her marriage was nothing like she imagined it would be, yet she managed to find contentment.
Let’s look back at her story from Genesis, shall we?
Jacob had worked for seven long years to earn the hand of the lovely Rachel. While laboring away in the hot sun of Paddan Aram, he probably kept his eyes on the prize, picturing the day when she would finally become his wife.
Instead, Rachel’s father, Laban, played a cruel trick on Jacob on his wedding day. The wedding feast that took place didn’t seem to include the bride. It was a celebration only for men.
And Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Genesis 29:22
After the party was over and it was dark, Laban brought his daughter to Jacob and handed her over to be his bride. For some reason, whether it was because of the darkness, his drunkenness, or some other devious trick played on Jacob, he woke up in the morning to realize that the woman in the tent with him was Leah, Rachel’s older, less attractive sister.
Jacob was obviously angry. He demanded answers from his father-in-law, who gave him Rachel as his wife as well. He only asked him to finish one week of marriage to Leah.
In one week, Leah went from happy newlywed to being cast aside, labeled forever as Jacob’s second choice. Her chances for a happy life with her new husband were dashed by her husband, father, and sister.
Leah had to come to grips with the fact that her husband loved her sister more than her. She would never be the gleam in Jacob’s eye. She had to learn to be content.
Did Leah know what was going to happen when she entered Jacob’s tent that night? Perhaps she had always been told Jacob was working for her. Maybe she knew it was a trick. We really don’t know.
But it’s obvious she expected more from this marriage than she got. She spent years bearing children to Jacob, whose names reveal her desperation for her husband to love her.
Somewhere along the line, things changed. This had been quite a journey for Leah. But in the space between the birth of Levi and delivering her fourth son, Judah, her mindset began to shift from one of neediness and disappointment to one of contentment.
You see, her third son’s name, Levi, meant “attached,” and after he was born, she spoke the words found in Genesis 29:34.
Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons. Genesis 29:34
But her next son, Judah, had a name meaning “praised.” When he was born, Leah said,
“This time I will praise the LORD.” Genesis 29:35
She seems to have stopped begging for her husband to be the one she hoped he would be. She decided to praise God despite the circumstances and be content with what she had. I like how she said, “this time.” She realized that her previous attitudes were hurting only herself, and she needed a change.
Thankfully, arranged marriages that leave room for a less-than-honest parent to abuse the situation aren’t the norm anymore. Nobody tricked you into getting married. You chose with your free will.
Contentment Changes Us
It might feel like you were sometimes tricked, though. When your spouse doesn’t live up to the expectations you built up in the time before your wedding day, and during the honeymoon, you can wind up disillusioned. You’ll try anything and everything you can to fix the situation.
Leah always desired a different relationship with Jacob. Each time she had another son, she believed that it would be the event that would make him love her like he loved her sister.
Each time, she ended up disappointed.
She wanted Jacob to change.
But she only found the contentment she was looking for when she changed, not when he did.
If you want your spouse to change to make you feel content, you will end up waiting a long time. Contentment is up to you.
What is contentment?
Contentment is a mindset. It’s deciding to focus on the good things in your life instead of the things you don’t have.
Contentment gives you the freedom to happily be who God made you to be. It allows you to live the life He wants you to live. A content person knows God’s plan for their life and lives it without apology. God’s peace is more important to the content person than the problems the world throws at them.
Being content isn’t denying your feelings. It doesn’t mean you are never sad or disappointed. Instead, you stop letting those negative feelings about your unhappy marriage control you. Then you can have joy and satisfaction in your life as it is.
Contentment isn’t being complacent and just accepting defeat. Complacency is being unsatisfied with how your life is in the moment, but still being unwilling to make changes to improve your unhappy marriage. That’s being a martyr, and it won’t solve anything.
How to learn contentment in an unhappy marriage
Paul the Apostle made an important statement about contentment in the book of Philippians. He states:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11
Notice the word learned. Paul tells us that contentment is something that he needed to learn. If Paul had to learn it, then we definitely do!
There was a secret to Paul’s contentment. He relied on the power and presence of Jesus.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13
Contentment comes from inside you, not what is going on outside. It comes from a relationship with God, where you understand that he cares for you and promises to give you what you need in every situation.
Make the change
If the situation in your marriage never changes, could you be happy? If not, then your life has been hijacked by discontentment, and it’s time to change.
It’s much easier to sit around having a pity party for yourself and regretting all of your choices than it is to develop a mindset of contentment. You need to make changes in yourself that can lead to a more satisfying relationship with your spouse.
People are not naturally content. It isn’t natural. You have to learn contentment, and learning anything new requires discipline and hard work. Just like you can’t wake up one day speaking a foreign language, don’t expect contentment to drop out of the sky for you and change everything.
You will only be as content in your marriage as you set out to be. If you are feeling discontent with your marriage, choose one of these following actions to take. Work at it intentionally for three weeks. Your mindset will improve, and, in time, so will your feelings about the situation. And with God’s help, the problem will improve as well.
Avoid the Comparison Trap
Comparison is the death of joy. Don’t compare your real, everyday life to what you see other couples display in public and on social media. Remember, people don’t air their dirty laundry and tell everyone how miserable their marriages are on their Facebook timelines.
Judge your marriage on its own merits, not on what you think other people’s relationships are like.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:12
Thankfulness isn’t just for November, it’s a way of life. Have a mindset of intentional gratitude. Make a point of finding things about your marriage and spouse that you can be thankful for. Does your spouse make you laugh? Do they have excellent parenting skills? Are they well-organized or handy around the house?
No one is all good or all bad. Keep that in mind when your spouse’s shortcomings are frustrating you.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Live in the present
The present is the only time you have control over. It’s when we try to change the past or future that we can create an unhappy marriage.
Don’t spend time digging up past mistakes to throw in your spouse’s face. On the flip side, don’t fixate on what you expect in the future. You have no control over how things will ultimately turn out. All you can do is make the choices you need to today that will aim your relationship in the right direction.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Isaiah 43:18
Accept your spouse
Accept your spouse for who they are. No one is perfect, and no one goes through this life without what they face affecting them in some way.
If your spouse has issues that are affecting your relationship, your kids, or their health, you can’t nag them into changing. People have to want to change for themselves. Build your spouse up instead of tearing them down.
It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman. Proverbs 21:19
Positivity is key
Even when it’s hard, stay positive. No matter what comes against you, you have the love, forgiveness, and power of God in your life. There are good things about your spouse and your marriage, even when they seem overshadowed by current events.
Focus on the big picture
Sometimes we can fixate on the missing pieces in our unhappy marriages, those places where something just seems to be missing. Focus on the big picture of your relationship instead. What does it look like from a distance? Is your marriage a solid one overall? If so, live and react by that image, not to the missing pieces.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Control your thoughts
An important truth that leads to contentment in your marriage is remembering that the only thing you can control is you.
That control starts with your thoughts. The thoughts you allow to run rampant in your mind will form your beliefs about your relationship. Those beliefs then change the way you act, and your actions create your reality. It all starts in the mind. You need to conform your mind to the word of God.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
Seek God’s Will
If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your marriage, and you can’t to break away from those feelings, seek God’s will. He’s there for you at all times. He knows what your marriage can be, even through all kinds of serious problems. It’s not his will that your marriage end in divorce, so ask Him for his guidance and follow His directions and work to avoid that outcome.
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:6
Objectively Evaluate Your Thoughts
I’ve already pointed out that your thoughts cause your emotions. But, are your thoughts actually true? Sometimes we overblow a word or a look from our spouses and tell ourselves what we think they meant instead of what they really did mean. When you have negative thoughts about your spouse or your situation, take time to objectively look at them and determine if they are really accurate. Your unhappy marriage may be built on false information.
Accept What You Can’t Change
Like me, you’ve probably heard the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer hundreds of times. But did you know, there’s more to it? When you go beyond the familiar words at the beginning, there’s more that will help you fix your unhappy marriage.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
Though this biblical story about Leah took place thousands of years ago, I’m sure some of you have similar feelings today. Perhaps, like Leah, you want your spouse to show affection or do what you need to meet your emotional needs. You end up feeling neglected time and time again.
Your spouse cannot meet all your needs. Only God can do that. Find Biblical contentment not in what you have, but in whose you are.
Being continually discontented with your spouse is an obstacle to enjoying your life. Take steps toward a new mindset of contentment and improve your unhappy marriage.