Every marriage has gaps. And when two beautiful-yet-broken people commit to a life together, lots of grace is needed.
Gaps of all kinds spring up: expectation gaps, ability gaps, misunderstanding gaps, sin gaps, cultural gaps, value gaps. Sometimes you can hear them forming:
He just seems too focused on work to listen to me anymore.
She isn’t as physically active as when we met.
I had hoped we’d do everything together, but we live pretty separate lives.
She’s just so different. I thought we’d be able to get past it, but now I’m not sure.
We aren’t intimate like we used to be.
Gaps form in any relationship between two real people. And I’m convinced that it’s into these gaps that Jesus wants to pour his grace so our marriages can flourish.
How can we let Jesus fill the gaps? Here are 10 ways.
- Acknowledge the gaps. Get honest with yourself and with God. Be real about your feelings, your disappointments, your angst. But keep it to yourself for now; wait till you’ve had some time to process the gaps before you talk to your spouse about your feelings. The guidance of a good counselor or trusted spiritual friend can help you identify the gaps you are experiencing.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom about which gaps can be closed and which gaps may never be resolved. The fact is, some of the gaps in our marriages won’t be “solved.” Some cultural and personality gaps may never be fully closed, requiring ongoing grace to make up the difference. Other gaps may result from physical challenges, such as when a person has had physical trauma and is not able to do things that had previously been part of your shared life. Grace is needed for the gaps, whether they can be closed or not.
- Offer grace and forgiveness. Whatever the gaps, grace and forgiveness must be our basic stance. Jesus enters into all our gaps, be they gaps in our life with him, the ways we are not yet transformed, or the gaps in our marriage, and he fills up those gaps with his grace. Let him do that for your marriage by regularly offering grace and forgiveness to each other.
- Work on you. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to grow yourself. When gaps are acknowledged in a marriage, it’s easy to become focused on how “they” are the problem, ways “they” need to change, errors “they” must acknowledge. But that’s very ineffective (and usually untrue!). As the advice runs, the only person you can truly change is yourself. When you let God into your gaps and pursue personal growth, you’ll find that you’ll be helping your marriage. Read, pray, get counselling, get honest, grow in self-awareness, let the Spirit develop in you all the fruits of his presence.
- Pray! Prayer must become the primary way we address the gaps in our marriage. Talking with one trusted friend is good. (But with many friends? Not good!) Exploring our gaps with a counselor? Yes. But none of that replaces the most basic conversation we need to be having with God. I find it’s at the moment when I’m feeling the most discouraged or challenged by the gaps in my marriage that I’m presented with a choice: Will I fret and worry? Or will I trust and pray? Choosing to pray is always the better choice.
- Be watchful. As gaps grow, temptations rush in and relational distance increases, widening gaps into canyons. Temptations come in many forms: comparing your spouse with another, throwing yourself into a hobby rather than connecting in conversation, working longer hours, even seeking false comfort in dangerous and unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much or viewing pornography. The more one allows temptations to pull your heart away, the greater the gaps become. In my counselling with couples, I find that small gaps became larger as people refused to acknowledge them and simply pursued other distractions.
- Gently discuss with your spouse what you have been discovering about yourself and what you’ve been praying about for your marriage. Do this without accusing. Notice that this is the first point I’ve made about actually talking to your spouse about the gaps you’ve identified. Why? Because we often talk about the gaps way too soon. We haven’t wrestled with our role in the gaps, we haven’t spent time working on ourselves, we haven’t cultivated an attitude of grace and acceptance; in short, we aren’t ready, and talking about the gaps before we are ready will backfire. But there is a time when we must talk about them. Do it gently. Recognize that this may be the first time your spouse has become aware of a particular gap, and they may push back. Give them time and space to process and pray. Resist getting defensive. And keep praying.
- Be patient and listen to how they see the gap. In the conversations that follow, heed the sage advice to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Even after all the work you’ve done, you need to let your spouse share their perspective, their insight, their struggles. Be open to them and what they see. Keep offering grace and forgiveness, and be willing to ask for it.
- Be willing to let go of demands and expectations. As you process the gaps, be open-handed. There will be some expectations and demands that you will need to let go, letting Jesus make up for what your spouse cannot. This is true in every marriage, and it’s a key way we are reminded that our spouse cannot be everything for us–we need Jesus to be what only he can be. Some gaps will close slowly. Some will never close. But as we offer freedom to one another, we can experience grace in our marriage, even in the midst of the gaps.
- Live in a posture of thankful grace. When we focus on the gaps, we can forget the goodness. Make sure, in the midst of all the prayer and reflection and discussion, to continually and intentionally encourage your partner, celebrating God’s goodness in them, the ways they delight you and excite you. Live in a posture of thankful grace, letting Jesus fill the gaps, and experiencing in the process a relationship that is growing in depth and in passion.
How have you identified and addressed gaps in your marriage?
What is the best advice you’ve received for gaps that seem insurmountable?