Epic Fail? Marriage Failure

We continued our new series called “Epic Fail?” at Gateway Church in Austin.

This week the message was on overcoming a broken heart.

Although the emphasis was on Marriage Failure, the principles can help in any relationship.

Discuss ways to apply the message here:

Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.

Options listed for follow up include support groups, classes, and a workshop at Gateway South:


Come discover how to stay connected or reconnect as a couple!
Designed for couples who are seriously dating, engaged, newlywed or married for many years.

Register at GatewayChurch.com/MaximizeMarriage.

Listen to my message from Gateway South here:

Notes from the message by John Burke are here:

Why is marriage SO difficult?

The divorce rate reminds us just how difficult it is, and many more couples who don’t divorce, struggle with hurt and isolation.

Some of the most painful situations occur when one spouse desperately wants to fix what is broken, but the other is stuck in a pattern of poor relating or destructive behavior and apparently has no intention of changing. This creates a painful dilemma for the spouse who wants to do the right thing and remain committed to God and his or her marriage vows.

Are the only alternatives to leave the marriage or to accept the situation and withdraw into painful isolation? No. There’s a way to allow God to turn what feels like marriage failure into something good. And that decision can set change in motion for the whole marriage. I’ve seen it again and again.

Whenever our spouse disappoints us, fails us, hurts us, or just plain irritates us, whether in big ways or little ways, from our perspective he or she is wrong. The question we’re asking today is this “How do you act right when your spouse acts wrong?” Because Sin is in all of us.

“For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s intentions.” – Romans 3:23

Attitudes and behaviors that come out of a self-centered, selfish, prideful, deceived, and/or rebellious heart might express themselves in big, bad ways such as infidelity, lying, addictions, or abuse. The same sinful heart can also produce more benign but chronically irritating behaviors in us, such as nagging and criticism, forgetting important things, not listening well, or staying glued to the TV.

No matter how bad it gets, there is a way forward. Don’t settle for failure—God can redeem and restore what feels hopeless when you follow him to do right, even when your spouse acts wrong.

Is it an Epic Failure? Or is it really an opportunity for God to work His wonders?

The Story of Hosea and Gomer

Hosea was a prophet God used to speak to the Israelites around 750 BC. It’s a low point in Israel’s history, when they had forsaken their covenant relationship with Yahweh, God, and they had done the very thing they promised not to do. They started following the gods of the Canaanites. They offered sacrifices (even child sacrifices) to gods who were not gods, but as the prophets warned them, they were sacrificing to evil spirits masking as gods. They gave their thanks, their trust, and their hearts to false gods, and turned their back on the One True God.

God tells his prophet, Hosea—go find a wife, but I want you to look for her in a Brothel. God does this because Hosea is a living illustration for us. So Hosea scratches his head, but starts his search. Eventually he meets Gomer. Now, Lots of people name their kids after Bible names, Deborah, David, John, Mary—Gomer is not one of the popular ones—probably because she was a prostitute. So Hosea meets Gomer at Sugars, sees she’s different—she wants out of that life, and he truly falls in love with her, and marries her—he rescues Gomer from a life of abuse and Hosea longs to shower her with love and a good life. And Gomer appeared to be grateful and happily married as well. At first, it seemed like a fairy tale story– the Prince rescuing the abused Princess to live happily ever after.

Then they have a child, everything seems ideal–a happy little family for several years. But then Gomer gets pregnant again—only this time, it may not be Hosea’s child. His heart breaks to pieces. He rescued her from men who just used her, he had taken her out of a life of abuse and loved her and cared for her—why would she go back to her old ways? They didn’t love her. He truly loved her. He truly cared and would do anything for her. God tells Hosea—go take her back, try again—so he goes and has to PAY to get his own wife back from her Pimp, and Hosea tries to mend his broken heart and love her again. Two years later, it happens again—she gets pregnant with a third child, not Hosea’s. Now he knows this is a horrible situation. No matter how much he tries to love her, she keeps going back to her old lovers and old ways, even though they use and abuse her.

Our Relationship with God

Why is this sad story of Marriage Failure in the Bible?— Because that’s God’s story with us.

When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods…She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has—the grain, the new wine, the olive oil; I even gave her silver and gold. But she gave all my gifts to Baal.” – Hosea 1:2, 2:8 (NLT)

God says through Hosea, I loved you and wanted the closest relationship imaginable, so I rescued you from your life of being used and abused by evil, I took you home, to love you, care for you, give you good things, and I thought you’d be grateful, and trust and give me your heart fully. Yet you keep going back to give yourself to things that hurt you, enslave you, depress you, things you look to make you happy other than me. So I paid the greatest price to buy you back—forgive all your wrongs—again and again—because I created you for my love first. Only my love can right-order all your other loves.

Why is marriage so difficult? Because all of us turn from God’s love, put other things as more important than loving God and obeying him, and it affects everything—especially our ability to truly love one another. That’s why marriage is so hard. So stop and think about this—Whenever you are feeling hurt, let down, unloved, betrayed, disappointed, rejected—God has felt the same…from you! From me! That’s what He’s trying to get across in Hosea. God’s unconditional love for us cannot compare to any other love—even marital love pales. That’s why in Hosea 2, God says to Hosea,

“But now bring charges against Israel…for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face and the clothing that exposes her breasts.” – Hosea 2:2  

God likens his relationship to people to a marriage. See marriage is just a dim comparison to the relationship God wants with you. If you’ve ever wanted to Divorce—God’s felt that too with you. Yet Here’s what God says to his people—his desire:

“I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord…. I will show love to those I called ‘Not loved.’ And to those I called ‘Not my people,’ I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’ And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’” – Hosea 2:19-23

Do you realize the outrageous, unconditional love God shows you? The ridiculous patience, kindness, forgiveness, self-sacrificing love that holds out hope forever?

That’s also why marriage is SO difficult—marriage is sacred and holy—a human picture of God’s love. And in an unholy world opposed to God and his ways—your marriage will feel under attack. And if you’re not married, or you’re divorced and single—We can idolize marriage, and so we don’t see it for what God wanted it to be. Too many give up and give in when it gets hard because we don’t understand what marriage is. Marriage is not the institution created to make us happy—God created it to make us holy—to teach us to love God first, so we can grow to love each other as he loves us. When you want to change your spouse to love you better, God wants to teach you to love Him better. So feelings of marriage failure is your opportunity to let God shape us into the person you want our spouse to be! And here’s the irony—when each person stops trying to fix the other and let God grow their ability to love—we find the love we could never pry out of each other.

So your marriage is getting attacked, and you have to fight for it—because it’s meant to be a representation of God’s love for us. So don’t fight each other, fight against the spiritual forces of evil that want to divide you. Deborah and I had a saying we adopted in the first years of marriage, when we would fight and start going at each other: “We’re not enemies.” We’d give each other permission to say “We’re not enemies” as a reminder. There is a real enemy to our marriage. Evil wants to divide us, pit us against each other, make us enemies. So don’t fight each other, fight the spiritual forces trying to divide you. That’s what Jesus reminded us of when he defined the point of marriage:

“‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” – Matthew 19:5-6

Notice—what God has joined together—God’s intimately invested in every marriage. And notice that the point of marriage is Oneness—that’s the goal—because God is One (united perfectly—distinct persons Father, Son, Spirit—but only One Being, One God). So as two people, distinct, separate individuals, learn to spiritually, emotionally, physically, sexually put one another first—come together in a God-induced unity, that’s a supernatural event.

Few enter into relationship with God’s view of marriage. God’s view is this:

“Two imperfect sinful/self-centered people, entering a life-long commitment to grow into a loving intimacy of Oneness (that only reliance on God’s love can accomplish).”

What that takes, few truly want. It takes me changing, not just trying to change the other. So when you want to change your spouse, ask “Am I willing to let God change me like I want God to changer her/him?”] God joins us as one—that’s what Jesus said–but we both must rely on Him to get us there—not just when it’s easy and feels good (anyone can do that—but when it’s difficult and you actually NEED God’s strength and love to love the other).

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them….We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:16,19

God IS Love—God is the Source, we’re not our own source of love—that’s why we struggle to make love last without Knowing and Relying on the love God has for us.

Marriage is not about finding the right person, or changing that person – it’s about becoming the right person. God uses us, with all our hurts, wounds, sins, and imperfections to create the perfect environment for each of us to develop. That’s not what you probably wanted to hear, because most of us just want a crowbar to wrench the other person into changing—we don’t want to change. Which is the whole problem—we’re all like that. The path forward is NOT trying to change your spouse—but realizing what Paul realized while in prison:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

When we start to think “I can’t be happy unless I change my spouse”—you’ve made your spouse into an idol—a God. Put God first, let him show you how you can be happy no matter what your spouse does—and that can change everything—no matter how bad it gets:

What do you do when it feels like your marriage is failing? Maybe it’s not as severe as adultery, but it can still feel like betrayal, hurt, broken trust, hopeless. And when that happens, our first priority tends to be to try to change that other person—but that never works.

Principles for healing broken relationships:

Hold on to Hope.

Don’t let your mind become hopeless for your marriage. God gets really raw and vulnerable in Hosea about his feelings—He feels hurt, angry, betrayed, violated and even expresses those emotions…He feels like divorcing…yet look how he ends Chapter 1:

“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’ 11 Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite together. They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together. What a day that will be—the day of Jezreel—when God will again plant his people in his land. Hosea 1:10-11

Even in the midst of God’s anguish over feeling rejected by his people, his bride, his spouse, he still holds on to Hope! It’s the same Hope we must hold to when our marriage is under attack. Jewish commentators indicate this passage speaks to the Hope found in the One Leader (King Messiah). God sent Jesus to lead us into a love that we don’t naturally have—a self-sacrificing love that marriage is intended to produce in us. But if we don’t realize God’s point in marriage, we will give up too easily and never become patient, forgiving, self-sacrificing people full of unconditional love. The second way to act right when your spouse acts wrong is…

Question Your Interpretation

It’s crucial to understand that your feelings are caused not by our spouse’s behavior, but by the way we interpret his or her behavior…Each of us forms an interpretive lens through which we view what is happening around us. Our interpretations can be wrong, or distorted, or overblown. And Research has shown that one of the greatest threats to a marriage occurs when spouses regularly interpret each other’s behaviors negatively. There are four negative reactions that will lead a couple toward divorce. Not surprisingly, God’s Word has something to say about each:

  1. Escalating a fight –  Do we check out our negative interpretations and launch a counter attack, or give the benefit of the doubt and check it out?
    A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
  1. Negative comments – Do we believe the best, try to build up the other or get easily hurt and offended and cast negative comments consistently?
    For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to build you up, not to tear you down. – 2 Corinthians 13:10
  1. Invalidating comments – Do we listen to try to understand until the other person says they feel understood? Or do we quickly defend ourselves, explain, blame, shame and invalidate?
    “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” – James 1:19 
  1. Withdrawal and avoidance –  Do we get easily offended and shut down, play games? Or Do we keep the peace by stuffing our hurt and anger? That doesn’t help—it gives evil a foothold to build up resentment.
    Let us tell our neighbors the truth…Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. – Ephesians 4:25-27 

In order to reverse these patterns, we need to take full responsibility for how we react or respond and church out our Interpretations. Remember, what we do and how we act is influenced by others but not caused by others. When you rely on God to help you act right, even if they are acting wrong—it unwinds the tightening knot. The hardest, but most essential way to act right, is to die to self to live for Christ.

Die To Self

No one wants to die, yet that’s what it takes to follow Christ and grow to love as God loves us. With God’s help we can die to our narcissistic, individualistic, me centered ways.

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died on a cross [for us]. Philippians 2:3-8

This is profound…to truly learn to love, whether Single or married, involves a kind of dying to ourselves to love with God’s love (dying to our old ways, our old families, dying to me first, dying to controlling, defending, blaming, shaming).


God’s goal is to draw us closer to Himself, so He can give us the Unconditional Love we don’t have to give. When we allow ourselves to die again and again, His love comes alive in us more and more, and we experience more of the love we always wanted.

Return, [my people], to the Lord your God…Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds.” Hosea 14:1,4


Free Consultation

If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!