Why Your Spouse Will Fail You and What to Do About It

I (Dr. Cloud) was leading a seminar, and I asked the audience of married couples to stop for a moment and think of their spouse. I told them to think of all of the wonderful things that they love about their spouse and to concentrate on how awesome that person is and how much they love him or her. “Think of the wonderful qualities that you admire and that attracted you to that person. Let those feelings fill you,” I told them.

Then, after they were feeling all giddy and in love again, I asked each person to turn to their spouse who was idealizing them at that moment and to repeat after me, “Honey, I am a sinner. I will fail you, and I will hurt you.”

You could feel the sense of discombobulation in the room. In one moment, they were shaken from the ideal to the real. Some began to laugh as they got it. Some felt even closer to each other. Some looked up confused as if they did not know what to do with my invitation.

But that is reality. The person you love the most and have committed your life to is an imperfect being. This person is guaranteed to hurt you and fail you in many ways, some serious and some not. You can expect the failures to come. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” We can expect failure from even the best people in our lives.

So the question becomes, “What then?” What do you do when your spouse fails you in some way or is less than you wish for him to be? What happens when she has a weakness or a failure? How about an inability to do something? What about an unresolved childhood hurt that he brings to the relationship?

Other than denial, there are only a couple of options. You can beat him up for his imperfections, or you can love him out of them. The Bible says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Nothing in a relationship has to permanently destroy that relationship if forgiveness is in the picture. No failure is larger than grace. No hurt exists that love cannot heal. But, for all of these miracles to take place, there must be compassion and tenderheartedness.

What does that mean? I like how the Bible describes God’s compassion: “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary). For God to have compassion on our brokenness or sin is certainly to stoop to an inferior. But we need the same attitude toward an equal spouse for two reasons:

First, you forgive what is inferior to the ideal standard. You humble yourself to identify with your loved one, who is experiencing life in a way that is less than you or even he would want. You give up all demands for your spouse to be something he isn’t at that moment.

Second, if your spouse is hurting or failing, you are not morally superior, but you are in the stronger position at that moment to be able to help. God never uses the stronger position to hurt, but always to help. As Paul puts it in Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

What a picture that is! “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” What if you “wore” these qualities every time your spouse failed or was hurting? I think we would see a lot more healed marriages.

But that is not the human way. The human way is to harden our hearts when we are hurt or offended.

I was talking to a friend the other day who had offended his wife in a relatively minor way. But to her it was not minor at all. As a result, she did not speak to him for several days. Finally he asked her when she might forgive him. “Will it be before next month? Before Christmas? Just let me know so I can get ready.” She finally broke and started laughing, and things were fine again. She saw how unnecessary her “hardness of heart” was to the offense.

Hardness of heart, much more than failure, is the true relationship killer. Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 that failure is not the cause of divorce, but hardness of heart is. This is why the Bible places such a high value on tenderheartedness.


Boundaries in Marriage_sm2If your marriage is struggling or you want to make a great marriage even better, Boundaries in Marriage has the answers. Learn how to:

  • Transform your relationship into a haven of mutual love, caring, and appreciation.
  • Protect your marriage from intruders, whether parents, affairs, or addictions.
  • Handle conflict effectively without losing your voice in the relationship.
  • Develop a sense of closeness and respect that you’ve never felt before.

Click here to read a sample chapter, watch a free video, and purchase your copy today.


  1. Renee in Oklahoma says

    What if the spouse has a bad habit of abusing verbally and isolating himself from his wife? He has been told countless times by more than one counselor how to Biblically love his wife, but he continues to fall into verbal abuse and isolation. I forgive, but I don’t enable him to continue. He is angry at me for taking a stand. What now?

    • momC says

      pray for him, continue to love.
      along side of using healthy boundaries, show grace and mercy.
      i know it hurts. i will pray with you and for you.
      keep the faith. be strong in Spirit.

    • Me says

      Ask The Holy Spirit to guide you Renee.
      He goes before you, He comes behind you, He is to your left and your right, He is above you and beneath you. Best of all, He flows out of His abundance from within your heart as you allow Him to. Seek Him! Embrace Him!

  2. anyonomous says

    This is wonderful advice but what would you say to someone who has been in an emotionally abusive/manipulative relationship for 30 years. Should they still try to love them out of it?

    • momC says

      me, too. i think of it as loving them through it. God may or may not change my situation, He may or may not change my spouse, but i know He’s changed me. we have an awesome opportunity to experience the sufficiency of Christ.

  3. DENNIS GREEN says

    Because of the very terrible cost of divorce, I encourage all to put on the bowel of mercy and tender heartedness towards his/her spouse.

  4. Tiffany says

    Well I am married but separated from my husband. He has countlessly over crossed my boundaries, disrespected them, our marriage an me. The verbal/mental and emotional abuse i endured was toi much foe me. I did not frow upin that kind of environment. Plus when we got married, he turned intoa comoletely different person. A person i have never known or saw throughout our courtship/dating. So the final straw was when he changed the house locks on me. He blantly put me out!

    So I have found a safe place and notified our marriage Counselor. She told me that the only person that could change is me. She said that we never had a marriage, there was never a four fatuous and she apologize for all of the things I had endure. She also mentioned to me that she had spoken to my husband individually and he just doesn’t get it! She said that heven should be mentally evaluated that he is never going to change. That he has a learned behavior. That is true!

    So I have purchased all of the boundaries books along with my own individual counseling seeing to help me cope through this and to learn the best way to set healthy boundsries. Especially since my spirit had been broken due to the abuse I endured in my marriage. I have filed for a divorce but now he is pleading for me not ro. I have ro. It’s the best for me and my worth. I am a believer I. God. I prayed prayed fasted and still nothing. Until he put me out. There is no return after that. Then to top it off he tried to put me to shame at my church by dropping off things I hado left since I had to abruptly move. How childless is that. He is a 45 year old man that will eat alone!

    • Jasmin Finke says

      Well done Tiffany.

      God loves you and don’t ever beat yourself up for it. Eventually only you can decide if you want to try again or not. Just make sure either way you have forgiven your spouse for your healing’s sake.

    • Eric says

      We never have to tolerate abuse. Never. I would ask you to trust that God is sovereign and He loves you. We cannot comprehend why God does what He does. His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts. We made a vow to our spouses on our wedding day, before God, to love, honor and cherish our spouses until death.

      Their decision to be unfaithful to their vows doesn’t excuse us from ours. We will all be held accountable before God for our decisions on the day of judgement. I want to be called HIS good and faithful servant.

      My wife’s behavior doesn’t dictate my obedience. Jesus is my heart’s desire before my wife. She abandoned a twenty year marriage. Our children now suffer from a broken home. Our families have been torn apart. Why? Because she wasn’t happy anymore. I wasn’t happy either, but she wasn’t willing to work on it.

      That was almost 3 years ago. I haven’t given up on my progidal, because to do so would be to say that God can’t fix this. You need to make sure that you are safe and separating is perfectly justified and righteous. But divorce is not necessary. God has reason for allowing this to happen to you and your husband. I know for us, that it was because He was no longer first in either of our lives. Both of us were selfish. We both put our wants and needs first. God wasn’t first. She wasn’t first. I was. The same is true for her.

      Don’t quit. Honor God. Glorify God. Praise Him for the rain as well as the sunshine. Give Him the opportunity to glorify Himself in your marriage. Let Jesus be your husband while you wait and pray and obey.

      We are more than conquerors. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength!

      • Beth says

        I happened upon this thread when searching for answers to my dilemma. I was in an abusive marriage and gave up, my husband being put out after an abusive altercation. I started divorce proceedings 2 months after that and had a restraining order as well. Needless to say, I hardened my heart more than I have ever thought possible. Now, after 4 months, my husband contacted me and we both wish to work on our marriage, have dismissed the restraining order and the divorce. We are both God’s children and like you, Eric, had quit putting God first and each focused on our own wants. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, you don’t know how much they have helped me today. We face many obstacles in getting back together as our families are not happy about it, please keep us in your prayers as you & your wife will be in mine. God bless you both.

  5. Deidre says

    This is where we need access to good quality reputable information so we know what is and isn’t abusive. Most of us turn to family and friends for advice and even though they do their best they can provide wrong advice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *