Spring Cleaning for the Musty Marriage

God wants to see your marriage succeed. You are not in this alone.

Spring cleaning and me, we have a love-hate relationship.

You see, I love that this yearly ritual spawns a clean, organized, and clutter-free house. Well, as clutter-free as the lived-in home of four kids ages 9 and under can be.

What I don’t so much like is that whatever space I’m tackling always looks worse before it looks better.

Always. And I’m talking without fail.

My current project is our unfinished basement. The one that’s littered with rows of storage bins and cardboard boxes, mounds of clothes our daughters have either outgrown or are waiting to grow into, and a sea of tools, screws, and thingamajigs that my husband Ted emptied all over the floor almost 24 months ago with the intention of organizing. Yeah, you could say it’s a project indefinitely on his to-do list. It’s located right next to the IKEA spice rack turned child’s bookshelf I started to paint about the same time. Another effort still pending.

Why tackle this out-of-sight, out-of-mind location? The one we only venture to when we need a light bulb or stuffed animal gone MIA two moves ago?

Well, long term, we hope to finish it. Short term, we decided it would be nice to have a cozy underground room to retreat to during tornado watches. One with throw rugs and bean bags chairs and old school board games. To accomplish this, though, I have to figure out what to do with all the “treasures” that currently inhabit these living quarters. And, unfortunately, simply stuffing them into a jumbled mess won’t do.

Several weeks ago, I spent three hours in the bowels of our house. Sorting, consolidating, purging. At the end of that 180 minutes, rather than looking tidier, it looked like tornado season had come early. It wasn’t pretty. Or encouraging.

Frankly, it was downright discouraging.

Do you know what I was tempted to do? One, throw everything back into the boxes, walk up those basement stairs, shut the door, and hope we don’t face any twister warnings anytime soon. Forget the cozy space. Forget the bean bag chairs and board games. We could make cold concrete work for an hour here and there if need be. After all, my kids could do with more “roughing it.”

Or, two, simply get rid of everything. Pack it all up, load the lot into our mini-van, and drive with determination to our local Goodwill. No sorting. No consolidating. Only purging. And unlike Lot’s wife, I wouldn’t look back. Okay, so maybe I would when I realized I thoughtlessly gave away something with sentimental value. Oops.

As I’ve reflected on my basement woes, I’ve realized that sometimes marriage can feel like spring cleaning.

For Ted and me, it’s happened in those moments when we’ve decided to stop ignoring an issue in our relationship that needed to be addressed. When we’ve determined to sort through and purge things that we’ve tucked away in a box in that metaphorical basement of our marriage.

In the process we’ve discovered that unpacking the junk, emptying it all over the relational floor, and methodically working through it is messy. It makes our relationship look worse before it looks better.

Always. And I’m talking without fail.

But you know what? As messy as it’s gotten and as hard as it’s been at times, we’ve never once regretted devoting our time and energy to marital clean-up.

Maybe your marriage is in need of some spring cleaning of its own.

Perhaps for you it’s a series of hurtful words whose wounds you’ve left undressed and unhealed. Or cutting actions you’ve felt the sting of, but never actually talked through with your spouse. Perhaps it’s bigger. Some seemingly unsurmountable foe like pornography that needs to be rooted out, or infidelity you thought you’d forgiven, but you’re having a hard time moving past.

Whatever it is that needs addressing, maybe just the thought of it makes you want to give up. To continue to ignore things, rather than work through them. It could even be that getting out seems like your best course of action. Literally walking away from your relationship and cutting your losses.

If that’s you, I encourage you not to let the mess deter you. Don’t let it discourage you. Don’t give up and get out. (And please note that I’m not referring to abuse here. That is a different issue for which you should seek outside help.)

Why? Because there’s a truth that trumps all the emotions you may be feeling. All the mess you may be wading through. It’s this…

God is bigger than the mess. Always. And I’m talking without fail.

He is stronger than the sin and the pain that separates you and your spouse. He wants to see your marriage succeed. You are not in this alone.

And, even though it may seem too difficult for you to clean up, I believe He asks the same question of us that He asked of Israel when He spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “Is there anything too hard for Me?”

The answer is the same now as it was then. No, there’s not.

What should you expect? Expect things to get messier than they are now. As you unpack issues tightly tucked away or brushed under the rug, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the clutter. You may feel discouraged. You may even wish you’d never started in the first place. But know this: Just as a good spring cleaning of your home is worth it, the same can be said when it comes to our marriages. The reward is a cleaner, more organized, more clutter-free relationship. And that reward’s worth all the hassle.

So, this spring, if you are facing the daunting task of clean-up in your marriage, take heart that when things get messier, it’s a sign that you’re probably making progress. Stick with it and trust that God is big enough and strong enough to help you.

As for me, all this talk of spring cleaning has me freshly inspired to get back to that subterranean space of ours. I hope it’s inspired you to take up a bit of spring cleaning as well.

Be encouraged!

Ashleigh

AshleighSlater.com

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Written by Ashleigh Slater

Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together. As the founder and editor of the webzine Ungrind and a regular contributor at several blogs, she unites the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage couples. She has almost 20 years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication. Ashleigh and her husband, Ted, have been married for more than a decade. They have four daughters and reside in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn more, visit AshleighSlater.com. Facebook: ashleighslaterauthor Twitter: ashslater

37 Comments

  1.  avatar
    Eve M. says:

    Thank you for this post Ashleigh. My husband and I are in the midst of a huge cleaning in our marriage and it’s not pretty. But I know that God has plans for us to get to the other side cleaner and closer!

  2.  avatar
    pam says:

    Very timely message for me. i have been struggling with fight or flight for almost 5 years and I’m very close to just giving up. I know its not Gods plan for our marriage but the daunting task ahead of working through the mess seems like too big of a task that i am no longer sure is worth it.

  3.  avatar
    Lisa says:

    Thank you Ash but seems as if cleaning for us is not going well. Is it that i do not know how to make myself clear or i don’t know how to approach a matter?

    • Hi Lisa, I’m so sorry “cleaning” isn’t going well for you. Have you and your husband considered seeking trusted, godly counsel? It could be from another couple you know who is doing well in their relationship and has biblical wisdom to offer. Perhaps it could be your pastor and his wife. Or maybe it’s time to talk to a Christian marriage counselor. Whichever it may be, it could help you figure out how to approach the issues you’re facing in a way that’s better heard.

  4.  avatar
    Heather says:

    Do you have suggestions for the wife whose husband doesn’t want to talk about it or doesn’t have time for that?

    • Hi Heather, I think the biggest thing would be PRAY. Pray that God would work in your husband’s heart and give him the desire to talk about and work through the issues. Maybe even find a trusted friend or two that will pray with you for your marriage.

  5.  avatar
    Dana says:

    I needed to read this to give me the courage to continue to pray for my marriage. My husband thinks that not addressing an issue will make it go away. He has hurt me very deeply by having an affair that ran for more than a year even after I discovered what was going on an it has now been almost 16 months and I still cannot seem to move on. I pray for grace and resolution.

    • Dana, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been experiencing in your marriage. I’m praying for you today that God would comfort and encourage you, as well as bring healing. If you and your husband are walking through this alone, it may be good to seek out your pastor or a trusted Christian counselor (who will strive to help you restore your marriage) for help.

    •  avatar
      becky bodnarchuk says:

      Bless you Dana.
      Brokenness is messy and broken hearts and vows take time to heal. To clean the wounds properly, reestablish healthy ‘boundarys’ in the marriage, rebuild the trust between you, and talk about those things that were weak and left your marriage vulnerable.
      Keep praying and watching for Poppa to give you the very personal helps you both uniquely require to become the people He designed you to be.
      He redeems our sin and our pain. He uses those things the snake would try to destroy us with for our good, and His glory.
      Press on beautiful one!

  6.  avatar
    Rob says:

    Thanks Ashleigh for posting this…….it came at the exact time I needed it. I’m not looking forward to the mess to come but the clean up. it’s been a long time coming. Please pray for me, this won’t be easy. Bless you.

  7.  avatar
    therese says:

    Doesn’t it or shouldn’t it take both spouses. What do u do when one doesnt like to discuss, is an avoider and would prefer to wake up the next day like nothing went wrong or is wrong?

    • Hi Therese, ideally, yes, it should. In our early years of marriage, I was an avoider. It took me awhile to come to a point where I realized it was a good thing to work through conflict even though it was uncomfortable. For us, what helped me was Ted’s determination to make sure we worked through issues. He was patient, but persistent. He wouldn’t let me ignore things; yet he also wasn’t a jerk about it. At first, all I could see was that working through issues = messiness, strain, and discomfort. But with time, I begin to realize that the end result was worth it. Now I’m eager to address conflict. It’s been a process though.

  8.  avatar
    Leslie says:

    This could not have come at a more opportune time than today…..I agree with it but have to ask the same questions as a few others, how doesa marriage get a cleaning when the other spouse is more an avoider? No discussions….the response is “I’m sorry I’m not that deep”. So for me it is more of clean up my act, do as God commands and trust God will work it out with my husband….not so easy…..

    • Hi Leslie, I’d say the best place to start is to pray. Pray that God would open your husband’s heart up to working through things. And, as I told Therese in an earlier comment, I was an avoider when Ted and I first got married. Now I’m eager to work through conflict. But it takes time. That change doesn’t happen overnight. What made a huge difference for me was that Ted was both persistent and patient with me.

  9.  avatar
    Traci says:

    This really fits my situation right now and I can relate to the above comments so well. Some of them sound so familiar. I definitely know I need to do something different to get my marriage back on track and since my husband is not a spiritual man I know I have to be the one to make the first step. I just pray that God gives me the strength and patience I need to accomplish this. I know the ending result will be so worth it.

  10.  avatar
    Susan C says:

    I have been married 6 years and the first 4 were a nightmare most of the time. Not for lack of love…we truly loved each other, and we truly enjoyed each other, enjoyed the same things, had the same goals, etc. There was just so much baggage, bad attitudes, assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and very different parenting styles. There were days when I thought he would leave for good (which awakened more of my baggage) and then he would just start acting like nothing had happened. He would just say “end of discussion”. Many tears, screams, threats (of leaving), and prayers later, I said I couldn’t do it any more. I told him I wasn’t leaving, I didn’t want him to leave either, but that I wasn’t happy with the way things were, nor was God, and we were under covenant to fix it. I told him I was through covering up, pretending, and not being honest to avoid conflict. You are right, it did get really messy, but God answered prayers and has helped us slowly clean it up and put it back neatly and functionally. We have come through to the other side and, while we still have spills to clean up from time to time, they are no longer toxic spills and they are approached in a whole new manner. My nightmare has become a place of beauty with a man I delight in honoring and look forward to growing old with, Lord willing. Truly, nothing is impossible with God.

    • Susan, what an amazing story of what God’s power and a wife’s (or husband’s) resolve to stay committed can do. Thank you so much for sharing this! I hope it encourages many.

    •  avatar
      becky bodnarchuk says:

      Yahoo Susan! Thanks so much for those encouraging words.
      And you hit on so many of the areas conflict can come from in marriage!
      I woke up and lovingly learned to use humor when my Dearheart trys to pull on the crazy cycle. I will follow him just about anywhere but there so turn around Bub. Having a helpful, specific scripture helps.

  11.  avatar
    Chris says:

    I’m a, uh, man and appreciate the scriptural leanings of your paper. I will be more deeply considerate toward the feelings of my wife and looking for ways to remind her that I love her at least as much now, as when we said I DO.
    Maybe a good way to get started on it is clean up the garage! that might mean something

  12.  avatar
    crystal d says:

    What did you guys do to clean up mess. What steps did you take? Was it counseling, read books together, marriage retreats. Trying to find ways to save and reconcile my marriage. Where do you or what do you do to fix the problems?….

    • Hi Crystal, thanks for your note. Great question!

      We pray. Not necessarily together — because at that point in time we might be really upset with each other. But we do seek wisdom from the Lord on how to work through the issue. As we do, we also try to examine ourselves. I may ask myself: What did I contribute to this? How can I humble myself, take responsibility, and apologize for my part in it? Eventually we talk through it.

      So far Ted and I have been able to talk through all of our issues together. How long it takes to resolve something depends on what the issue is and how long we’ve allowed it to go unaddressed. But, that said, if we do hit a point someday where we can’t work something out just the two of us, we wouldn’t hesitate to seek counseling. A few years back we did got to a highly recommended Christian counselor after a miscarriage and job loss. Even though we weren’t going for issues in our marriage, we found it incredibly helpful as we tried to process the struggles we were facing in the midst of those things.

    •  avatar
      becky bodnarchuk says:

      crystal, sometimes its not a fixable problem.
      More often, its learning to communicate clearly and kindly, to show mutual respect for each other and most of all G-d and His ways.
      Controlling your own tongue rather than controlling each other.
      Praying hard and keeping open to the answers POPPA sends has helped us. Songs, comments by people, sermons, devotions ON THE INTERNET at just the right time;)
      Reading books, especially the Bible, and those godly friends who know you both and love you enough to speak life into your marriage.
      Its more the little everyday things you do and say that heal the cuts, help you know what to overlook…
      keeping in mind He has a good plan for me and my marriage. And trusting that He will finish what He starts. And commiting to trusting Him, even when I can’t trust my Dearheart or even myself. There is no one like our G-d…He will never let us down or forsake us. His love endures, even when ours is way past empty.

  13.  avatar
    Susan C says:

    For us it was prayer first and foremost. I have no doubt that God did the healing. In addition, I felt truly led that we needed to be open with someone. Secrecy empowers both the sinner and the enemy. (Let me caution against the opposite extreme, which is emotional exhibitionism!) This took time, begging, pleading, and finally insisting. We were first open with family. Only our kids knew the extent of the problem. They had permission from me to get in the car and leave if things got bad. They went to my parents more than once. That let them in on it. Siblings came next in a desperate plea for help. They offered encouragement and accountability. Next, a minister friend. Finally, I told my husband that I was going to counseling with a lady in the church. He wasn’t particularly happy about it, but didn’t try to stop me. I took the kids, too. (Background…we had gone two years earlier to a counselor together, and it was a horrible experience because everyone wasn’t ready. Because of this my husband wasn’t inclined to do it again.) Finally, many prayers later, my husband agreed to go see the counselor’s husband, also a counselor. This was a huge step forward for us, as we went together. All that only helped, though, because God had answered prayer to change BOTH of our hearts. That is what truly did it. The others just offered advice, guidance, encouragement, and accountability. God changed our hearts and attitudes towards each other, our own shortcomings, and expectations. We began to honor and move towards each other. He tried to love me better and I tried to honor him more. This lead to the desire to love and honor even more. He had felt so disrespected, I’d felt so unloved. We still hurt each other, we have progress yet to make, but we have learned that the other’s intentions are not to hurt. We talk a lot now, about where things are and what we can do better. Sometimes one of us gets mad, and the other has vowed to stop the conversation then, and be sweet and loving towards the other. We are having to learn to just LET THINGS GO. It’s often not fair, can be frustrating, and isn’t what the world has taught us. As a wife, I can say that showing my husband respect is a huge game changer. I can also say that his showing me unconditional love is, too. I am learning to trust God to help my husband lead, even when I don’t like where he is going. Also, I think reading good books on marriage together is a good thing. I am praying about asking my husband to read one a year with me to help us to an even better place.

  14.  avatar
    Michele says:

    I enjoyed the article, Ashleigh, tho I am in the same boat as all the other women here. I’m now in the 28th year of my roller coaster. God has given me signs to get out along the way, but I bailed each time when another sign came through to stay. I became a Christian in 2009 (he’s still follows Catholicism, kind of) and I continue to go through even more internal dilemmas. It makes me so happy to see young Christian couples going to church together, holding hands, attending marriage classes, bible study, w/their children showing praise and love to the Lord (unfortunately my children did not grow up with this). That’s the right way to start it, building from day 1. Now what I know what a true man of God looks like, how he takes responsibility and leadership of his household, it is pulling me away from my spouse even more. He insists to this day there is not one thing wrong with the relationship, only what I make of it. Like above women, my spouse won’t communicate (I’ve begged him repeatedly), has no goals, no dreams, says he’s the expert w/finances (yet our home was foreclosed, our charge cards are charged off.- he blames the creditors, not himself for those). I read about ‘foolish’ and ‘lazy’ people and lying tongues in Proverbs; all describe him. When we’ve had good periods, he attends my Christian church with me, and says he agrees it (w/the few words he says), yet when something isn’t right, he takes what he’s heard at my church, twists it to his interpretation against me, and says I’m the possessed and crazy. We recently attended Marriage Weekend w/Jimmy Evans and others. My spouse said he “prayed” for me to hear Jimmy (he’s seen him on TV). We did ok for a few weeks, then back to same ole routine. My spouse STILL doesn’t get it! STILL won’t speak to me. Counseling and praying; done yet unsuccessful repeatedly. Sorry to use this as a sounding board, but when is it time to stop trying? My time is coming to that end. God’s purpose for me being in this marriage has been satisfied. I’ve struggled so I can learn from it and help others in another way. Now that I am being held back from pursuing that goal and passion, it’s time to move forward to follow God’s calling. I have a few last ideas I will pursue for reconciliation, but I’m running out of time on this earth and can’t be held back any longer.

    • Michele, I’m sorry to hear of the struggles you have and continue to experience in your marriage. I haven’t been in your shoes, so I can’t give you any practical advice drawn from experience. Also, I don’t know you or your husband personally. But what I can do is point you to Scripture. As I read your comment, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 came to mind:

      “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband … For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?”

      Scripture provides an “out” for infidelity (and some could argue for abuse, as well). But I don’t see any biblical support for leaving a spouse for any other reason.

  15.  avatar
    MotherofPearl says:

    I am in the same situation as Michelle, and also just found major evidence of my husbands infidelity. He denies it of course, but after so many years of struggling with him as an avoider and never wanting to discuss or solve anything, this is the last straw. I cannot overlook this, and he has refused to talk about it or go for counselling. So I feel I have no choice but to walk away with my kids, and he has said it makes no difference to him whether we stay or leave. I’m beyond being sad or mad about it, I feel nothing for him anymore. I can’t go on being in a loveless relationship filled with lies, and it’s having a detrimental effect on the children who are watching this as they grow up. I have no more years to shed. I have been praying for years that The Lord would change my husbands heart, and mine too so that our marriage could be healthier. I am still praying that God would work everything out for the good, according to his promise. I would love an opportunity to do a marriage spring clean, but I can’t keep on talking to myself, with little to no engagement in the conversation from the other person. Please pray for us.

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