National Association of Marriage Enhancement

What Lies Beneath Marital Discord


It is extremely common for people to feel blindsided by marital betrayal or discord. They feel like the problem shockingly erupted like a dormant volcano; however, the volcano was already there with its molten lava bubbling beneath the surface. And quite frankly, even if both spouses are unaware of what’s brewing, the mountain can still be addressed. The message here is that no matter what the marital issue—adultery, financial dishonesty, bitterness—the issues did not appear over night, nor will they disappear over night. In order to heal an issue, a couple needs to seek the understanding of the Lord and go down to the base of the mountain to see the issue for what it truly is.

First, we have to address the truth of sin. Sin does not magically happen to us; we participate in its growth. The Bible says of temptation: “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Temptation is not sin, but it is our participation with it—or our conception of it as James says—that becomes deadly. For our purposes, in this instance, we are not talking about hell, but Christian spouses who can get mired in sin so deeply that their marriage suffers for it. We will always be offered tempting opportunities, but it is our decision to allow them to overtake us. Martin Luther said, “you cannot keep the birds from flying around, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” You do not need to engage with temptation, but once you have and sin is present, you need to accept responsibility in order to properly address what lies beneath.

Second, realize all issues are heart issues. Jesus said, “but what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20). It would be a mistake to believe that any problems can be solved without looking inwardly. The truth is the center of the volcano lies within your own hearts. That is where the bubbling, babbling molten lava starts to heat up. Before anything “explodes suddenly,” there are mini bursts within you that need to be addressed. Bitterness or any other sin often takes root when we are not vigilantly aware of the changes happening in our heart.

Third, remember that God enjoys giving understanding, when it is His understanding that we are looking for. This one is KEY to discovering what lies beneath major marital issues. As people living in a fallen world, we tend to be self-motivated, and we seek that which proves or strengthens our already preconceived ideas. The understanding of the Lord is complete and above the influence of personally motivated manipulation. It is His perfect understanding that we should seek… “Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:2-5).

In marital discord, the aftermath can be a bit difficult to sift through. The Bible acknowledges this but encourages us in our pursuit of truth and reconciliation. It is hard to understand all of the heart issues and small sins that lead to a place of difficulty—hard yes, but not impossible. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Choose to be a man/woman interested in the understanding that God gives. Be committed to search the depths of the issues that led you to where you are today. Be resolute in your decision to search your heart honestly and fervently. When what lies beneath is brought to the surface, the healing can penetrate deeper. You wouldn’t stick a bandaid on a gaping and infected wound. You would grit your teeth and painfully dig out the infection and then stitch the wound. Go seek the Great Physician. He would love to give you the understanding that you need to have.