Jason and Maria want something entirely different out of the same marriage. They’ve been together for 15 years, and it has taken Jason that long to realize that he and his wife’s vision of a successful marriage are worlds apart. Jason desires a certain kind of marriage that his wife, Maria, doesn’t. Have you ever been there? What do you do when you finally realize the marriage you want to work for is a marriage your spouse doesn’t want to have anything to do with?

Here is Jason’s situation. Jason is the one who desires the soulful discussions and a commitment to work on the relationship. Maria says she wants that, too, in the abstract, but the only talk she initiates is about surface things: decorating the house, what the kids need done, or something her mother told her. She never asks Jason how he’s doing, what he’s feeling, or how he thinks the relationship is going—even though he has repeatedly expressed his desire that she do that.

Though I’m not a counselor, it doesn’t take a Ph.D in therapy to know that Jason needs and desires a certain level of intimacy that Maria doesn’t.

Maria is willing to live on the surface. As long as she and Jason do “fun” things (according to Maria’s definition) and take care of the house and family, she’s happy in her marriage. The fact that Jason isn’t happy with that doesn’t seem to bother her—at least, not enough to make her do anything about it.

How do you go deeper with someone who doesn’t want to go deeper?

I asked Jason this question. I also asked him to help me help other readers.

It’s not an easy question. Think about it: “fixing” a relationship isn’t like fixing a car. A relationship between two individuals requires cooperation. Ideally, Jason’s desire to go deeper, his request that Maria occasionally initiate relationship-based discussions, would be enough to motivate her. Those are legitimate desires that most wives would welcome. But apparently, Jason married (to put it bluntly) a selfish person. His pain isn’t her pain, and his pain obviously isn’t motivation enough for Maria to change.

What I admire about Jason, however, is that, while recognizing all this, he remains engaged in the marriage.

He’s not checking out. He realizes that God doesn’t call us to love and be faithful only to unselfish spouses. In fact, Jesus specifically says that he excels in loving the ‘ungrateful and wicked’ (Luke 6:32-35) and tells us to love just as he loves (v. 36). Later in that same passage, Jesus adds, ‘Give and it will be given to you,’ but he doesn’t say the person doing the giving will be your spouse. If we love out of reverence for God, we will receive God’s comfort. Giving to get is the world’s view of love, but it’s not Christ’s.

Those are my theoretical words, but here is Jason’s real-life response. I asked Jason, as one who has struggled with this for over a decade, what do you do when you realize that your spouse isn’t going to meet legitimate needs?

Jason says the following:

Get the needs met secondarily, through appropriate channels. For Jason, this means building rich relationships with others, though not with women on their own. It’s not ideal, but it helps. Jason has some solid friendships with guys, and he and Maria have some solid couple relationships. Though Jason wouldn’t meet any of the wives on their own, he finds that sometimes he can initiate couple-related conversations with another couple that Maria might engage in. He has to be the one who is intentional about this, as Maria won’t seek it on her own.

Remember someone has it worse. Jason has a friend whose wife left him after 12 years of marriage. This guy, according to Jason, is “as solid as they come.” Even so, because of the separation and subsequent divorce, it’s been two years since he’s had sex. “I can’t say I’m happy with where Maria and I are at sexually,” Jason admits. “At most, we have sex once a week or so. But I can’t even imagine going two years, so I try to be thankful for what I have rather than focus too much on what I don’t.”

Choose to dwell on the positive, however limited and imperfect it may be. Jason lives by a Bible verse, Philippians 4:8: “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Jason emphasized the last phrase, “dwell on these things.” “You don’t want to consistently talk or even pray your marriage down. Focus on the strengths, build on the strengths, and thank God for what you do have.”

Gary Thomas’ readers offer more suggestions in the comments at the bottom of his original post. Are you familiar with anyone in a marriage like this? What are they doing to address legitimate needs?

Used with permission.

If this is your situation, you don’t have to face this alone: Email a mentor

More from Gary Thomas:

6 Marks of Healthy Sexuality

The Role of Expectations in Marriage

Written by Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is a bestselling author and international speaker whose ministry brings people closer to Christ and closer to others. He unites the study of Scripture, church history, and the Christian classics to foster spiritual growth and deeper relationships within the Christian community.