In the series Love Helps, I shared a message about the importance of actions building oneness.
How does a once good marriage slip away?
I get asked that question when it becomes public that a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.
As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.
There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.
Here are 5 ways a once good marriage slips away — or falls apart:
Other interests come between them. It could be a relationship — even other good relationships — or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. Distractions will destroy a good marriage.
Unresolved conflict. Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes.
The couple stops dreaming together. When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy that fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.
Boredom. I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating — quit laughing — quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.
Living separate agendas. It’s okay to have separate identities. Even encouraged. It’s okay to have separate interests. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When that’s not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.
I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.
I’m not good with art, but if you were sitting in my office, I would attempt to draw this diagram on my dry erase board. I hope you can get past the crude drawing to get to the intended meaning, because it really is important to understand in shaping a marriage.
Taken from Ephesians 5:21-33, I believe this is the model of a healthy marriage that God is attempting to build. It is by design that two unique and imperfect people are called to become one.
To accomplish that task, two things must occur.
First, as indicated with the upper left and right triangles, each spouse must get rid of the “baggage” he or she brings into the marriage. While most of us come with lots of baggage, in simple terms, this is anything that will not help the couple become one. If for example, one spouse is selfish, while that may be allowed in some relationships, it will not work in making one flesh. Discovering what parts of each spouse will not work in building one flesh becomes one goal in building a strong marriage. This could even be natural bents or personalities, but they must be considered as to whether they make the marriage stronger or weaker.
The middle two triangles, with the words “One Flesh”, illustrate the process of taking the best of each spouse, that part that helps completes the other spouse, and using it to build God’s design for the marriage.
As an example, my wife is the compassionate one in our relationship. (You could have guessed that most likely.) In our life together, she helps me be more compassionate.
At the same time, Cheryl would enable others to take advantage of her if I were not around. Many times, I provide the strength that makes us strong as a couple and protects our family life.
So what do you do with this information?
Well, first working together (if you can’t do this together in love you have other issues to work through first), begin to make lists of those things that could keep it from becoming one flesh (your baggage). Over the course of time (don’t rush this process), each spouse begins to work on his or her baggage.
Second, make an opposite list of those qualities in each spouse that add to the strength of the marriage bond. Obviously, this is a more pleasant list to put together, but it’s most helpful if each spouse share the strengths of the other spouse. Once this list is in place, over time, begin to yield the marriage to the each of these strengths.
The seemingly impossible goal of becoming one flesh is not only challenging, but it is a lifetime process. Learning to communicate strengths and weaknesses each spouse brings to the marriage can help build the marriage God intended for you to have.
What strengths or weaknesses do you and/or your spouse bring to the marriage?
Sometimes we make it harder than it has to be.
One of the best and easiest strategies to helping couples grow their marriage is to practice and apply these three terms to your marriage:
Learn how different each of you is from each other. God designed a man and a woman with different desires, needs and interests. Each spouse communicates differently, prefers life organized at a different pace, and handles disappointments and excitements differently. Spend quantity time identifying those differences. That’ll take you a lifetime together.
Each spouse has unique expectations of what he or she expects from the marriage and the other spouse. These are the things required, in one spouse’s opinion, to make marriage work well. Spend quantity time identifying these expectations. Ask questions. Dream. Explore. By the way, these change over time, so prepare to do this often and continually.
Communication is the key to a healthy marriage. And, males and females — and every person — communicates differently. You’ll spend the rest of your time together learning how each other communicates, but the more you practice the better you will get. And, the better you get — the better the marriage.
Most problems in a marriage begin as minor problems. The key to keeping the marriage strong and working through the problems is to address the problems while they are still small. If your marriage is experiencing minor problems, which you feel in your heart could become major if not addressed, then this post is for you. Even if your marriage is thriving now, but simply want to strengthen it, implementing these three terms may help.
Could using these three words help make your marriage stronger?
I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.
It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And, it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.
The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.
Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.
Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:
Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.
Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.
Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And, it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But, eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. And, money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.
Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. And, yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.
Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. But, let’s be honest — some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.
Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But, it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And, things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And, you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.
Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.
Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.
Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?
There are 2 critical assumptions in a marriage relationship.
I mean critical.
And, dangerous assumptions to make.
Making these two assumptions and not understanding the gravity of them can cause major problems in the relationship.
In my experience, the assumptions happen naturally — and often cause conflict — but when they are misunderstood, the conflict magnifies exponentially.
Two critical assumptions:
Assuming that what you value your spouse values.
The fact is you will likely have different values.
Let me give you a very practical example from my own marriage. I think our house is always relatively “clean”. Things are in place. I’m not tripping over stuff as I walk through the house. I’d be fine if people “dropped in” unannounced.
Cheryl isn’t okay with that. She sees things I don’t see. She values a “clean” house much more than I do. She sees the dust on the furniture. She knows if it’s been 3 days or 7 since the bathrooms were last “cleaned”. It bothers her if the shoes at the front door are not in their proper place. Her value system is different on those issues than mine.
And, there could be plenty of examples of things I would value that she may not. One for me, as an example, is getting out the door when it’s time to leave. “Come on, let’s go.” But, at that moment, her values of having everything in it’s place conflict with my value to get on the road in a timely manner.
This type conflict in values happens continually in every marriage.
And, equally critical — and dangerous:
Assuming that your spouse’s values don’t matter to you.
They do. They matter greatly. Even if they conflict with your values.
They matter to me because they matter to my spouse.
When I fail to validate a person’s values — any person’s, but especially my spouse — even if they aren’t my values, I speak volumes to them that I don’t care. That may not be true, but that’s the perception received.
Part of having a successful marriage is learning the values of the other person, validating them, and working to balance each other in them.
Cheryl can’t expect me to have the same values as her. Actually, over time, our values do tend to align more. We will always be different, because we are different — designed by God to be different.
Cheryl should expect me to value her values. And, likewise for her to value mine. It’s part of what makes a marriage work.
I shop with my wife.
There. I said it. I’m sorry guys. Do I lose my man card?
I get criticized often by other men that say I put pressure on them to live up to that standard with their own wives. And, I’m sorry if that’s the case. I realize many men read this blog.
I explain that a shopping mall is not necessarily my preferred place to be on a Saturday, but I love my wife and I love spending time with her. She sometimes likes to shop, so many Saturdays I find myself somewhere shopping with her.
I also know my blog readership is about 40% women, so today I want to address you in this issue. My goal, as always, is to improve and strengthen marriages. Spending time together always helps this occur. At least that’s the theory. 🙂
Here are 7 tips to get your man to shop with you:
Give him a mission. Men love a purpose. We are hunters by nature. Tell us exactly what you are looking for, that you haven’t been able to find it anywhere and that you need his help finding it. Then get out of his way and let him hunt!
Understand his limit. This is not the day to hit every store. Especially if you’re husband is new to shopping, don’t make him become a marathoner in the first race. Ease him into the idea. And, when he’s hungry, feed him well. Even let him pick the place.
Let him carry packages to the car. He’s going to be looking for something to do. He may want to make several trips to the car. He’ll show you how strong he is. Let him serve you.
Include a stop for him. If he wants to look at tools for a while, don’t complain if he already looked at dresses. And, if he wants to sit in the middle of the mall and people watch — don’t complain.
Don’t push stores he doesn’t like. Save those for the girls trips. (Personally, I don’t care for the candle shops or soaps and lotion stores. To me if you have smell one, you have smelled them all.)
Give him credit for going and don’t expect it to be his favorite way to spend a day. Recognize he is doing it out of love for you, not for the activity of it. Don’t tell all his friends he “loves to shop with you”. And, don’t expect him to want to go every time you do.
Give him time to enjoy the things he enjoys doing at other times. And, if he wants you to, do them with him without complaining.
Girls: Does your husband shop with you? What are your tips for us?
Guys: Do you shop with your wives? What keeps you going?
The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems that developed — or were exaggerated — between Thanksgiving and New Years.
How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? That’s a good goal, right?
Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?
Plan a budget together. Stick to it. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. The principle is this: Don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.
Protect your family first. Even if that means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong — and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.)
Build traditions that build family. We often get distracted by things that matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born — He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas — the real Christmas — and you’ll enjoy it even more.
When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside. The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets. Decide now that nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple. Make this a celebration season that grows your heart stronger as a couple.
Just a few suggestions. Any you have?