THE DRIFT

A good deal of my clinical work is done with couples on the fault line.  Their marriage is in trouble and they come in to see me.  In a best-case scenario, both individuals truly want to save the marriage.  Sometimes only one party does, but often one person can save it, but it’s going to require changing the dance.  The worst case is when one or both come in only to check the box.  They can later say they tried counseling but it didn’t work. Let me make it clear that coming in and merely sitting on the couch is not trying.  You have to be willing to do the work.  The statistics on marriage counseling are not that great and here’s why. Most people wait until it is too late. My wisest couples come in for yearly marriage check-ups.

A conversation I frequently have with my couples is one I call “The Drift.”  I take them back to the days when their relationship was new. We all know how wonderful that falling-in-love feeling is.  During that time you amplify all the positives but turn down the volume on those things on which you disagree, flaws, and potential areas of conflict.  You ignore red flags.  “Isn’t it great we like the same music.  I love his family.  We have the same goals.”  You get the idea.  When your love is new you are close.

 

 

But then life starts to happen.  You have bills to pay, children to care for, a house and yard to tend, and besides, you are tired.  If you are not careful, the relationship starts to drift.  You end up far apart without even realizing it.  He’s absorbed in the television while she sits on the couch doing Pinterest.  They don’t go on dates any more.  She may go out with her girlfriends and he may play golf with his buddies, but they have forgotten how to have fun with each other.  The Drift has set in.

 

 

So my job is to help couples begin building bridges back to each other.  One of the first things I recommend is a bit of advice a very wise pastor shared with our church many years ago.  He said couples need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.  So once every day, you and your spouse need to spend about 15 minutes talking alone, even if you have to lock yourselves in the bathroom to do it.  Believe me, if your kids see you trying to have some couple time, they are going to do everything they can to get your attention. But one of the healthiest and most loving things you can do for your children is to demonstrate that next to God, your marriage relationship is the highest priority.  So at this point couples tell me they don’t have anything to talk about.  That’s because they quit talking long ago without even realizing it.  Or the only type of talking they do is shop talk (Did you remember to pay the mortgage?  What time is soccer practice?), or spite talk (Do you need an explanation here?).  So I suggest that they tell each other three things that happened during the day, and HOW THEY FELT ABOUT THOSE THREE THINGS.  That last part is the most important.  I want to introduce sharing feelings because that is a doorway to intimacy. Sometimes I have to give them a list of feeling words, especially the guys.  Then once a week, couples need a date night.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; going for an ice cream cone counts.  Again, this is done without the children.  Find a sitter or trade out with another couple.  This is necessary caretaking for your marriage.  Finally, once a year the two of you need to get away by yourselves. A good book that will help you with communication, problem solving, and other necessary marriage skills is A Lasting Promise.

Think of your marriage as a bank account.  In your account you make deposits and withdrawals.  You want to build up a good amount of deposits (good will, good experiences) to get you through those lean times.  Often when couples come to see me they have been making heavy withdrawals without much in reserve.  Their marital account is depleted.  So we have to find ways to begin making some deposits.

I have Vince Gill on my mind and in my ear because we just went to one of his concerts.  He wrote a song called Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Awaythat musically describes The Drift.  You can watch a very young Vince Gill, complete with mullet sing it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlUGTof2TWU

The lyrics are powerful:

A wounded love

Walks a real thin line

And no communication

Will kill it every time.

 

 

Wow!  Is your marriage on a “real thin line?”  Good marriages don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.  And a good marriage invites another Person into their union: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm. 127: 1-2.

Do marriage on purpose. Tend your relationship carefully.  Beware of The Drift.  You want your marriage to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

NECESSARY LOSSES

Dropping Off at College: Freshman Year

 

This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media.  Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college.  There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures.  Keep them coming!  These pictures are always bittersweet.  I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child.  There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are.  We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another.  And oh how we hate that letting go.  It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go.  I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development.  These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.  

 

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go.  Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins.  You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands.  Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds.  But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins.  Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds.  And you are very suspicious of this stranger.  He might not have your best interest at heart.  So you refuse the offer and keep your coins.  But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.

 

At the heart of letting go is loss of control.  We think if we hold on we can protect and keep.  But control is just an illusion.  We only have control over our choices, not the outcome.  We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway.  As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning.  You do your best as a parent.  You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries.  You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But the window of time for this training is brief.  When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast.  And it goes by even faster with grandchildren!  We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with.  They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do.  I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?”  Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful.  Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless!  Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special!  You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.  Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing.  We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)

 

There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come.  A look in the mirror is a reminder.  I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift.  But oh how I hate losing firm skin!  Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss.  We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound.  I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!

 

To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.  Ecc. 3: 6.

 

Dropping Off at College: Sophomore Year