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:
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.