Half of every marriage in the U.S. will end in divorce. As alarming as this is, these figures are even higher when you consider factors such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, and education. It’s not a small problem, it’s a social epidemic that plaques the moral fabric of our society. Although this number is high and can be distressing, the truth is marriages that are working don’t simply stop working overnight. In many cases there were precipitating factors leading up to the split. Sometimes those factors were ignored or trivialized, but in most cases they existed and could’ve been rectified before they became irreconcilable. Whether you’re driving 30 miles per hour or 100, the road to divorce usually has some noticeable road markers and I want to help you before your journey ends like half of the people on the road to happily every after.
You stop talking
I didn’t really understand what people meant when they told me one of the keys to a successful marriage is communication. After years of marriage I was forced to critically assess how I communicate, how my wife communicates, and decide what to communicate about. This takes time and emotional energy that can be exasperating to the point you elect to say nothing. Most men like to be drama free which can translate into not talking, but this doesn’t resolve issues that transpire. It only forebears their impact and compounds the ramifications. When you stop talking you stop connecting, and when you stop connecting you are more susceptible to a host of other issues. There are inevitably seasons when someone will invest more in the relationship than the other. So, let’s imagine you’re investing 70 percent and it seems like you’re solely responsible for initiating, sustaining and cultivating intentional times of communication. You’ll quickly start to feel like the marriage’s success is totally on your shoulders and if you stop working the marriage will digress. That’s when you might stop talking and stop trying. It’s not because you don’t care, it’s often times because you are tired and want your spouse to help carry some the load; however, nothing is discussed at this point. Nothing good, bad, or indifferent. There’s minimal conversation that is usually functional and can be answered in yes/no statements.
You stop having intimacy and sex
This is a monumental issue and I would argue one of the most deeply embedded causes of marital challenges. I once heard Pastor Keith Battle say, “regular sex protects.” Intimacy is not sex and sex doesn’t create intimacy, but both are vital for marital longevity. Despite what popular culture, pornography, music, and romance films have taught us, sex is a very complicated and complex topic. We find our fears, insecurities and authentic feelings in the bedroom. There is a direct correlation between intimacy and sex, and they both have to be cultivated and protected in the sacred context of marriage. When you stop dating, cease discovering new things about one another, and stop trying, you will inevitably lose intimacy and sex. This can create destructive behaviors such as infidelity, self-gratification, and anger. Sometimes people can have an affair with the lights on and fully clothed. Sometimes creating an emotional bond with someone can be an external substitute for an internal deficiency. Teddy Pendergrass said it’s good loving somebody when somebody loves you back. He didn’t say that person has to be your spouse.
“Intimacy is not sex and sex doesn’t create intimacy, but both are vital for marital longevity.”
You fall off each other’s calendar
Time is a non-renewable resource we are unable to redeem no matter how much we contend, plead, or beg. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. When people told me marriage is work, I understood this conceptually, but practically it didn’t register until marriage became burdensome and the idea that love is organic dissipated. When we had to schedule everything, and I mean everything, it became difficult because our real priorities manifested. I don’t have to ask you what you value because your calendar will tell me. When you lose intentional times for connecting, sharing, planning, and rediscovering each other, it’s only a matter of time before things start to go downhill.
Start becoming resentful
The term resentment means to feel great pain or hurt in response to. Resentment is like hurt enveloped in anger and frustration. Resentment starts with an emotional laceration left unhealed that leads to bitterness, anger and even hatred. You can’t see it, touch, taste it or smell it, but it can and will control you. It’s the feeling that intoxicates you with vitriolic hatred when he walks into the room. It repulses you when she speaks. It consumes you. Resentment usually takes a while to build and it takes a while to heal because it’s layered with deep wounds, unforgiveness, and pain. You know resentment has taken over when you incessantly blame her for something that happened years ago, or you make future decisions based on past inflictions.
Stop having accountability
I don’t know any successful marriage that doesn’t have genuine accountability and an edifying community. Accountability is the process of having someone or some people call you into account for your actions. Financially, an account is a record of business dealings or assets. Being accountable means we have people we trust inquiring of our relationship transactions. This can be a group of married friends with similar values, your spiritual leadership, a counselor, or a couple who’ve been married significantly longer than you. Over the years I’ve seen several marriages dissolve and one of the most consistent factors is a lack of accountability. There were no people with whom the couple could share intimately about sex, failures, successes, challenges, agreements, etc. Since every relationship is different I can’t prescribe a magic pill for success, but I know undoubtedly, if you have a relationship without accountability the likelihood of its survival is slim to none.
You stop trying
Too many people get married with an unconscious expectation that their spouse will make them happy. The degree to which this belief manifest itself varies, but lots of us feel this way. I was included. We believe the person will do something to make us better, stronger or more powerful. While this can be true, in some regard, no one can give you or bring out of you what’s not already in you. Through real conflict fairy tale beliefs like these get violently abused, and unless we’re willing to challenge them, we won’t do the necessary work of critical self-reflection, healing, and unselfish love toward our spouse. This takes lots of work and sometimes it’s much easier and more peaceful to just stop caring. Stop forgiving, stop talking about issues, stop going the extra mile, stop thinking, stop being intentional; just stop. It’s even easier when you masquerade your apathy behind a busy work schedule, parenting duties, ministry obligations and anything else that doesn’t require you to roll up your sleeves and work on your marriage.
“No one can give you or bring out of you what’s not already in you.”
You experience stalemate syndrome
Stalemate syndrome occurs when one or both people feel like they cannot advance the relationship and their efforts are futile. He feels he cannot move and is stuck on a dead-end street. She feels her unhappiness will last forever. There are no winners, just a mutual consent to lose. Essentially, the marriage is at a stalemate. That’s 50/50 marriage; I only give what I get. A 50/50 marriage is unsuccessful and hinders the brilliance and glory God wants to give the world through you. Contrary to popular belief marriage is not 50/50. At times marriage will be 60/40, 70/30, 90/10 and 100/0. Stalemate syndrome is painful and can cause some men and women break boundaries because the fight or flight mentality is enacted. Fighters will break boundaries to pursue a win-even at the cost of the relationship-and flighters will retreat into quiet spaces of emotional isolation. Neither benefits the relationship or the development of the individual.
Marriage is not for punks and it takes years, often decades to build the kind that you want. Ephesians 4 instructs us to be patient and bear with one another in love. After the wedding bells have been rung, the smiles on the photos fade, and the twinkle you once had diminishes will you still commit? Will you keep the course for the sake of your destiny, legacy, and future? Unfortunately, half of the people who say “I do” will say “I quit” before they can get to happily ever after. There are, however, a group of people that will endure and experience the richness of life-long companionship and love. There are some who choose to defy social norms and write love stories of victory and hope despite the bitterness, unhappiness and hopelessness of society. They chose to write with pens dipped in Godly courage on notepads of commitment and resilience. They choose to write their own History and Herstory. Will you?