March 29, 2008

"I’m going insane. My husband never talks to me and I want to throw the TV out the window. I don’t know how to say anything anymore without it ending up in a fight — and that’s all we do lately. What’s wrong? Help me."

This was an email sent to me recently from a woman who felt like her world was falling apart. She went on to say she had been married twenty years and couldn’t pry her husband away from his interests. She feared their marriage was over. She had all but given up on her marriage, but knew God wanted more for her and her husband.

A man came to counseling completely bewildered and hurt. "My wife wants a divorce. I didn’t see it coming. How did we grow so distant? She says she still loves me, but isn’t ‘in love’ with me anymore. She says that she sees I am trying, but the feelings aren’t there."

Painful, tragic stories like these are common. We all know someone whose marriage is ending, or couples who live together as if they were brother and sister. The passion is gone. The vibrancy they knew earlier in their relationship has evaporated. When they talk, which is seldom, words are marked by sharp, exasperated tones. Every day the distance between them grows.

If you were to peak into a "typical" home today you might find one child sitting in front of his X Box, another down the street at her friend’s, the absent man working late at the office and the woman returning home walking in with a fast-food dinner. Fragmented, disjointed, detached families and marriages.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Consider this.

Since it’s predictable, it’s preventable. Since we know what creates distance and divorce, we also know what creates intimacy, or "into-me-see." We can prevent one of the most damaging critical mistakes in marriage: distance and lack of intimacy. What causes distance?

There are, of course, many causes for distance. Consider these:

• Busyness: We all have many distractions that usurp our energies from the task and joy of marital relating. We are so frantically putting out the fires in our busyness that we neglect our homes and families. We pursue financial success by climbing the social ladder to the point of losing out on what is most precious to us.

• Continual conflict: Marriages with constant conflict lose their vitality and safety. Conflict can be draining. Who hasn’t experienced a long, bitter argument, and then collapsed afterward? While conflict can sometimes clear the air, constant bitterness and fighting creates distance. Couples who cannot "contain" their conflict gradually decide it is not safe and retreat like a turtle into their shell. The Apostle James warns against selfish control battles, saying "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4: 1)

• Temptations: Many forms of media, including television and the Internet, portray images of tantalizing men and women. When there is unresolved tension in the home, we are more easily tempted by someone outside the home who gives us attention. These temptations, such as chat lines, or an office friendship, may seem innocuous, but often lead to trouble. The Apostle John warns about the lust of the flesh, eyes and the pride of life. (I John 2: 16)

If conflict, busyness and temptations take us away from closeness with our mate, what are the qualities that create intimacy — or, "into-me-see?" What are some strategies you can begin practicing today to save your marriage?