Bridging the Chasm: Overcoming Distance in Your Marriage
- Dr. David B. Hawkins Contributing Writer
- 2008 24 Mar
"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?
1. Create Safety. You cannot be vulnerable and transparent when you feel unsafe. Therefore, you and your mate must make a decision to create a space where you can share whatever you feel. You must be intentional about this. Be careful about telling your mate what they should think, feel or want. They must be allowed to think, feel and want whatever it is that is real for them.
2. Talk. Yes, intimacy can be as simple as talking. Real talking — sharing our thoughts, feelings and desires from the heart. The kind of talking where you are vulnerable with one another. Having created safety, you must practice sharing very personal matters. What is private and important to you? Share your dreams and desires only with your mate.
3. Listen. Listening, of course, is not simply putting the evening paper down long enough to nod your head at what your mate is saying. Is means special listening; listening for what is unspoken as well as spoken. What is your mate struggling with in her life? What are the hidden desires that he has difficulty mentioning? What are the feelings that are challenging to express? Help your mate find words for them.
4. Create Special Times. The spontaneous times of affection, those delightful weekends away without the kids, do wonders for reigniting the fires of passion. To have our senses stimulated with new sights, smells and sounds awakens us from the doldrums. We see the world, and our marriage, in a new way. Dress up, go out, laugh, kick up your heels. Search for that woman or man you fell in love with and with whom you shared your soul.
5. Create New Dreams. Just because you have a house in the suburbs, three kids and a job doesn’t mean the dream has to end. Sit down and read a new book and discuss what it means to you. Share your dreams with one another. A new job? A new ministry? A summer cabin in the mountains? That dreamy vacation to Italy? Could it possibly happen?
"How is your beloved better than others?" Solomon asks. (Song of Solomon 5: 9) Have you forgotten that she is playful and silly at times? Have you forgotten his loyalty and dedication to providing for the family? Remember these things. Envision the day you met and the feelings you had. Decide today to end the distance between you and your mate. Decide to slowly, methodically build a bridge back to her. Love, you recall, is not just a noun — it’s an action verb. Love fully and allow him to love you fully as well. Then watch as the chasm narrows and you discover your soulmate again.
This article originally posted on March 24, 2006. It is ninth in a series on nine mistakes most couples make. Read part 8: Letting Go of the Grudges We Hold in Marriage
This article was adapted from Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make (Harvest House Publishers, 2005).
Dr. David B. Hawkins is a Visiting Professor at International Christian University and specializes in interpersonal relationship counseling as well as domestic violence and emotional abuse in relationships. He has been a frequent guest on Moody Radio Mid-day Connection, Focus on the Family, and At Home Live. You can visit his website at www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice about an issue in your marriage or family? Submit a question to Dr. David's advice column by contacting him at [email protected].