Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Call me Eeyore, Chicken Little or even Scrooge, but if you ask me, problems are everywhere. Not only are we all experiencing economic challenges, but relational ones as well. It seems I can't go a week without hearing about someone with serious relational problems. (Okay, I guess that's my job.)
Just the other day one of my friends told me he was having problems in his marriage. At first I was shocked, and then I remembered that problems are part of the deal. If you're going to fully invest yourself in friendship and marriage, you're going to experience problems. The question is, "Will you be prepared for them?"
To reinforce the point, my phone has been ringing with increasing regularity, the voice on the other end of the line often saying something like this:
"Dr. David. I didn't see it coming. She walked out on me. Help!"
Or, perhaps something like this:
"I need help now, Dr. David. He said he doesn't love me anymore and won't spend any time with me. He wants to separate so he can think things over."
While I in no way want to trivialize these problems, I do wonder what these couples have been doing in the years and months leading up to the crisis. Have they been tuned in to each other, taking precautionary steps to avert any crises? Or, as is often the case, have they been asleep, failing to prepare for any dangers lurking in the shadows of their marriage.
A recent email illustrates this point:
Dear Dr. David. I knew our marriage had problems. We have three wonderful children, attend church regularly and are active in our community. We look to everyone around like we have the perfect life. What they don't know is that we've been struggling for years, and now my husband says he's through. He says there is nothing I can do to save our marriage and my heart is completely broken. I can look back now and see the warning signs, but didn't see them at the time. I only wish I could rewind the clock and do things differently.
This is a very sad story. We hope there is a happy ending, but there may not be one. While this woman is awake and alert now, what was she doing when her marriage was slowly deteriorating? What was he doing when there was still time to save their marriage?
Here are some things to keep in the forefront of your mind at all times:
First, we are always vulnerable to problems. We never get to coast. We must anticipate problems in our marriage, being watchful and maintaining an attitude of concern. There is never a time when we can sit back and assume things will be fine forever.
Second, marriage takes maintenance. Like a beautiful automobile or fine piece of furniture, we must always be involved in upkeep and maintenance. Like our dentist says, "Only floss the teeth you want to keep," so it is with marriage. Only maintain the marriage you want to keep.
Third, anticipate where the problems are likely to occur. Step back and reflect upon your marriage. What is your mate saying to you? Where are they dissatisfied? Lean in to those problems areas, seeking to strengthen them. Ask your mate how you are doing and what you can be doing to improve your marriage. Keep a close pulse on the health of your marriage.
Fourth, watch for more serious warning signs. Notice warning signs which indicate you need immediate professional involvement:
- Increased conflict.
- Problems that don't get resolved.
- Growing contempt or anger.
- Character assassination.
- Less physical and emotional intimacy.
- More time spent apart.
Fifth, get regular checkups. Stop in to your local psychologist or pastor to keep communication skills tuned up. Don't be so proud that you're unwilling to ask for help, both before any crisis and after one erupts. Knowing where you will turn when/ if a major problem occurs is invaluable.
Finally, maintain your commitment to each other. Tell your mate that you are always willing to seek help when/ if it is needed. Let them know you are open to feedback/ criticism when appropriate. Lower your defenses and invite honest, open dialogue.
Relationships take work. If you want a healthy relationship, you must be willing to anticipate and deal directly with problems. A closed, defensive attitude is a sure recipe for trouble. Let me know how these strategies work with you and your mate. Please send your responses to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com and visit my website at www.TheMarriageRecoveryCenter.com.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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