Has the Spark Faded from Your Marriage?
- Dr. David B. Hawkins Contributing Writer
- 2006 1 Jan
Winter’s bite is in the air and it’s playoff time in the National Football League. Everyone knows that, even if you’ve decided to tune out the frenzy that accompanies the season.
Here in Seattle the tension and excitement is palpable. For the first time in years, maybe forever, we can taste success. We feel it, dream about it, and yes, talk about it ad nauseum.
A recent visit to Qwest Field — Seahawk Stadium — was an incredible experience. Imagine 65,000 rabid, frothing fans with a singular purpose — to see their beloved Seahawks win. Sportscasters talk about our "home field advantage," because the stadium is known to be a raucous and boisterous venue. There is no one in the trenches here, whiling away their time with mundane activities; only radical and fanatical fans in the grandstands, cheering excitedly.
I am ecstatic for the success of the Seahawks; I am equally discouraged about the time most couples spend in the trenches in their marriage. Imagine: we put time into painting our faces, tattooing our arms, buying megaphones and T shirts supporting our sports team, yet we fail to champion our mate.
Consider our plight — being caught up in what has been called "the tyranny of the urgent," we expend our energies on everyday things like work, getting kids to soccer practice and dentist appointments, or perhaps sprucing up our homes so they are the nicest on the block. None of these activities, of course, are bad. But, when they become our sole focus to the exclusion of championing our mates, our marriages suffer.
Perhaps your marriage is not in the middle of a huge crisis like pornography addiction or an adulterous affair. Yet allowing the spark to fade – slowing growing apart as the daily grind chips away at your relationship – can also be damaging to a Christian marriage.
I clearly remember a phone call from Debbie. She inquired about an appointment for herself and her husband, Kerry. During our brief conversation, she said they needed something to bring back the spark in their marriage. Several days later they came in for their appointment.
Kerry was a tall, well-built man with a long, flowing beard. My initial impression was that he would be loud and forceful, so I was surprised by his soft voice and passive manner.
Debbie was a large woman with long, blond hair. She wore jeans, tennis shoes and a sweater. She appeared tense and tenuous.
After the usual exchange of pleasantries, I got things rolling.
"Debbie, when we talked on the phone the other day, you mentioned that you and Kerry need something to bring a spark back to your marriage. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your relationship?"
"Well, I don’t think anything is really wrong with us. At least nothing major. But, we don’t talk much. I think we are the classic couple that has grown so comfortable together that we don’t really know each other really well anymore. I’ve noticed we’ve been doing more criticizing lately. I can’t speak for Kerry, but I think both of us may be getting discouraged about how things are going."
"How about it, Kerry?" I asked.
Kerry stroked his beard. "Well," he said slowly, "it can’t be all that bad. We’ve been married fourteen years and have two great kids. I work hard and enjoy the chance to play golf. Debbie works and likes to attend quilting parties with her friends. I guess I didn’t know things were so bad."
"So, things are okay as far as you’re concerned?" I asked.
"From my perspective…yes. But, Debbie says she’s not happy, and I’m having trouble understanding what she has to complain about. I’m definitely not like the guys I work with who spend every night at the cocktail lounge."
Debbie became noticeably more upset.
"See what I mean," she said, looking at me. "This isn’t new news. I have been asking him to go to counseling for months. Our marriage is dying a slow death. Kerry doesn’t tell me or show me that he cares about me. He doesn’t ask me about my day. And to tell the truth, I’ve quit asking about his day. He does his thing, and I do mine. We haven’t spent a weekend away alone in years. I don’t want our marriage to end up like my friends. Things have to improve."
Over the next several weeks we explored Debbie and Kerry’s marriage. Together we outlined some of their patterns of living in the trenches instead of the grandstands. We discovered these "trench-like" habits:
• They talk sharply to each other;
• They take one another for granted;
• They make demands instead of requests;
• They put each other down rather than offering praise and encouragement;
• They fail to get excited about each other’s ideas and dreams;
• They spend little time simply conversing;
• They forget to champion one another.
Fortunately, Debbie and Kerry caught their problem early enough and were willing to change. They made a deliberate decision to clear out some of the everyday "urgents" that came between them and replaced them with positive activities and encouragement. Specifically, I gave them the following instruction:
• Notice and encourage the good things about your mate. Make it a point to see the small things they do every day that is worthy of praise;
• Listen carefully and encourage your mate to talk about the hidden hurts and fears in their life;
• Refuse to carry grudges. Insist on small issues remaining small, not allowing them to contaminate your daily relationship;
• Check in with one another every day. Spend ten minutes sharing what you feel, think and want with one another;
• Create adventure in your marriage. Travel, dream, read out loud, delight in life together;
• Experiment with different activities you have never done before. Take some chances. Be surprised.
How are you doing in your marriage? Are you spending too much time in the trenches? There is no excuse for a marriage turning stale. God has created a wonderful universe for our exploration — a universe of ideas and possibilities inside our creative minds, and outside in His wonderful creation. Share it and explore it with each other.
Finally, I encouraged Debbie and Kerry to memorize and apply Psalm 139: 14-15. Let this passage come to mind when you interact with your mate.
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place."
Yes, both you and your mate are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by a God who works wonders. Grab your mates hand and get out of the trenches and into the cheering grandstands. You’ll love the difference. (Go Seahawks!)
This article is fifth in a series on nine mistakes most couples make. Read part 4: Are You Playing God in Your 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 new advice column by contacting him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.