In the last few months I have had three or four couples (in or around my social circles) that are in serious trouble. In each case, one partner in the marriage has walked out on the other and declared that from their perspective “It’s over”. Unfortunately, this is not a new occurrence and it’s becoming almost commonplace. It grieves me every time that I see this, but I’ve come to see that there is a very common thread that runs across many of these relationships.
At the root of these problems is sin of some sort; typically revolving around selfishness. In some cases it’s infidelity, in others it’s drinking and still in some others its a lack of alignment on priorities. But interestingly, the “walk-out” seldom occurs on a first offense. When I talk with these couples, I come to learn that the thing that is separating them now has happened in the past. Interestingly, the couple thought that they had worked through the issue and successfully reconciled. So what led this same destructive behavior to reoccur and lead to such an awful ending?
It’s all about the roots. If you’ve ever tried to pull a dandelion from your yard, you know that unless you remove the entire root of the plant, the weed will reemerge in time. Even if you get “most” of the root, a little bit remaining will allow the plant to gain new life. These indiscretions which occurred initially were only dealt with on a surface level. They may have been cut off at the visible, surface level, but the roots were never dealt with.
“If I don’t see you looking at porn, then I assume you’re not looking at porn” (or replace porn with the appropriate sin as needed), seems to be the common perception. It’s probably because we want to see the best in our spouse, not the worst. If they say they will change, we want to believe them completely. No one looks forward to a separation or a divorce – so looking the other way feels safer and less threatening than dealing thoroughly with an issue. In other words it looks as if things are better, the problem is gone and you’re heading for a better place. But just like the dandelion, if you don’t get rid of the root, it will inevitably reemerge.
I’m not suggesting that there is not room for grace. But I am saying that a superficial fix will be short-lived. If a partner repents and asks for a second chance, they need to be held accountable for the problem that first occurred. Counseling, peer groups or other avenues should be sought where the person can interact with others in an open environment and share their trials and temptations. In some cases it may be impossible to completely destroy the root, but by focusing on the area where the sin is likely to come back it can still be dealt with before it blossoms anew.
But even in marriages that have not reached this point, caution needs to be taken. No marriage is weed proof, but you can manage the relationship in a couple of ways.
Watch out for the signs of weed growth in your relationship. Signs of this might include:
- Your focus shifts from what’s best for “us” to what’s best for “me”
- You spend increasingly less time with your spouse – especially in marriage mode as opposed to parenting or home management mode
- You begin wondering what it would be like to be married to someone else, or wishing your spouse was more like someone else that you know
If you see these signs of early weed growth, take action immediately. Nobody has just one dandelion in their yard. As it sprouts and blooms it broadcasts seeds everywhere and soon you are overrun. The same is true of “little” sins in your marriage. Don’t continue down the same path you’re on and hope things get better, they won’t. Do something to change course before it’s too late.
For those that have not yet run into such issues in their marriage, I would prescribe a conscious, proactive approach. Just as your lawn may be weed-free today you know that without proper care it won’t stay that way. Take it for granted for just a season and you’ll see it become overrun with unwelcome weeds. The weed seeds invade your yard from all around. Likewise our culture attacks our marriage on all fronts.
Just as pre-emergent weed control can keep your lawn looking great, consider the following examples as marital sin control:
- Date night – don’t just talk about it, do it. You work hard to arrange other things, you can clear an occasional night on your schedule and get a sitter.
- Don’t let your kids control your lives. Of course you love them, but keep your marriage top priority. Trust me, your kids will appreciate this in the long run – especially when mommy and daddy both live happily in the same house.
- Be spontaneous. Remember when you were dating and you loved to surprise your partner? Remember the reaction they had? That need not be gone, just do it. Buy flowers for no reason. Have sex the moment they walk in the door (okay that’s more for him than her, but still…) Write a love note. Flirt via text. You get the idea…
In each of the marriages that I have seen struggle (or dissolve) neglect was the single strongest issue. Communication lacked, intimacy dwindled
and selfishness flourished. These things are inevitable when you take them for granted. You made a commitment when you got married. Make a commitment to stay that way. Be on the lookout for weeds and apply the necessary treatments in advance to remain weed free. You do it for your yard. Do it for your marriage.