The List – Stop Spending Time Together

Some time ago, I spent a few days thinning out over 20 years of counseling files. As I went through each individual file, it was like a trip down memory lane. With each file, I could see their faces and remember their issues.

While doing this, I was struck by how many married couples I had worked with. I celebrated those couples who had turned things around and went on to have great marriages. But I also grieved over those marriages that ended in divorce.

Burdened by those marriages that ended in divorce, I began keeping a list of issues that contributed to those divorces. I discovered that, despite the uniqueness of each couple, there were some common and reoccurring issues that led to these divorces.  And with the exception of three or four “big” things,  most of the issues were smaller, more normal things that were left unattended for too long.

So, I compiled my notes into a list I called, “Ways to Lose Your Marriage” or just “The List” for short. And in the weeks to come, I’m going to be sharing this list with you. Each week, in no particular order, we will cover one way to lose your marriage.

So, here’s the first one.

One way to lose your marriage is to …

STOP SPENDING TIME TOGETHER.

When we are dating, we try to spend as much time as possible together. Even if we have nothing to do or nothing to say, we still want to spend all the time we can together because we were in love.

But after we get married, and after the honeymoon time begins to wane, we gradually spend less and less time together. We get busy building a home, building a career, and building a family, and we forget to keep building our marriage. Then, one day, we wonder why we’re not as close as we use to be. The spark seems to have evaporated. The relationship is more routine…more business-like. It’s not like it used to be.

So as time goes on, you begin to drift apart. Oh, you’re still raising kids, paying the mortgage, cleaning the house, and mowing the yard. But you’re just not as connected anymore. And it all started because you gradually stopped spending time together. You didn’t intend to. It wasn’t personal. Life just kept taking more and more of your time, and your spouse started getting less and less of it.

When you stop spending time together, you set your marriage on a gradual course of dissatisfaction and (if not corrected) divorce.

When I talk about spending time together, I’m not necessarily talking about hours of uninterrupted time, staring into each other’s eyes, and talking about the secrets of your hearts. It’s more simple and less threatening than that. Think of it as intentional time together and unintentional time together.

Intentional Time Together.

Intentional time together is planned and/or scheduled time together. It could be a simple as a dinner or movie date, or as elaborate as a weekend getaway or a second honeymoon. And the act of scheduling and planning the time is almost as important as the time itself because it communicates to your spouse that you care enough about them to put some effort into it.

Unintentional Time Together.

Unintentional time is more casual, spur-of-the-moment time with your spouse. Things like: sitting together, running errands together, taking a walk together, etc. Believe it or not, these times are just as important as the intentional times together, because they can happen more frequently and can become a part of the daily routine of your life.

YEAH, BUT…

Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, but spending time together when we were dating was easier because we were in love and didn’t have as many things getting in the way. But I want to challenge that thinking. Maybe it wasn’t being in love that caused you to spend so much time together when you were dating. Maybe you were in love because you spent so much time together. And you still had demands and constraints on your time when you were dating. You had school, parents, work, friends, and the fact that the two of you weren’t living together. Yet you still found a way to work around those constraints. If you could do it then, you can do it now.

I know this may be difficult at first, especially if you’re at a place where you don’t want to spend time with your spouse. You may be hurt, angry, or wounded, and spending time with them is the last thing you want to do. But let me encourage you. Don’t put it off or avoid it for long. Because not spending time with your spouse is one of the ways to lose your marriage. It’s on the list.

Watching the Titanic Sink…Over and Over Again

 

No matter how many times I see Jame Cameron’s movie “Titanic,” I am always uneasy each time I watch that ship slowly submerge, violently break apart, and then disappear to the dark depths. The fear, the panic, the finality…with each viewing, it’s unnerving.

Not long ago, I counseled 6 people who were either divorcing or headed towards divorce. And this was over the course of just two days! It was like watching the Titanic sink over and over again as I watched these marriages slowly submerge, violently break apart, and begin to disappear into the dark depths.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic here, but each time a marriage ends in divorce it’s a tragedy of Titanic proportion. And the similarities are unsettling.

INITIAL ARROGANCE.

The Titanic was believed to be different than any other ship because it was reported to be unsinkable.

In every premarital counseling session I’ve ever done, as well as every wedding ceremony I’ve ever officiated, the couple before me believes they are different from other couples. They are convinced in their heart of hearts that their relationship is different and impervious to sinking.

But every marriage will encounter “icebergs” that will threaten even the thickest of marital hulls. And assuming that your marriage is exempt puts you even more at risk.

NOT TAKING PROPER PRECAUTIONS.

The company that designed and owned the Titanic was so sure of its superiority that they failed to take proper precautions. For example, they cut back on the number of lifeboats needed, and when they were in dangerous waters, they were over-confident, increasing their speed and dropping their guard.

Too many married couples are too sure of themselves. They are over-confident in that they fail to bring enough people into their lives who could serve as lifeboats in times of need. And they are so busy that they fail to slow down when they’re in difficult and dangerous waters. They just assume they can power through.

A LAST MINUTE PANIC AND SCRAMBLE.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, they were unprepared and ill-equipped. They fell into an every-man-for-himself panic. They even ignored innocent lives by not filling the lifeboats to the capacity to save as many as they could.

The icebergs that threaten a marriage are many: financial icebergs, infidelity icebergs, relational icebergs, parenting icebergs, as well as others. Too many couples are unprepared and ill-equipped for the icebergs. So when they strike one, they fall into panicking, scrambling, blaming, and an every-man/woman-for-themselves mentality.

THE RESULTS.

There are two images from Cameron’s “Titanic” that haunt me. The first is when the camera seamlessly morphs from Titanic’s polished decks gleaming in the sunlight to its ghostly, rusted wreckage strewn across the bottom of the dark ocean floor. And the second image that haunts me is the image of all the victims strewn across the surface of the Atlantic.

The results of divorce are similar. What once was a polished and shiny new marriage morphs into unsalvageable wreckage. And those who were once joyful passengers on this marriage voyage became victims of the tragedy.

Let me say this…I’m not trying to depress anyone, nor am I trying to heap guilt upon anyone who has been through a divorce. If this post has done either of those things, I sincerely apologize. Maybe it’s me processing a tough week of sinking marriages and sad wreckage.

But almost always, divorce – like the sinking of the Titanic – is a preventable tragedy. Yes, there are a percentage of marriages where abuses, abandonment, and adultery may doom a marriage to divorce…even if one spouse doesn’t want it. But those percentages are small in comparison to the overall divorce rate.

SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?

Just as shipbuilders and captains learned from the sinking of the Titanic, we need to learn from the marriages that are sinking around us.

  • Don’t be arrogant or over-confident. No matter how strongly you love one another…no matter how long you’ve been married…divorce can happen to you. There are many “icebergs” out there that can and will threaten your marriage. Assuming that your marriage will be exempt puts you even more at risk. Be in love, but be realistic.
  • Take proper precautions. When you know there are “icebergs” out there that will threaten your marriage, then take precautions ahead of time.
    • Establish regular date nights for just you and your spouse, and fiercely protect them.
    • Create a financial plan that will secure your present and your future.
    • Give as much attention to romance and sex as you do to paying bills and raising kids.
    • Fix any problems you may have in communication and conflict resolution.
    • Make sure your expectations are realistic.
  • Don’t panic and scramble. If your marriage hits an “iceberg,” don’t panic and scramble. As a couple, turn to the lifeboats that are available to you: parents, friends, counselors, pastors, your church, etc. And don’t forget the other potential casualties around you. As a couple, gather up and protect the kids, family, and friends involved and keep them as safe as possible.

TO SUM IT UP…

I don’t mean to be all gloom and doom. Nor am I trying to scare you. But I want your marriage to safely navigate the sometimes difficult waters of life so that the two of you arrive at your destination together and intact.

So let me sum things up this way: Love each other like it was your last day together, and then your days together will last.

If You Feel Like Quitting…

Everyone feels like quitting sometimes.

Stephen King is a prolific writer and probably one of the most well know and successful authors in modern history. Yet, he felt like quitting early on.

I read that one night, his wife was taking out the trash and found three crumpled pages covered in cigarette ashes. Out of curiosity, she pulled the pages out of the trash and read them. When she had finished reading the wrinkled pages, she took them to her husband and encouraged him to keep writing.

Those discarded pages eventually became the book Carrie. Carrie was not only one of Stephen King’s most successful books, but was adapted into four movies and a broadway play. And yet, he was going to quit writing it after three pages!

It’s easier to quit than to push through to the finish. We just don’t call it quitting. We disguise it by saying things like…

  • “It’s just not a good time to do this.”
  • “I’ve found something else that interests me more.”
  • “I was wrong to start this.”
  • “I’m just not cut out for this.”
  • “I can’t put in the time and effort this requires right now.”
  • “It’s too hard.”

As a pastoral counselor, I hear from a lot of spouses that are ready to quit on their marriage.

A few of them have good reason to consider quitting. There has been abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. And in some of these cases, the offending spouse continues to repeat the offense or is unwilling to change. These are very difficult situations that may be out of the spouse’s control and certainly require expert help.

But many of the spouses I talk to, who feel like quitting on their marriage, got to that point for lesser reasons than abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. Many of the spouses I talk to who want to quit on marriage, got there because of:

  • Failed expectations.
  • Lack of attention.
  • Waning communication.
  • Widening gaps in sexual appetite.
  • Evaporation of common courtesies.
  • Failure to pursue one another.

These things are all bound to happen in marriage from time to time. When they happen on an occasionally basis, it typically doesn’t cause a person to want to quit being married to their spouse. But, when these things happen on a regular basis and accumulate over the years, they build up feelings of hurt and resentment that can seem insurmountable. More often than not, this is what causes a spouse to say things like:

  • “There’s just no chemistry between us anymore.”
  • “Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
  • “We got married for the wrong reasons.”
  • “We’re just not good for one another.”
  • “If it’s this difficult, it can’t be right.”

If you feel like quitting on your marriage, you’ve probably felt, thought, and maybe even said some of these things. But let me remind you that in every good story you will find…

  • Dark and difficult seasons.
  • Characters who struggle with one another.
  • Plots turns you didn’t expect.
  • Resolutions that don’t play out until you get all the way to the end of the story.

These things don’t make the story bad. They actually contribute to making the story good…if you stick it out through the story.

So here’s the bottom line. When it comes to your marriage…

If you feel like quitting…don’t.

Walt Disney once said,  “The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”

Like Stephen King, you may be ready to crumple up your marriage and throw it in the trash. But with some time and some work, your marriage could be a rewritten. Don’t let your current frustrations keep you from a creating a future masterpiece.

Take A Stand In Your Marriage.

I was listening to a Willie Nelson CD on the way to work the other day. The CD is entitled “To All The Girls.” (I highly recommend it, if you’re a Willie fan.) There’s a song on that CD called “Walkin’.” It’s about the demise of a marriage. Listen to the words of the chorus:

After carefully considering the whole situation
I stand with my back to the wall
Walking is better than running away
And crawling ain’t no good at all

I was struck by these words, because they sounded like things I’ve heard in my counseling office. As I listened to this song, I found myself asking out loud, “Why are walking, running, and crawling the only options for a tough marriage?”

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How Indifference Can Wreck a Dream and a Marriage

A Disturbing Dream

The other night I had a disturbing dream. I don’t have many disturbing dreams, but this one shook me to my core.

In my dream, my wife and I were separate…and she initiated it! She seemed to have little interest in being around me, and asked me not to contact her. Her indifference toward me was beyond painful, and it was clear that her indifference towards me was going to end our marriage.  But that was not the most disturbing part of the dream.

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How To Stay Together When Others Are Coming Apart

Romantic couple on bench – Vintage photograph

As a Teaching and Counseling Pastor, I come across marriages of all shapes, sizes, ages, and stages.

There are those in the very beginning of their marriage. They have no kids, all the time in the world, and life is just one long extended date. But then there are those who’s marriage is down the road a bit. They are in the throes of raising children, battling time demands, and often living more like like room mates than spouses.

I see some who are deeply in love, while others are so distant they’re thinking of getting out. Some started their relationship officially with an elaborate and well coordinated wedding ceremony, while others had no wedding ceremony at all. They just began living together and have continued down that same ambiguous track.

In the face of all of this diversity, I find myself asking questions like…

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This is Not What I Expected

 

Expectations. We all have expectations before we get married. We have expectations about what marriage will be like. We have expectations about how our spouse will act. We have expectations that tend to become the standard by which we measure and evaluate the quality of our marriage. We expect things like…

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Is Your Marriage Approaching Zero Gravity? – Part 1

When I hear the word “gravity,” I think of different things. I think of an apple falling on Newton’s head. I think of the John Mayer song, “Gravity.” I think of giant pieces of space junk falling from the sky and wiping out my house…and my homeowners insurance refusing to cover it.

But I don’t usually think of marriage when I hear the word, “gravity.” What does gravity have to do with marriage any way…aside from the fact it bears down on all of us, causing us to shrink and sag?

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What Divorce Does to Kids

The other day, I was cleaning out some files and came across a poem, written by a divorced mom on behalf of her two children. The poem had no title, so I’ve given it the title: “My Daddy Doesn’t Live Here.” It’s heartbreaking to read, but it’s a good reminder of how divorce affects kids. 

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Did I Marry the Right One?

Did I marry “the right one?” There can be times in marriage when that question races across your mind like a streaker running across a football field. It can happen when you’re having that same old fight for the umpteenth time. It can happen when the two of you disagree on what’s fun and what’s boring. It can happen when your goals for the future don’t line up. It can happen when the differences between you and your spouse has you grinding your teeth.

It’s during these out-of-sync-times that spouses begin to wonder, “Did I marry the right one?” For some couples, the longer they’re married the more the question pops up. They try to beat the question back, as if they were playing a game of marital whack-a-mole, but no matter what they do, the question keeps coming up. 

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