There are two common things that cause a divide in marriage: one is a natural drift, the other is crisis. Is natural drift happening in your marriage? Have you faced a crisis that changed your life forever? Being intentional in your marriage is the key to overcoming either of these.
Drifting seems to be a norm for many relationships after the honeymoon phase ends. Life gets busy, things pile up and it’s easy for other things to become a priority and take center stage. If you have kids, even more so. Not to mention the daily stressors of life. After a while the time and energy you once put into your relationship is diverted to other things. A subtle drift sets in. For many marriages this becomes the status quo. . . until one day you seem very far apart and don’t know what happened.
Crisis can become another factor in drifting apart. Crisis can accelerate the divide much more intensely and quickly. Crisis is what really impacted our family.
Several years ago some major health and financial issues hit our family. It was the beginning of a very stressful time in our lives. It felt like a giant wave had just picked us up and carried us to an unwanted, unexpected place and dumped us there. We had no choice, no control and didn’t know when or how we would get back to familiar territory. We faced many challenges including a major reversal in our roles. I stepped back into the workforce after being a stay at home mom for fifteen years. My husband’s health limited him. There was a lot of stress as my husband, our kids and I adjusted to the new norm. I adopted a “do what needs to be done to get through” mindset. My focus became very narrow. I needed to protect. I needed to provide. I forged ahead. This crisis really impacted our marriage. Knowing that logically and living it in reality are two different things.
A year ago I realized the way we were functioning was not good for our marriage or our family -long term. Stress behavior needed to transition back to a “normal” mode of functioning. My husband and I realized just how much of a toll it was taking on our marriage. It was time to step back and take inventory.
The cost had been high. Some of it was expected, given all that had happened, but we realized we didn’t want our marriage to stay where it was. So now what? How were we going to get to a better place relationally when it was clear our circumstances were never going back to the way they were?
We had to be intentional.
Being intentional about marriage can take many forms. For us, there were several steps to our process. The first step was to take inventory. We had to ask what this had cost us individually, our marriage, and our kids. Then based on the inventory results we developed a plan.
The plan started with both of us working on self first. We had to be intentional about what we each needed as individuals in order to be healthy before we focused on our marriage. At that point working on self was the beginning point for working on our marriage.
Next, we looked at communication. Communication is a key part of every marriage. It becomes even more important when you hit a crisis. Our inventory surfaced some communication issues we needed to work on. Top of the list was being honest and open while considering wise timing. I had to learn to be more open about things I had been keeping to myself, but I needed to consider timing and not just dump when I felt I needed to. Timing can be the difference between a discussion going well or becoming a disaster. We also had to learn a balance between over communicating and under communicating.
The next step was identifying and being proactive about our different Love Languages. We had given lip service to that concept but now we began to act on it. We made a priority of understanding and being purposeful about each other’s love language. For example, my primary languages are Quality Time and Receiving Gifts. It was amazing to both of us how even the littlest thing my husband did with that in mind made huge deposits into my emotional love tank.
We also recognized we needed to prioritize time to build our marriage. This would mean different things at different times. Going out on a date and leaving behind the difficulties of our circumstances was important. We had to be intentional about not using our date time to talk about negative things; this was our “fun” time. We needed to have fun together and enjoy each other. But at other times we needed to discuss things we had been avoiding. So we learned to set aside a specific time to talk about “that” issue and not put it off any longer. In fact, we started having a regular time for these “business” discussions. We both knew when the conversation would be so we could prepare and know what to expect. The range of issues were varied; sometimes finances, scheduling, health, parenting, or relational health for our marriage. We still meet once a week to deal with the “business” side of marriage and we always leave the house. We go get a coffee or go for a drive. We’ve come to see that we need specific time for fun and time to talk through the bigger issues of our life and our marriage. Both are really important.
In the midst of all the difficulty, the key to being intentional about our marriage was to reestablish our commitment. Statistically, it’s in times of hardship that divorce rates sky rocket. But being intentional about commitment can be the driving force that moves you forward through the hardship. When our wave swept over us, our commitment was a very key foundation. Commitment is defined as: devotion or dedication to a cause, person, or relationship. Part of this devotion and dedication to our relationship was to look for positives in our marriage and in each other. I made a list of the things I appreciate about my husband. I mentally refer to the list at random times. Especially when I’m frustrated!
The next step in our journey of intentionality was resources – books, workbooks, videos and articles – many of them from familylifecanada.com. It is amazing how God provided resources for me when I needed them. Sometimes it came in the form of a well-timed email or phone call. Sometimes it was as simple as a text message from a friend that said “I care”. Friends were our best resource. We were not meant to walk through life alone. Community brings care, as well as life experience and helpful insights. A very important part of our plan was wise counsel and accountability with people we could be really honest with.
Today, a year later, I see much progress. Sometimes it was hard to detect in the midst of the difficulty and sometimes it came in unexpected or even unwanted ways. But it was there when I looked for it. There’s more needed, but after 22 years of marriage I realize that will always be the case. We are a work in progress. Thankfully we are progressing; not just drifting unawares or dividing because of crisis.
Intentionality in a relationship is SO important. And it’s especially important when your crisis “wave” hits. But let me encourage you, there is a way through: be intentional, make a plan and move forward.
For ideas about being intentional refer to the book The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick. To learn more about the Love Languages read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is a great resource for healthy boundaries in marriage. For those struggling with the unexpected wave hitting Plan B by Pete Wilson or Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb are good books. Finally for those struggling through grief I found A Grace Disguised very helpful.