We heard the news via email. Another husband and wife we knew were getting divorced.
They seemed like the perfect couple. They both had thriving careers and great kids. There was no infidelity, and no financial woes burdened them down. They’d just grown apart. They’d become more like roommates than committed partners. Now they were going their separate ways.
News like this forces John and me to take a good look at our marriage. We love each other, but sometimes we find it easier to focus on pressing needs – such as the numerous demands of kids, work and church – than on each other.
Too often we put ourselves in cruise control, and this tendency, more than major problems, keeps us apart. When we’re in cruise control, we don’t actively seek to meet one another’s needs or communicate our own needs. Slowly, unknowingly, we drift in different directions.
Watch the Gauges
The need to assess our marriage shouldn’t come as a surprise. We check our car’s oil and change it regularly. We watch the fuel gauge to ensure we have enough gas. We also take note when the engine starts to whine, which might signal a problem.
Just as we monitor and maintain our cars, we need to “watch the gauges” of our marriage if we want to keep it running smoothly.
Listen To the Whine
Assessing your marriage starts by listening to your spouse – and the words from your own mouth – for a hint of discord or discontent.
“One of the things that we find revelatory is what we call the complaint quotient,” says Marie Johnston, married 29 years to Scott. “If one of us starts to complain a lot, it is time to reassess our relationship.”
“We take note of amplitude and frequency,” Scott adds. “The louder and/or the more often the complaint, the more desperate the need.”
The Johnstons recognise their voiced complaints as warning signals. If either hears things like “I really miss you” or “You’re too busy,” then they know it’s time to stop and take a closer look at their relationship.
“We focus more on the message behind the words than the words themselves,” Marie says. “Scott may not exactly know what to say to get my attention, but I know when he needs to talk. I can look beyond his complaints of my spending time with this group or that group, and I realise he just wants to be with me. Conversely, I could totally miss his heart or make matters worse by lecturing on how bad it is to complain.”
Like the whine of an engine, a little noise is a good indicator that your marriage needs attention.
Pay Attention to the Silence
Silence should be noted, too. My tendency toward silence has been one of the biggest struggles in my marriage. It’s not as if I want to hide the areas where I feel unsettled; it’s just that pushing these things to the back of my mind takes less effort than dealing with them.
The pressures of caring for an elderly family member, working from home and raising three children makes talking only about day-to-day existence easy to do. Easy, that is, until temptations and struggles increase the gulf between John and me. Thankfully, we realise the importance of building a bridge to span that gulf, which takes time, energy and heartfelt sharing.
Some couples may discover a combination of the above warning signs in their marriage.
“I tend to be really sarcastic in my remarks, whereas my husband likes to use the silent treatment,” says Lesley LaFuze, married eight years. “Both modes of communication hurt and are signs that we need to assess things ASAP.”
As Lesley and her husband are figuring out, it’s never easier not to talk.
“I think we avoid talking in order to put off what’s coming,” Lesley says. “But in the end, when the issue at hand is dealt with, we feel much more at ease.”
Once you start your assessment, it’s only natural to discuss and deal with the most pressing issues first. But it’s also important to take the next step and consider the big picture.
Pam Farrel, co-author of Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, believes assessing one’s marriage starts with taking time to ask a few questions.
Here are some examples:
Are we spending enough time together to nurture our friendship and have fun?
Are we addressing practical areas of money, family needs, home and ministry?
Are we in a major life transition or a tough circumstance? (Pam says, “[My husband] Bill and I often look at one another and say, ‘It’s not you; it’s not me; it’s life!’ ”)
Am I desiring to be with my mate – and do we have time each week to be lovers?
Are we each walking with Jesus so He can speak to our hearts?
Are we avoiding obvious marriage killers: drugs, drinking, shopping addiction, gambling, porn, affairs and so on?
Are we praying together?
The Biggest Need
In the end, the most important aspect of assessing your marriage is realising the need for it. "There is no perfect marriage; it doesn’t exist, period,” says Melissa Marsh, married to Ron for seven years. “My husband and I have overcome difficulties in the past and things are better now, but we can never let it get to the point where we’re just passing time together.”
In every marriage, partners can travel only in two directions – growing closer together or growing apart. There is no middle ground.
So how is your marriage doing? Have you taken time to really consider what direction you’re heading?