3. Opposite-sex friendships Lately, as I meet with couples in troubled marriages, I have seen some common themes emerge. I hope this simple list will help you see ways you can improve your marriage. I’m sure I’m leaving out other things, but hey, that’s another blog for another day!
1. Boredom and drift
It seems the longer couples are married, the more they take one another for granted and they stop intentionally investing in their marriage. Couples married 5+ years, more often than not, are suffering from the effects of boredom and drift. Often what is needed is a change-up in routine. The current routine is not producing excitement and closeness so something has to change, and change is hard. Couples will not stay close by accident. Coupled with this is the delicate issue of sexual intimacy problems. Generally speaking, sexual intimacy is a by-product or reflection of general marriage health. Many young couples in the years of having children, feel the strain on their sex-life. This needs to be both normalized as well as understood that intimacy can and should be maintained and even progress through those demanding seasons of married life.
2. Social media
Within a marriage, social media is a seemingly innocent affair taking place literally under our noses. Social media is constantly offering something new, which means it is one of the top threats for our attention. Couples in droves are sitting next to one another every evening on the couch giving attention to all of their “friend” and “followers” but NOT to their spouse. I believe EVERY couple needs to have a monthly, if not weekly discussion about the role of social media in their lives and a willingness to set it aside to prioritize un-divided attention toward their spouse. By the way, many justify social media time with the logic, “We’re just sitting here watching TV, what’s the harm in multi-tasking with social media?” It is my observation, when social media is involved, it steals attention from much of the casual interactions that help couples feel connected. There is value in sitting next to each other and not saying a word. There is value in your spouse knowing you content simply in their presence.
This is a close cousin to social media. Often inappropriate opposite sex friendships develop or are re-kindled on social media. I believe this is one of the most damaging and prevalent mis-behaviors in marriages today. Why? Friendship has become a term we use very loosely and has a variety of meanings which means there’s lots of room to hide inappropriate behavior because it’s not wrong to have friends. I consider any un-checked, private conversations or interactions with “opposite sex friends” to be out-of-bounds and dangerous to a healthy marriage. The desire for opposite sex attention and affirmation should be reserved for the person we marry and nobody else. In general, I encourage “divorcing” these kinds of friendships whenever there is a situation where a spouse feels uncomfortable. Even if the situation is innocent. A willingness to create swift and firm boundaries around people of the opposite sex is built-in to the ethos of marriage. This is the principle I have taught for years, “Choose the one and Cheat the many.”
4. In-law issues
Couples, especially in the first decade of marriage, are facing lots of challenging issues with parents/in-laws. I always advise respectful conversations and never avoidance. We urge couples to first look at their own behavior (take responsibility for self first) well-before staging a conversation with parents/in-laws. We remind couples that they (as adults) are not required to obey parents but always required to honor parents. We honor parents with clear and timely communication. We honor parents by refusing to give in to guilt-trips or manipulation. We honor parents by responding to immaturity with maturity. We honor parents by giving grace. In challenging situations where a boundaries discussion is more on the difficult or confrontational side the best case is about 80% compliance expectation to the boundaries. Remember you are dealing with people and people almost always revert back to old patterns. Therefore, couples today must be willing to make good and God-honoring decisions for their family and press on with or without the compliance of their parents/in-laws.
5. Keeping score
Countless couples find themselves desperately trying to keep things “fair” in marriage out of fear that they are being taken advantage of or at risk of not getting what they want. So, they fall into a pattern of keeping score with one another. If the husband goes out with some buddies to watch a ball game, then of course, this means the wife “deserves” a night out with the girls. And if she gets to spend $100 on shoes, then, of course, he “deserves” to spend $100 on a new golf club. On and on it goes. This sort of keeping score is utterly selfish and NEVER fosters oneness in marriage. This type of thinking is diametrically opposed to the words of Paul in Philippians 2, “treat other as more important than yourself.” When couples keep score both people lose.
6. Passive husband
Probably the #1 most damaging force in families today. My estimation from countless experiences dealing with troubled marriages the common denominator in better than 90% of the cases is a passive, weak or disengaged husband. Therefore, I can predict with about 90% certainty that the lion-share of the problem and the solution rests on the husband. It may not sound fair, but it is reality. That being said, there is NO SUCH THING as a 1-sided marriage problem, however, I believe God designed husbands to carry a greater weight of influence in his home/family. As it goes with husband/father, so it goes for the whole family. Husbands are to be the lead change agents in their marriages and families. This reflects what we see in our relationship with Jesus, He as the Husband has the stronger and greater influence in His family the Church. I never want to beat-up passive husbands, but I do want to challenge them and call them up to God’s best.
I hope this is helpful as you look at your own marriage. Some of these are tough to swallow. Remember that no marriage is too far gone for a couple who decides to align with God and surrender it all to Him. I pray your marriage gets stronger today!