Since today is my day for my “Loving” post, I felt it appropriate to use the opportunity to provide some marital counsel. Not for anyone in particular and CERTAINLY not for myself, but there may be someone out there who fits into the relational scenarios I’ve chosen to consider today. I do so with a full disclaimer that I have no formal training in marital or personal counseling. The only psychology classes I’ve ever taken was one in high school and one basic pastoral counseling course. However, none of the advice I’ll share today was gained through a class or a textbook, so take it with that in mind. I am simply an observer of human interaction and have lived 55 plus years and been married to the same person since I was 18 years old. Mostly though, these are just observations on marriage relationships that I’ve seen descintigrate and then end, many times to the surprise or confusion of one of the parties. So, if you see yourself here at all (on the surprise end), take heed.
Most times it is the husband that I see taken by surprise or, at the very least, perplexed, about their spouse’s decision to file for divorce and call it quits on the relationship. It isn’t that he hasn’t known that the relationship was rocky, he did. And it generally isn’t that he hadn’t attempted to bring harmony to the home in some measure. The scenario, repeated many times over through months and years, often goes something like this:
Husband: What do you want me to do? What will make you happy?
Wife: I wish you would ____ and ____.
The fill in of the blanks, of course, will be different for each couple. It could be “spend more time with me and fix things around the house” in one situation and another it might be “stay at one job and not drink so much.” Many times, however the complaints of the wife center around smaller items of a more specific nature, like:
“When are you going to stain the deck? You’ve been putting it off for two years!”
“You never take me out for dinner anymore or tell me that I look nice.”
In either case, the wife has shared issues of unhappiness in the relationship. I’m not making a judgment as to whether those complaints are legitimate or not, or even whether or not they are truly the heart of the problem. I am just relating a common scenario.
The husband then, desiring to maintain peace in the home, will attempt to appease his wife. He stains the deck, he takes her out for dinner, he does repairs around the house – whatever was the immediate complaint, he attempts to show his desire to please her and keep their relationship functional by putting some effort forth in the direction she has indicated.
The Calm Before the Storm
It is usually after one of these episodes when the husband is feeling that he has once again secured some peace within the home that the surprise comes. The wife has not been complaining about anything or at least not as much. He mistakenly interprets this quiet and calm as peace between them. Not marital bliss, of course, but he makes the assumption that he has at least calmed the turbulent waters and can relax for the time being, until her feathers get ruffled again. That’s the mistake. That’s when he gets blind-sided.
The quiet that he has misinterpreted as peace is really resignation and resolve. The wife has decided to stop battling. Instead she is contemplating the means of ending the relationship all together. It is a tricky thing for the husband to recognize, since they’ve had years of the battles followed by relative peace. That’s why it often takes him by surprise.
Is there anything he could have done to prevent this? Where did he go wrong? Why did she decide that this time was different from all the rest?
The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back
It is the straw that broke the camel’s back scenario. It isn’t that something of great magnitude has happened or changed. It isn’t that the last straw placed on the camel’s back was any heavier than the first, it is just the accumulation of weight to the point where one small thing has pushed it over the edge. That’s why the husband is taken by surprise. Things don’t seem any different than they have been in the past — and they aren’t.
The husband keeps telling himself that if things get worse, he’ll take drastic measures. He doesn’t want a divorce. If it comes to that point, he’ll fight to keep his family together. The trouble is, that by that time, it is usually too late. She’s made up her mind. He’ll have a hard time convincing her that he is sincere, or that there is any means that will salvage the relationship. She knows that it will take lots of work to repair the damage done over the years and she may not even be willing herself to commit to the effort it would take, much less expect him to.
So, what’s the answer? The answer is not to wait for it to ‘get worse.’ Take the drastic measures of getting marriage counseling (even if it is just you seeing the counselor) before it gets to that point. Quit trying to patch up a leaky roof, and do the job right, fix the whole thing — before the next big storm.