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The Two, No Three Temptations of Marriage

The temptation to give up in marriage is rampant, even encouraged, in our society.  Dr. Bing gives us a heads up.The last few weeks I’ve been teaching an Adult Education class at our church on Integrity and this morning I was looking for material on my computer on the topic of temptation that I’d written before.  I found this article from 2004.  I can’t find it on our website, so here it is.  Be encouraged:

The divorce rate in our churches has approached and in some cases exceeded the divorce rate of the culture at large.  Recent research suggests that the decision to divorce is not something that people make lightly.  For most, the processes of divorce take place a long time before.  While God hates divorce, he also hates the things that lead us to be open to the voices of divorce.  What are the temptations that insidiously, secretly, lead us down the path of marital breakdown?

The Blame Game: Ever since Adam blamed God and Eve for his disobedience to God in the Garden and Eve blamed the serpent for hers, we’ve been hounded by this tendency.  Most of us may not even be aware that we are doing it.  Jesus cautioned us about getting overly concerned about the sliver in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own.  We tend to be very good at noticing the shortcomings in others and loath to admit any of the problem is our fault.

The idea of marriage is that we work together to support each other, to be partners, that two are better than one.  We are both responsible to invest in the relationship.  This would also mean two people working together to resolve the problems they face.

But when the idea of blame becomes part of a marriage, one person accuses the other of being more at fault or more of a failure in the relationship.   The blamer feels he or she is better than the blamee.  The blamee doesn’t like being blamed any more than anyone else, so he or she fights back with blame to the original blamer.  Both spouses are blamed and blamees, attackers and attacked, perpetrators and victims, accused and criminal.  This is no longer a partnership.  Now we have two people competing for their own rights at the expense of the other.

The temptation to blame can become habit forming.  It may even take the intervention of a pastor or marital therapist to help us see it.  If this temptation is not resisted it leads to:

The Avoidance Trap:  Blame leads to walls of defense.  No one likes to be blamed.  Our tendency when blamed is to protect ourselves, to cover ourselves, to distance.  We tend to avoid negative people.  If the negative person is our spouse, that means spending less time together.

This may not seem like a big deal at first.  Life can go on pretty normal for a while when couples avoid each other.  Usually the kids and schedules are the excuse.  Perhaps both work and come home exhausted at the end of the day.  There’s little energy left, yet they have to fix supper, go to the kid’s activities or church.  Weekends are spent paying bills, chores, errands and children’s games.  Couples can schedule each other out of their lives.  And why not?  For couples in a blaming mode, at least when they aren’t together they don’t feel hurt or pain about how bad things are between them.  The don’t fight as much either (NOTE from 2013: With the advent of texting this is not longer the case!)!

So they avoid each other.  They associate their partner with pain.  The seek ways to NOT be together.  One writer on marriage calls this “Exits” and he asks, what exits are you using to avoid time with your partner?  TV?  Kids?  Kids’ activities?  Hobbies?  Working late?  Housework?  Other friends?  Church activities?  (2013 update: Video games?  Facebook?  Smart phone?)

Research suggests that one of the key characteristics of long-term satisfying marriages is friendship and one of the key characteristics of couples who divorce is loneliness.  I am amazed at how many couples who come to see me for marital therapy do not spend even a minute a week together alone!  Is it any wonder they feel lonely?  Friendship takes investment.  Friendship takes priority.  Friendship is not built on good intentions or hormones that were alive and kicking 20 years ago.  Friendship needs constant reminders and reinforcement.  And friendship in marriage needs time together, gentle time, without issues, without blame, without agendas, mutually fulfilling time.

Unless the temptation to avoid each other is resisted it leads to:

Giving Up is Easy to Do: At least in our culture in our day it is easy.  The old 60’s song said, “Breaking up is hard to do.”  Not anymore.  Society supports divorce.  It’s easy.  It’s quick.  Painless.  We’ll just go our own way.  The kids will get over it.  It’s better to be divorced than to be in an unhappy marriage.  I love you but I’m not in love with you.  You’ll get over it.  I don’t want to hurt you.  It’s not working anymore.  I can’t see you ever changing.  I can’t control what my heart is saying.

It’s hogwash, of course.  But the temptation is there to give up.  When people give up on each other they visit lawyers.  When they visit lawyers they divide up things that are intended to be together like, kids, retirement plans, a house (home?), cars, furniture (didn’t you buy that chair because it matched everything else?).  And when they divide up all these things their hearts are divided, too.  People say, Oh, we want to remain friends.  Right.  You don’t remain friends with someone who you believed tore your heart and dreams and your children in two.  Resentment, maybe.  Friends, no.

Are you caught up in the blame game?  Are you seeking ways to avoid your partner?  Are you tempted to give up?  If so, use these as warning signs that you and your spouse need to begin to work together to establish new patterns of interaction that will increase your friendship and sense of partnership together.  If you are stuck and can’t seem to get out of these repetitive, hurtful patterns, give us a call.

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