I have some good friends who are experiencing ongoing tension in their marriage. They seem stuck in a frustrating cycle of miscommunication, hurt feelings and sadness. More than once they’ve talked seriously about throwing in the towel and going their separate ways. They’ve drifted apart and they don’t know where they went wrong or how to fix it.
As I’ve interacted with married couples from all over the world, I’ve observed that my friends’ situation isn’t unique. MANY couples experience this same cycle that leads to feelings of hopelessness and it can make the option of divorce appear like an attractive fresh start instead of a devastating last resort.
I’ve started trying to answer the question: Why Does This Happen? Why do couples who at one time were strong, united and happy flounder into feeling disconnected and more like adversaries than partners? There are many factors that can contribute to this, but below I’ve listed out some of the most common (plus ways to correct the problem and start growing closer together).
Here are the five most common reasons couples drift apart and what you can do to prevent (or correct) these issues in your own marriage (in no particular order)…
1. MAKING ASSUMPTIONS instead of truly communicating.
Assumptions are the enemy of healthy communication. In marriage, we can get into big trouble by getting into a mindset that says, “She knows I hate it when she does that, and she’s doing it just to bother me,” or “He should know that I need him to do ______ and I shouldn’t have to tell him.” There are millions more examples I could list, but they all have the same point. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS! Talk about everything. Express your feelings and ask your spouse to do the same. This is the first step in getting back on the same page. Even the Bible has some strong words about this: “Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions, so their conclusions will be wicked madness” (Ecclesiastes 10:13).
#2 happens all the time and it’s a common factor in most unhappy marriages…
2. Facing struggles individually instead of tackling them together as a team.
Your struggles in marriage are never “his” and “hers.” They must always be “OURS.” When we start dividing our responsibilities, goals, dreams, money, time and struggles into separate categories instead of sharing ownership over them all, we’re practicing for divorce instead of building a stronger marriage. Divorce is about dividing everything. Marriage is about sharing everything. Which one are you doing? Stop dividing and start sharing.
#3 never works and it makes BOTH spouses frustrated (and yet we still try to do it)…
3. Trying to fix each other instead of trying to understand each other.
If your spouse has a different opinion or perspective than you, it doesn’t mean he/she is wrong. It doesn’t always mean that you need to have the exact same ideas. Marriage is about unity, NOT uniformity. Being unified in your commitment to each other won’t always mean that you share the exact same perspective on everything. Your differences make you stronger when you learn from each other and try to see the world from each other’s unique perspectives. Don’t try to correct your spouse or convince your spouse that your way is better. Instead, strive to learn from him/her and give him/her the respect he/she needs and deserves.
#4 will create a negative atmosphere in your marriage faster than anything else...
4. Focusing on your spouse’s flaws instead of his/her strengths.
Whatever you choose to focus on will start to seem bigger and everything else will seem smaller by comparison. I sometimes ask audiences to participate in an exercise where we measure how observant we are. I ask them to look around the room and mentally log every item they see that’s the color red. After five seconds, I ask them to close their eyes and with eyes remaining closed I ask them to say out loud every item they just saw that’s the color blue. There’s usually just silence and some laughter. Nobody saw blue until they open their eyes again even though the room was full of blue the whole time. The point is that we tend to see only what we’re looking for. Jesus taught “seek and your will find.” Make sure you’re seeking the right things. Look for the good; not the bad. Be your spouse’s biggest encourager. Not their biggest critic.
#5 is probably the #1 leading cause of divorce and unhappy marriages…
5. Comparing the current difficulties in your marriage with a false fantasy of how “good” life could be if you were single or with someone else.
This false fantasy causes more divorces than perhaps any other factor. It seduces one spouse into leaving the marriage in pursuit of a mirage that doesn’t actually exist. In the short term, perhaps you could find some temporary reprieve from the struggles by ejecting from the problem altogether, but divorce is usually a tragic and permanent solution to temporary problems. It’s a misguided attempt to stop the pain, but it always causes more pain in its aftermath. I’m not saying divorce is never justified, but like with my friends and with so many others, the temporary relief of quitting is nothing compared to permanent blessings of embracing the struggles and preserving together. You’ll be stronger on the other side. Couples who make it work aren’t the ones who never had a reason to divorce. They’re the ones whose commitment to each other was always bigger than their reasons to quit.
If YOU are currently experiencing any of these in your own marriage…don’t give up on each other. Start some new healthy habits. Stick to them. Keep going on the difficult days. Pray. Lean on each other. Surround yourselves with friends who will encourage you and support you in this journey of rebuilding your marriage. Communicate with your spouse about everything. Stop making excuses and start making a way forward. For some tools to help you experience a one-week jumpstart on this journey towards a stronger marriage, you can 7-Day Marriage Challenge (by clicking HERE).
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This article originally appeared here.