As Chris and I approach our 16th wedding anniversary, I think about what we have learned together through our own experiences and from other peopleâ€™s mistakes, both observing and counselling hundreds of couples going through some problem in their marriage. My goal here is simply to post warning signs along Marriage Road, so that if you see them on your marriage journey, you know you need to do something about it or maybe even get help.
This list is by no means exhaustive but I would rank each of these seven signs very high on any such list. Ready? Here we go:
- 1. Crisis in the bedroom department. By far top of the list, a coupleâ€™s intimate life acts as the thermometer of their marriage. When a couple no longer or rarely comes together physically, they are leaving a wide open door for other problems. To be â€˜oneâ€™, husband and wife must keep the bedroom temperature high. The keywords are frequency, selflessness, and quality.
- 2. Youâ€™re not each otherâ€™s best friend. Husband and wife must be able to talk to each other just about anything. No secrets. A best friend is someone you can confide in, is not judgmental, and whose company you enjoy. You laugh together. You know everything about each other. Unfortunately, some couples hold themselves back from each other and donâ€™t involve one another in their life. The result? Strangers sharing the same house.
- 3. Your best friend is another woman (man). As a married person, if you keep a close friend of the opposite sex other than your spouse, youâ€™re asking for trouble. Not only trouble in the sense that you will be tempted but also because you will provoke your spouseâ€™s jealousy. Want a friend? Read number two again.
- 4. Problems linger unresolved. Thereâ€™s a golden rule that my wife and I set for ourselves early in our marriage: We will not sleep until we have talked AND RESOLVED any issues between us. A problem unresolved is a problem evolved. It will come back to bite you later, with a vengeance. Why wait? Nip it in the bud, get it over with.
- 5. Youâ€™ve lost respect for each other. When you no longer care what the other person feels or thinks, youâ€™re going down a very dangerous road. Call me old-fashioned, but I have noticed marriages are healthier when the wife lets the husband lead, be the head of the house, and when the husband cares for his wife more than he cares for himself.
- 6. Youâ€™re putting yourself first. Whatâ€™s the first thing couples do when they get a divorce? Fight over who is going to keep what. In other words, see how they can get as much as possible from the other. If that is what happens in a divorce, the opposite must happen in a marriage. Itâ€™s not what you can get from your spouse, but what you can give him/her. If you normally think about pleasing yourself first, you are not in a marriage relationship.
- 7. You donâ€™t want to listen. Experts say that effective communication is 80% listening and 20% speaking. The reasoning behind it is that we canâ€™t really say anything meaningful until we have listened to and understood the other person. In no other situation is this truer than in marriage. You canâ€™t have a relationship without communication. And you canâ€™t have proper communication without listening â€“ a lot. Somehow I think God had that in mind when He gave us two ears but only one mouth.
Make no mistake, marriage is a difficult thing. But it is only difficult because people are difficult. If you try to fix the other person, youâ€™ll make it worse. You can only change yourself, not others.