Two marriage stories caught my attention recently.
Story 1: According to a recently released survey about marriage, more married people grow tired of one another more quickly than ever. Instead of the so-called “seven-year itch”, studies show that couples are now at greatest risk for breaking up just before their fifth anniversary. One researcher said, “The crisis point for modern marriage is arriving sooner”. Couples just seem to get bored with each other. And as we all know, the statistics for Christian couples are rarely different than that of the general population.
Story 2: Edna Jean and Nolan Burton were set up by friends for their first date, never dated anyone else and married in June of 1940. Across the years, they were constantly together– following Cincinnati Reds baseball games, attending Grace Baptist Church and doting on their one son and numerous grandchildren. One friend said, “You never saw one without the other.” Early this summer, Nolan died from complications of an aneurysm at age 86. Edna Jean only survived him by 21 hours. They were married for 67 years! Their son Darrell said,” I had my own feelin’ that if either one went, it’d be this way. They were in love till the last minute, and they were never ever separated or had a cross word.”
What is the difference here? Why does one couple step away from their wedding day towards “I’m tired of this and just don’t want to be married anymore” and another hangs in there together “‘ til death do us part”?
Consider the first. Many of the reasons for marital tension and divorce have been well-documented. Why is the “crisis point” arriving sooner? “The main reason seems to be increased expectations of both relationships and what a happy marriage should be like.” Now, that really makes sense. If you know that a marriage is increasingly difficult to maintain, you raise the expectations on the front end to head off pain and disappointment.
Of course the key is the source of those expectations. And that’s where things really get interesting. “In a climate of media-enhanced instant gratification, the stakes have been raised as mere contentedness is no longer enough in a marriage….we increasingly expect that the more passionate element [like the honeymoon period] to continue indefinitely.” Here are the seeds of a short-term marriage-or long-term misery. Once the pre-programmed ideas of happiness has been violated, spouse have to find way to deal with the conflict that arises. But, as Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust in London, observes that “no-fault divorces have made it easier for spouses to walk out on each other when problems arise rather than working through their difficulties. And our current preoccupation with individual rights and personal gratification militates against the selfless devotion that is required in building a successful marriage.”
Our friends Edna Jean and Norman have something to say to bored, ready-to-wall spouses. If you’re feeling a tinge of marital boredom, remember to:
+ Deal with your spouse-and not an idealized vision of your spouse. Comparison can be deadly. Edna Jean liked Nolan’s jokes and Nolan never said a word when Edna kept saying her age was thirty-nine. Acceptance of the reality of the person you’re married to is key. You used words like “honor and respect” in your marriage ceremony-and a huge part of that is simple acceptance. (Straight talk to women: your husband is not the hunk bachelor with roses to give and scripted romantic moments. Be content with who he is. Straight talk to men: your wife is neither an airbrushed centerfold nor a porn starlet. Be content with who she is.)
+ Regularly celebrate your spouse’s strengths and the wonder of their life. It was said that Roger and Edna Jean were “like teenagers; it was all about them.” They never tired of each other. There is a certain arrogance to the idea that you have grown bored with someone who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by the Almighty and whose days have been ordered with purpose by Him “before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16) -long before you were ever in the picture. Keep searching for the wonder of him, the miracle of her. Probe the soul. Look behind the eyes. Hear the dreams. That adventure alone will keep you around –and interested-for far more than five years.
+ Practice putting your spouse ahead of yourself. A friend said of Nolan and Edna Jean, “She thought he hung the moon and he thought she hung the moon.” Focusing on another’s strengths takes focus off of you. Also, a successful marriage is not about the mutual pursuit of individual rights; it is about the mutual submission to one another. Christian marriage encourages disciples to be marked by “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) Discover your joy in her joy. Find satisfaction when she is satisfied. “In humility, consider your spouse more important than yourself. Let each of you husbands, and each of you wives, consider your spouse more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3-4, revised)
+ Simply spend more time together. “You never saw one without the other”, said Edna Jean’s sister. People of this generation may not be able to manage that, what with dual careers and the simple pace of managing a contemporary lifestyle. But I am constantly amazed at the number of spouses who attempt to maintain parallel, but quite separate, lives. They’re just never together. “Becoming one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) involves talking & listening, laughing and crying, sharing both ordinary and momentous moments, physical and emotional intimacy. Boredom may merely reflect a growing lack of acquaintance with you.
+ Determine to stay. It just never seemed to occur to Nolan and Edna Jean that there was any other way but together. As a matter of fact, just after Nolan died, Edna Jean twice said, ‘You wait for me. I’ll be there.” Because of their trust in Christ and His promise of resurrection, they didn’t believe even death could break their bond for long. What’s it take to stick together? Forgiveness. Compromise. Learning to process (not ignore or stuff) conflict. Creative companionship. Remove “divorce” and “separation” from your marriage dictionary. Pray. Confess your need for God’s help, for His “power is made perfect in weakness.” (1 Cor.13:9) Pray some more. And stay-for your sake, for God’s sake, stay.
Nolan and Edna Jean’s grandson said, ” You don’t see very many couples that last long and are still happy,” Here’s praying that many more couples-especially Christian husbands and wives– will decide to squeeze hands tighter, look for the wonder, be content, fight the boredom – and stay.