Written by Joanne Beckley
Times were tough, the Vietnam War was escalating, my husband had received call-up papers and we agonized about whether a Christian should go to war. Our grocery bill was $10 a week and I was pregnant, really pregnant. We did our share of adjusting to married life and we dealt with the challenge of becoming new parents who had different ideas about how to raise children. But there was one area where we were absolutely committed–to stick with each other through good times and bad.
Today, some 40 years later, we continue to face marital stressors, as psychologists call them. Yes, today, all of us are dealing with new kinds of external influences, circumstances, and events that are capable of threatening our marriages, threatening to unravel the very fabric of our lives. If couples have not yet learned to face them together, these stressors will cause tension and strife that will eventually destroy relationships. Some of these stressors will actually cause a couple to drift into living parallel lives, exclaiming, “We have a good marriage, we never argue, we are best friends.” Are they?
When I think of common things that strain a marriage, I think of financial troubles, unemployment, intimacy problems, disagreements in parenting, chronic poor health, death of a child, in-law clashes–and the list goes on. But these are not new problems that marriages face so why do they seem to keep coming up?
When we stop talking together, pulling away and not facing a problem together; when one or the other is not offering or accepting affection, and sexual contact is absent; when one or the other (or both) is not facing life’s challenges, opting out for “me first, me only”, then that unconditional commitment to the marriage is going to suffer and ultimately break down.
When a man and woman are totally committed to each other and remind each other daily of this commitment by word and action; when they strive to live by the biblical standard of marriage; when they put each other’s needs ahead of their own; when the do not give up on each other’s weaknesses; when they pray together and work together through difficulties as a team; this is the kind of commitment that will help a marriage weather any kind of stress that is handed out.
Life has really, really become frenetic. Schedules are overloaded, more and more demands are being made by the schools, community, churches, and our very own kids. Not only are both spouses working outside the home, they are often working different schedules, including night shifts. There is very little time left to just rest and unwind, especially with each other.
Even as I post on Pleonast or read Facebook entries, I cannot ignore what I am learning concerning families all around the world. I hear of couples and family time together being consumed by computers, iPods, iPhones, video games, etc, etc. These are a threat to a marriage and therefore one of those “stressors.” Too much time spent in this area leads to undermining the closeness and even subtly building barriers between a husband and wife or parents and children. What about the TV? Do we come home from work and sit before it until we go to bed? There is certainly no family interaction around the dinner table if this is the case. When do we talk? We don’t. Loving one another fervently requires time and face-to-face caring (1 Peter 1:22).
How did we come to such a pass? It wasn’t intentional. We have just allowed ourselves to get into the habit of constantly plugging ourselves in! We have more ways to communicate today than ever before but they don’t create less distance in the home. We joke about sending text messages instead of talking face to face. . . it isn’t a joke anymore. (And I must ask, why are we allowing the same habit to develop in our children???)
Unfortunately, the internet is destroying marriages as a source of pornography, illicit relationships, and cyber-affairs. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, between 20 and 33 percent of Internet users in the United States go online for sexual purposes. Most of these are married men. The Internet has provided us with a lot more ways to violate our marriage vows. Wives, consider the emotional feedback you are receiving from your online male friends. What begins as seemingly innocent sharing of thoughts is the very thing that began your friendship with your sweetheart before you married him. . . Even if men and women never arrange to meet in real life and engage in a “live” affair, it is still a form of infidelity and a serious threat to a marriage. The computer/Internet may not have been invented when Jesus condemned looking at a woman to lust after her (Matthew 5:28), but we can certainly see a similar danger.
I think what is threatening our marriages today more than any other stressor is not so much the external troubles and detractions, but what is going on internally. If the marriage begins to seem too difficult to maintain or doesn’t come up to one’s expectations, too many don’t seem to think twice about abdicating. Divorce used to be seen as shameful, but today we only stay in the marriage as long as we think we are getting more out of it than we have to put into it. It seems the “me generation” has multiplied and created a self-focussed world. Wrongful divorce is indeed fuelled by selfish, unthankful, unforgiving, and headstrong people. Those who wrongfully push for divorce are virtually named in 2 Timothy 3:1-4.
Just as marriages are being broken all around us, so it is affecting our love for God. The apostle John wrote that if we love God we will love one another (1 John 4:21). If we are not loving one another then we cannot claim to love God. If we cannot abide by what a marriage should or shouldn’t be according to God’s standards (Gen 2:24), then we leave the door wide open, with no absolutes, no ability to determine right from wrong, no understanding of how to love.
Commitment toward any goal is never easy and there will always be detractors from our desire to have a strong marriage. It all boils down to just how much effort we want to expend in order to have a loving mutually supportive marriage. Let us take a careful look at where the fabric of our marriage has been weakened and then carefully darn the gaping hole. Surprisingly that carefully darned hole will create a stronger bond in marriage.