After the Vows

Creeping Separateness

I was in a counseling session with a client who recently discovered that divorce was imminent. The pain, sorrow, and tears of this client were so heartbreaking. I could barely contain my own emotions. One of my first thoughts was, “This is why God hates divorce!” He knows what it does to a human heart.

I know there are many reasons people divorce, and only a few are good. But, if you could rewind time, there would be two people in love, standing in front of God and family and friends, promising to love and cherish each other “til death do us part.”

No sane person starts a marriage with the idea that they will experience the heartbreaking process of separation.

So, when does the separating begin?

The author of A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken, wrote that he and his wife “looked around and saw that 'the smile of in-loveness' SEEMED to promise forever, but friends who had been in love last year were parting." Questioning why, they saw that,

The killer of love is creeping separateness...people gradually drifting apart, sometimes without even noticing it.”

Vanauken goes on to write:

“The killer of love is creeping separateness…It’s taking love for granted, especially after marriage. It’s ceasing to do things together, finding separate interests. Plus, it’s ‘we’ turning into ‘I’. The failure of love might seem to be caused by hate or boredom or unfaithfulness but those were results. First came the creeping separateness: the failure behind the failure.” 

As frustrating as this is, there is almost nothing good in my life that just stays good without time and effort. Whether that is my relationship with God, my husband, family, friends, my job, my health, my hobbies, etc.…

There are many reasons creeping separateness happens in marriage, but lack of time and effort is at the top of the list.

When Jay and I were engaged, older and wiser couples would say “It’s going to change, you are going to have to work at your love.” I hated to hear that! I thought we would be the exception.

And then life, children, friends, involvements. All good things, but a creeping separateness began to happen in the midst of it all.

Every couple has their own story about why this happens. But what do you do about it? 

How to Fight Against Creeping Separateness

1. Communicate

You have to communicate regularly and that takes time!

Gary Thomas says, “In marriage, it is our duty to communicate. To be sure, every marriage needs times of silence and meditation. But in our relationship with our spouse, communication is a discipline of love (Sacred Marriage, 234).

Whether it’s the 20 minutes of connect time daily to discuss high/lows, the weekly time to look at schedules and/or discuss hurts and frustrations, or the regular date nights where you just have fun together. All of it takes time and needs to be scheduled, no matter how unromantic that may sound!

2. Resolve Conflict 

Intimacy means more than a sexual/physical connection, although that is an important part of marriage. It also means, being known and seen and heard.

Intimacy requires sharing thoughts and feelings, even when they are difficult and painful.

I think one of the most common reasons couples drift apart is that they stop sharing the hard stuff, or they develop unhealthy ways to handle their conflict. They don’t keep short accounts with one another but hang on to hurts and let it grow. And then it becomes easier to drift apart.

Make a plan to begin dealing with your conflict in an honest and healthy way. Maybe you start with counseling to have a third-party perspective? Jay and I did this eight years into our marriage, and it was one of the best investments we’ve ever made!

3. Play Together

“We just don’t have anything in common,” said no couple on their wedding day! But, it becomes a good excuse after enough pain and struggles to justify leaving the marriage. It may be true, but it’s not impossible to change with some selflessness and a willingness to try new things. It's as simple as taking some time to be interested in what your spouse is doing.

I don’t surf with Jay; I tried early in our relationship and I thought I would die by a surfboard slamming into my head. But, when he gets to surf, I listen to him talk about it, not for hours but many minutes(: I’ll also look at his pictures and videos of incredible waves. I’ve even been willing to sit (once) through the movie “The Endless Summer," which is very appropriately titled. He has been willing to watch “Chick flicks” with me (I think he secretly likes them). And we’ve worked at finding things to do together. Trial and error.

4. Pray Together

This seems like a given for Christian couples, but if you are anything like us, we neglected this part of our relationship for a long time. Plus, it’s super vulnerable to pray together. It requires honesty, which is difficult when you feel hurt and/or far from your spouse. It is also a discipline.

Why is prayer so important for a couple? I think it’s partly a spiritual battle, and our willingness to fight involves us going to Jesus together. I think it can soften our hearts to hear our spouse confess sin to our Father. It’s also a reminder that we have a powerful Advocate for “us”, not just me or you.

These are just some of the ways to fight against creeping separateness; there are more. Remember the vows that you made, remember the feelings that you felt, and make the time and the effort to draw close again.

Because even though love changes, it truly gets richer and deeper the longer it develops.

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