Q. I know my husband loves me and we’re committed to each other but we go through times of intense conflict and times of distance from each other. Then we wonder if the struggle is worth it and whether we really are meant for each other. What’s going on? How can we change these patterns?
A. All couples face obstacles, angry flare ups and apathetic periods in their marriage from time to time. When these problems occur we often pull back and become distant or even have thoughts of giving up. We fall away from our spouse. Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage says the solution to these problems is to do the opposite of what comes naturally - we need to fall forward. “Falls are inevitable. We can’t control that, but we can control the direction in which we fall - toward or away from our spouse.”
Thomas goes on to say, “It took years for me to understand I have a Christian obligation to continually move toward my wife. I thought that as long as I didn’t attack my wife or say cruel things to her, I was a ‘nice’ husband, but the opposite of biblical love isn’t hate, its apathy. To stop moving toward our spouse is to stop loving him or her. It’s holding back from the very purpose of marriage.”
To learn to fall forward toward our spouse we must learn three things:
1. We must learn not to run from conflict. Our natural tendency is to run away from disagreement. We can do this in other relationships more easily than we can in marriage. We can look for another job, another friend, another church. But our marital vows challenge us, or even force us, to work through the problem, to reach a solution. Thomas says that “conflict provides an avenue for spiritual growth. To resolve conflict, by definition we must become more engaged, not less. Just when we want to ‘tell the other person off’ we are forced to be quiet and listen to their complaint. Just when we are most eager to make ourselves understood, we must strive to understand...”
2. We must learn to compromise. This is not a dirty word, as society would lead us to believe. In order for a relationship to continue and grow some compromises must occur. Every relationship involves compromise in some way. When we’re willing to give some ground we prove our love; we prove how important the relationship is to us. We fall forward.
3. We must learn acceptance and loyalty. The very differences which attracted us to each other sooner or later cause conflict or hurt. For example, you were attracted to his kindness before you married. Now you see him as too giving. Or you enjoyed her as fun loving before marriage but now you wish she would be serious. Life would be easier we think if he or she would be just like me. The challenge is to let go of our idealized image of a husband or wife and learn to love the person we married, an imperfect, flawed human being. We fall forward.
Learning to face conflict, learning to compromise and learning acceptance teaches us how to love and how to forgive. This is what falling forward is all about. We don’t let pain or apathy keep us from moving toward each other.
To learn more about how to put these lessons into practice join a couples educational group, The Third Option, Marriage Encounter or Weekend to Remember. I also recommend you read Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.
“Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans NLT