At the start of the relationship it was just infatuation and sexual chemistry. Then it was the joint task of planning a ceremony. Then, setting up a home. After that, raising kids. In days past, these life events could take marriages to the doorstep of death and eternity, but modern couples can blow through these stages of life in two and a half decades, often leaving another 30 years or more of marriage to follow. That’s a long time to be lonely and to live with a familiar looking stranger. If you haven’t consciously built true intimacy, the relationship is going to collapse right at this point.
Some couples have to wake up to the reality that they’ve been living relationally on shared tasks, not shared intimacy.
They haven’t prayed together.
They haven’t shared their dreams.
They haven’t carried each other’s burdens and then built that all-important empathy for each other.
They’re teammates, not spouses, and now that the season is over, what’s to hold them together?
When couples get divorced and start over with someone else, the second relationship initially feels more fulfilling than the first because, once again, it’s existing on artificial intimacy: infatuation and sexual chemistry retake their place on center stage, the two once again enter the relationship building of sharing past histories, planning a ceremony, setting up a new life together… But the same dynamics will bring this affection to an end as well if the couple doesn’t consciously build true intimacy.
Making a Marriage
One of the main messages of my writing/speaking career on marriage has been this:
a good marriage isn’t something you find, it’s something you make, and you have to keep on making it.
Just as importantly (and herein lies the hope), you can also begin “re-making” it at any stage.
If you wake up to the sobering reality that you’ve existed on artificial compatibility, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to build true intimacy. True intimacy can be pursued at any stage of marriage. It would be much better for everyone involved if, instead of seeking a divorce and building yet another relationship on artificial intimacy, the couple chooses to begin building true intimacy, with God as the center of the relationship.
Satan is particularly “loud” at precisely this point, however. When a couple’s intimacy wanes, rather than letting the couple think they’ve allowed drift to occur and need to refocus on their marriage, he’ll tempt them to destroy their marriage with this thought, “You must have married the wrong person.” Why does he do this? He wants to kill your marriage. That’s what he does in response to every “problem”—kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). But Jesus offers us abundant life if we’ll take hold of Him and let Him be the architect and builder of a new marriage.
I can tell you this: the level of maturity it will take to rebuild a stale marriage instead of killing it and moving on can lead to some of the most transformative growth of your life. It will require hope, courage, patience, honesty, understanding, and perseverance—all key virtues for a Christ-like life.
How do you start building or rebuilding that intimacy?
Well, that’s what my book A Lifelong Love: What if Marriage is About More than Just Staying Together? is all about.
If you’ve read my other blog posts for For the Family, you know I don’t like to post “commercials,” but the point of this blog post is to present a diagnosis that gets all too little attention: if your marriage is frustrating or underwhelming, it’s possible that you haven’t even really experienced what true marital intimacy is all about. Doesn’t it make sense to first seek that out instead of just starting over with someone else?
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com