Sierra rolled over in bed and looked at the man lying beside her. With a little less at the temples and a little more at the waistline, she hardly recognized him anymore. Who was this stranger she once knew so well?
She remembered an earlier time when they would talk, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future. Now, some fifteen years later, it was the future, and they rarely talked at all. They sat at the same kitchen table in the mornings, sipping coffee and scanning the newspaper. They drove to work in the same car, passed each other in the hall during lunch breaks, and came home at night to share the same dinner table. Then off to bed. Same spouse. Same routine. Same isolation day after boring day.
What has happened to us? Why have we suddenly drifted apart? Sierra pondered while gazing at her snoring partner.
Those are questions many couples ask years after the trip to the altar. But rarely does isolation just happen. It is years in the making, in thousands of subtle ways. Hurtful words that drive a wedge. Sarcastic glances that isolate. Games of "he said"-"she said" that separate. And before the couple realizes what is happening, they wake up strangers in a world of their own making.
Some experts call this unhappy circumstance "married singlehood." Yes, the couple is married. They have the license, cuts, and bruises to prove it. But that is about all. They are married in name only. They go about their daily lives as if they were really single.
So how can you, as a couple, overcome isolation?
Date your mate.
We encourage couples to set aside one night of the week to focus exclusively on each other. Our night is Friday night. Has been since our children were born. We have been faithful to this commitment roughly 75 percent of our married life. The other 25 percent has been sacrificed to sickness, pressing circumstances, or special events. In order to accomplish this worthy goal over our 35 years of marriage, we have begged, borrowed, and stole (well, not exactly). Nonetheless, in the early years, we did find it necessary in times of financial "poverty" to trade off babysitting with other meager income couples. Worked great! We highly recommend it. When our oldest was mature enough to serve as babysitter, she enjoyed the chance to rule the roost for a few hours while we enjoyed a new sense of freedom.
Dating your mate helps keep your love alive and gives you something special to anticipate together each week. In their creative book, 52 Dates for You and Your Mate, Dave and Claudia Arp, founders of Marriage Alive International, offer helpful suggestions for fostering romance between the two of you, whether you are on a tight budget or whether you have big bucks to spend. While you're getting your jacket to dash to the bookstore or running to the computer to log onto Amazon.com, we'll offer some of our own suggestions for growing your romance. How about a picnic in the park? Take your favorite blanket, foods, and a bottle of non-alcoholic beverage (remember: you want your love to be intoxicating, not your drink!). Maybe you could surprise your spouse with a destination unknown. Highlight one of his/her favorite activities, like playing golf or shopping. Then do something together that you both enjoy, like savoring a luscious steak dinner by candlelight. Whatever you choose, determine today to get away with your mate!
Revisit your courtship days.
Think about what drew you together in the first place. The goals you shared. The traits you admired in the other person. The places you enjoyed visiting. The activities you did together. Often this exercise helps you trudge through the muck and mire of married life and regain perspective of why you are together in the first place.
Keep the lines of communication open daily.
Our "home-base" is at the breakfast table where we take a few minutes to read some Scripture or a Christian book, pray together, and discuss concerns. We try to manage conflicts as they arise and respect the other person's viewpoint. We deal with this issue extensively in our book, Marriage with an Attitude, How to Build an Exciting Marriage with a Fantastic Attitude!
Handle anger constructively.
You've heard the old adage, "Don't go to bed mad." Well, it's older than grandma. Paul preached the same message thousands of years ago when he wrote Ephesians 4:26: "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." Choose to forgive daily. Leave the past behind and move forward together.
Make your spouse your best friend.
To be well balanced, also include other friendships, but reserve the number one spot for your mate. Best friends risk being vulnerable, because they know the other person will still love and accept them for who they are, will challenge them to grow, and stick by them no matter what. Your spouse should be your number one support person and prayer partner.
Spend time with God together.
A great passage to quote out loud together daily or at least once a week is I Corinthians 13:4-8.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (NASB)
Pray that God will help you overcome isolation in your relationship by taking practical steps today to move closer to one another. On a 3x5 card write down one trait you admire in your spouse. Talk about other ways you can encourage each other today. Then put into practice what you hear from your spouse.
Remember, God has an exciting path mapped out for your marriage as you recommit to love one another and serve Him with the rest of your days. Intimacy takes work, but the time and effort pay off big time with a marriage that moves closer with each passing year. Then, you won't have to wake up tomorrow morning and wonder who that stranger is in your bed!
Eileen Hinkle Rife is the author of the Born for India trilogy (OakTara). She and her husband, Chuck, conduct marriage seminars in the States and overseas. She is currently working on her fifth novel. www.eileenrife.com