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He Never Saw it Coming

My best friend since college is facing near-certain divorce. I was the best man at their wedding fifteen years ago, and we have gotten together two-three times a year ever since. This couple that was once so in love that brought two kids into the world are now fighting in the most tragic and bitter way. How does this happen? How can two people go from being so close to being so vicious toward each other? When I talk with him, he never saw it coming.

It’s interesting looking at a relationship from the outside and seeing things (somewhat) objectively. From my perspective, there’s plenty of blame to go around here, but I think it boils down to the following points. I raise these because I think these exist in many marriages. Just like with cancer, early detection might save a marriage…

  1. Lack of Awareness – While this couple did a lot together, my sense is they never took the time to understand how their partner was really feeling about things. And if one of them expressed a concern, the other was probably too engaged in something else to really “hear” what was being said. Relationships don’t sour overnight, they erode over time. While every relationship has its highs and lows, its critical to understand how a given relationship is trending and to course correct if it’s heading downward over time. Take the time to gauge your marriage. Ask the tough question; “Are we in a better place now than we were a year ago? Five years ago?” I’m a firm believer that marriages (like good wine) only get better over time. If the answer is no, it’s time to take action. Don’t let your relationship continue to decline. There’s a clear tipping point, from which it’s hard to rebound.
  2. Bad External Advice – While my friend never sought my advice (he’s a very private person on emotional issues), his wife sought too much – and from the wrong sources. She works and socializes with a lot of “broken” people. She’s a caregiver at heart. That’s a wonderful thing – until she begins to seek advice from them. You’ve probably heard the old saying “Hurt people hurt people”. I think that clearly applies to marital advice as well. If you begin to share your relational frustrations with people that have been through divorce or other relational tragedy, you’ll likely hear them telling you that you need to follow the same path they did. In an emotional state, its hard to hear and discern things objectively, so over time their words begin to take root. My question is; why would you take advice from a person whose life you don’t want to emulate? Seek out a couple that has been happily married for a long time and talk to them. Don’t talk with the person that has been divorced three times and is living a lonely and miserable existence.
  3. Selfishness – Most of us are somewhat selfish if we’re totally honest. We’re far more concerned about our own needs than the needs of our partner or the needs of our marriage. You hear it in all couples facing divorce. “You never do _____ for me”, “I need ____ and you never think about that”. So many “you” statements. I surely did nothing wrong, but you… If you want to live a selfish existence, that’s fine I guess. But don’t enter into marriage. Your goal in marriage should be to become the best partner you could possibly be over the long run. It’s amazing how your attitude changes when you shift your focus from yourself to your partner – and though it contradicts logic it makes you happier over time.
  4. Lack of Faith – Both my friend and his wife are strong believers and faith seems to be a big part of their individual lives. But I’m not sure I ever saw that faith brought into their marriage. Faith should never be a “personal thing”. It should be the very foundation on which a marriage is built. In my marriage, Christ is at the center of our relationship. We pray together, we worship together and we serve together. I’m convinced that’s what God intended when he established the covenant of marriage. Missing that piece is always going to leave a void that will get filled with disruptive elements.

I grieve for my friends. It will take a miracle at this point for them to reconcile. But I hope that these words might encourage someone else to pause and evaluate where they are in their own marriage.

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