Editor's note: This article was originally published on Debra Fileta's blog, True Love Dates. It has been republished here with permission.
"We're getting a divorce," she explained, with a look of disappointment on her face.
Her tone of voice changed, as she tried to look on the bright side. "But it's for the best. Things haven't been working out for the past few years. We're just too different."
"For the best ... Too different ...." Her words echoed in my mind for hours after our conversation ended. I thought about the list of differences my husband and I possess. We are SO different in so many ways. Could it really be possible that a couple can be "too different" to have a thriving marriage? The thought didn't sit well with me.
As a Professional Counselor, every day I see couples who come into therapy with their marriage on life-support. But their struggles often have nothing to do with the trauma of affairs, addictions, or abuse. Instead, they are dying a rather slow and painful death.
Phrases like, "We're too different" or "We've grown apart" or "Life has just gotten the best of us ...." phrases that sound so innocent - yet are extremely lethal.
There are so many factors that can get in the way of a good marriage, but often, they are the small, unnoticed things that make their way in. In order to make sure our marriages survive and thrive, here are some relationship killers every couple should be on the lookout for:
The number one relationship stress for most couples has little to do with their relationship and much to do with the relationships they are surrounded by. The role of your parents, in-laws, siblings, and friends all shift the moment you say "I do," because when you join together as one, you've chosen to put your spouse above all others. Too many marriages are struggling simply due to a lack of priorities - finding themselves pulled by everyone else in every which way, except toward each other. Healthy marriages learn to choose one another above all others.
2. Lack of communication
It's true that the average couple invests in quality conversation only a few minutes a day. It's easy to let life get busy and stop connecting with the one you love. But there's no such thing as living in neutral, because drifting happens the moment we stop moving forward. Take the time to connect and communicate with your spouse often.
It's so easy to take our stress out on our spouse. We can get into the habit of holding things in until we're in the safety and comfort of our marriage - and then we explode. From financial problems, to illness, job-loss, and grief, healthy couples allow their stress to pull them together, by relying on each other, sharing it with one another, and carrying the load together.
I read a blog post about a guy getting a divorce ... except this guy chose to divorce his phone. But it makes sense, because so many of us carry this dangerous relationship killer right in our back pocket. In the world of technology crazed, iPhone carrying, Facebook posting mania - it's no joke that we find our time slipping away into the inanimate - instead of investing it into the intimate. Unplug, disconnect, shut down and invest in your spouse.
Marriage is one huge, ongoing, life lesson in "unselfishness." And we'll either allow the experience to make us better or we'll grow bitter. Putting someone first is an incredibly hard task because our flesh is wired to choose self.
Each time we say yes to ourselves, we're saying no to our marriage, because marriage is not about Him vs. Her, it's about We vs. Me.
Forgiving and forgetting are not one in the same. When we fail to realize that, we will hold on to our hurts for a very long time. And eventually those hurts begin wreaking havoc on our lives from the inside out. But forgiveness is not about excusing the other person, it's about freeing ourselves to receive healing from the God who forgives us time and time and time again.
7. Loose boundaries
We tend to think about offensive play in marriage, forgetting that defensive strategy is just as important. We can be doing all the right things, while still failing to keep out the things that are harmful. Draw a circle around your marriage, and protect it by guarding your emotions, your interactions, and the way you spend your time.
8. The past
The most paralyzing thing we can do for our relationship, is to define our spouse by their past, rather than by who they are in the present. The past may impact our lives, but it will only control our present if we allow it to. It's important to be real with one another about our pasts, but more important, to respect one other's pasts by seeing what God is doing in the life of our spouse HERE and NOW. Forget what is behind ... so that you can move toward what is ahead.
Why is a small lie just as dangerous as a big lie? Because they both have the same impact on intimacy. Honesty in marriage is like the chain that holds you together. Removing one link, or ten links does the same thing - it causes separation. If you've made mistakes in your relationship or have been hiding things from your spouse, now is the time to seek truth and confession; because a relationship riddled with dishonesty, is no relationship at all.
"I am my biggest marriage problem" is the theme of Paul Tripp's work in the field of relationships. To be able to look in, then, is the greatest step toward nourishing a relationship. To be aware enough to recognize and restore your flaws and shortcomings, before fixating on those of your spouse. But the sting of pride can make that really hard to do. It's so much easier to point the finger and to shift the blame. But the moment you let go of your responsibility, you've let go of your relationship - because no matter what the issue at hand: it always takes two.
It's time to consider where you've let your guard down before these sly intruders make their way in. May God continue to give you the wisdom to recognize these patterns and to lookout for the "small stuff" by protecting, nourishing, and prioritizing your marriage.