Identifying Danger Zones In Your Marriage
How would you characterize your marriage relationship? Is your relationship in a relatively good place, or are things a little shaky? Do you see any danger signs that trouble you? If you aren’t quite sure, why not spend this time and take an inventory over the topics I am about to discuss? It’s important to remember that Scripture declares, "A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it" (Prov. 22:3). Therefore, be wise and identify any issues that may reveal a potential problem in your relationship. Don’t keep living like everything is fine when it’s not. God wants you to heed the danger signs that could lead to more difficult problems down the road.
How do you know if you are entering a danger zone?
1. When you are not best friends. The loss of friendship between a husband and wife is a very subtle and dangerous situation. Many couples who drift apart know that something is missing in their relationship, but most can’t seem to identify why things seem so cold and superficial between them. Tragically, some individuals don’t realize that anything is wrong until their spouse announces they have found another love in an immoral relationship. A good indicator that a couple is entering this danger zone is when a husband declares, “She has closer relationships with all her girlfriends than she does with me.” Or, a wife will say, “He becomes so excited when he gets to go out with the guys, but could care less about spending a night out with me.” Do these words sound familiar? If they do, you are in a danger zone. What should you do?
You must realize that cultivating a deeper friendship with your mate is essential for a good marriage. Friendship is where the intimacy and the excitement of marriage are to be found. In the passionate account of marital love recorded in the Song of Solomon, notice how Solomon’s wife described her relationship with her husband: “His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend” (Song 5:16). The word friend in this passage means intimate friend or companion. Can you say this about your spouse? Is your mate your most intimate friend and companion? Are you daily tasting the sweetness of companionship with your spouse or has your relationship turned sour? If your marriage has lost this closeness, what should you do to rekindle the enthusiasm and friendship?
Take these steps: (a) Acknowledge to your spouse the distance you see in your relationship and ask his or her forgiveness for allowing the separation to occur. (b) Begin by praying together that God will turn your relationship around and rekindle the excitement for each other again. (c) Do your first works over again (Rev. 2:4-5). This is what Jesus told the church to do when they had left their first love. He was explaining to them that the solution to the problem wasn’t some great mystery. They simply needed to go back to the relationship they had with each other at the beginning. Likewise within your marital love relationship, all you need to do is go back to spending time together like you did when you first dated (Song of Songs 2:10-14). Spend time talking with each other like you used to do. Be sensitive to each other’s needs and requests. Remember, if you want friendship in your marriage, then you must be a friend. Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12). Your love and friendship should provoke a similar response in your loved one.
If you would like further encouragement on this issue see Volume 3 Issue 2 of this publication.
2. Little or no spiritual relationship. The lack of real spiritual relationship between a husband and a wife is one of the greatest danger zones because of its effect on every other aspect of your marriage. Paul taught that it was possible for believers to have a “fellowship of the Spirit” with other believers (Phil. 2:1). The word fellowship means to have an intimate and close communion with a person. Consequently, if this quality of communion is possible with any believer, how much more should this be normal for two people that God has called to be one flesh? Also, note that in the following verses of this portion of Scripture that it was this fellowship of the Spirit which enabled them to have like-mindedness with each other. Therefore, you must understand that if you want one heart and one mind with your spouse, you must have spiritual fellowship with one another.
What is the greatest hindrance to finding this fellowship in the Spirit with your mate? It is simply the failure of one or both partners to have a personal fellowship with Christ on a daily basis. In other words, you can’t have a spiritual relationship with each other if you don’t have one with the Lord yourself. Without a personal relationship with Christ you will lack the empowering strength of the Holy Spirit which enables you to love and sacrifice for one another. Ultimately, without His power, you become frustrated by trying to live the Christian life in your strength. With this lack of power your sinful nature will control you and failure will be the result (Gal. 5:16) (Gal. 5:22-23). Therefore, if you realize that you lack spiritually, what should you do? Humble your heart before God and turn to Him in prayer right now. Ask His forgiveness and begin seeking His help to become His disciple. What will this entail?
(a) Begin to personally study God’s Word and attend a local church on a regular basis where you can be taught the Bible. (b) As you read the Scriptures daily, share with your spouse the things that you are learning. (c) Start praying with your mate over your personal and marital needs. (d) As a couple, look for opportunities to practically serve others together. Make time for these things and you will naturally grow together spiritually.
3. When conflicts are left unresolved. The problem with unresolved conflicts is that they are a great stumbling block to real oneness in your marriage. Each conflict that you allow to be swept under the rug will actually become a brick in a wall that blocks any real companionship, and will ultimately hinder your entire relationship. Eventually, as the wall grows between you, it will begin to feel like you are living with a stranger because of the lack of relationship.
Why are conflicts allowed to remain unresolved in a marriage? The reasons are simple according to Scripture, however, they are also very ingrained within our hearts. When you allow selfishness, pride, and stubborn self-will to rule in your heart, you will be kept from taking the biblical action required to resolve any conflict (Prov. 28:25) (James 3:16). What can you do to remove these hindrances?
(a) Humble yourself before God and ask Him to give you a willing heart to obey His commands in reference to each unresolved conflict in your marriage (1 Peter 5:5-7). (b) Go to your mate as quickly as possible and lovingly begin a dialogue about each unresolved issue (Matt. 5:23-25). Remember, the longer you wait, the harder your heart will get (Heb. 3:7-8). If you want to determine why this conflict has remained unresolved, simply determine your personal fault in the matter. Humility will cause you to then confess this fault to your mate first (Matt. 7:5). Ask his or her forgiveness and discuss exactly what you will do in the future to keep yourself from failing here again (Eph. 4:31-32). (c) Pray together and ask God for the power of His Spirit to do what you’ve agree upon (James 5:16).
Don’t get robbed by your pride and stubbornness of the blessings you could enjoy in your marriage. Get to work resolving those unsettled issues today! If you would like a more in-depth look at how to resolve these issues see Volume 2 Issue 1 and Issue 3, Volume 3 Issue 3 and Issue 4, and Volume 4 Issue 3 of this publication.
4. When you have only surface communication. A fundamental component of every strong marriage is the ability to communicate. The more superficial the communication within a marriage the greater will be the struggles in every other aspect of the relationship. For example, poor communication skills will greatly hinder you from resolving your conflicts because you won’t be able to talk about the issues in a meaningful way. In addition, without meaningful conversation you won’t have any real depth of friendship with your spouse. You won’t ever get to discuss the really important issues of your relationship. Therefore, failing to communicate naturally puts you in a very dangerous position in your marriage.
Therefore, consider what hinders good communication. There are three areas you should consider. When you display sinful attitudes toward your mate, use sinful words, or take sinful actions an immediate roadblock occurs in your ability to communicate. Let’s look at these three areas in particular.
(a) Do you realize that before you ever finish the first sentence of any conversation that your spouse can detect your attitude? If your mate detects an arrogant, bitter, or disrespectful attitude the walls will go up immediately (Prov. 21:2) (Acts 8:23) (Eph. 5:33). Likewise, if your partner detects an indifferent attitude or you display an unwillingness to discuss an issue, you have just set up a real barrier that will frustrate any meaningful conversation.
(b) In the same manner, the words you choose will also dramatically affect your ability to communicate. If you use harsh, hateful, and condemning words to simply win an argument, you may triumph in the exchange, but ultimately, you will be the loser (Prov. 15:1) (Ps. 109:3) (Luke 6:37). Rather, why not choose words that are gentle and forgiving, words that build up your loved one? With these words God will be well pleased.
(c) In addition, you may have good intentions and yet frustrate your attempt to communicate by the actions you take as you dialogue. Do you dominate a conversation, refuse to listen, and then interrupt your spouse when he or she tries to respond (Matt. 6:7) (James 1:19-20) (Prov. 18:13)? Or, do you twist your mate’s words, bring up his or her past failures, and then shift the blame without admitting your own faults (Ps. 56:5) (Phil. 3:13) (Gen. 3:9-13)? These are just a few of the sinful actions that can frustrate your ability to communicate.
The longer you communicate in this way, the more superficial your conversations will become. The result will be a loss of companionship and a further descent into this danger zone. If you are interested in a more in-depth look at how to communicate effectively please read Volume 2 Issue 2, Volume 5 Issue 2 and Issue 3 of this publication.
5. When you engage in a power struggle. Are you in competition with your spouse to see who will control the direction of your family? Do you fight over who will have the final word when decisions are made? Do you undermine your mate’s authority by speaking disrespectfully to him or her in front of your children? If so, you are in a power struggle with your spouse.
Why is a power struggle so dangerous for your marriage? Because when you battle and contend for control you are undermining the very purpose for which you are married, oneness. God has called you to work together as a unit, not struggle to defeat your own teammate. A power struggle is a very serious issue because it reveals that you are missing the most unifying element of your marriage, a trusting love for each other. The prophet Malachi revealed this to be the reason the Jews argued with God and resisted His authority. They simply did not trust God’s love. He reminded them of their words: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ (Malachi 1:2). When any partner questions the love of their spouse, this will lead to division and separation between them. How do you solve this dilemma?
First, you must both acknowledge that this power struggle is sin and repent before God because you are violating your call to oneness (Gen. 2:24). The battle for control is the proof that you are working for yourself and not for the unity and harmony of the relationship.
Next, you must choose to willingly submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God (Eph. 5:21). Submission is what unifies and makes you one. However, be careful to note that submission is a two-way street. If either partner feels dominated, controlled, or manipulated by the other, you can’t work as a team. Mutual submission is first an attitude of the heart, which is then translated into your behavior. You demonstrate submission by your willingness to listen and receive from your mate. A willing heart like this is what motivates you to seek understanding of your mate’s needs, which naturally creates an even greater oneness. The apostle Peter described this oneness when he exhorted: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Peter 3:7-8). Clearly, Peter is encouraging husbands to be sensitive, compassionate, and understanding of their wives to enable a oneness of mind and ultimately an effective prayer life. Consequently, a deeper spiritual relationship results because you are laboring together in prayer for a common goal.
Once you begin to experience this oneness of heart and mind, the power struggle is over, and it becomes relatively simple to find agreement in your decision making. Agreement is found because you are demonstrating love and seeking mutual compromise with one another. Your understanding and tenderness of heart toward each other is all the result of getting rid of the power struggle. Therefore, seek ways to please your loved one instead of seeking to please yourself and you will short-circuit the power struggle (Rom. 15:1-2).
6. A lack of romance and intimacy. Romance and intimacy with each other is simply the fruit of each of the previous truths. Obviously you won’t be very romantic with each other if you first aren’t friends who enjoy spending time together. Intimacy cannot be achieved without effective communication and energetic conflict resolution. This depth of intimacy requires a spiritual relationship between two people who are not constantly battling over who is in charge.
Many couples ask if it is really that important to have romance and intimacy within their marriage. Some individuals have expressed to me that they believe that romance is really only essential for newlyweds. However, I believe that Scripture declares this concept to be fatally flawed and it places both partners in a very dangerous position. Why?
The best illustration of the power of romance and intimacy is to compare it to a spark plug in a car. A spark plug is a very small part of the overall working of an engine, but without it the car has no power. Likewise, if you compare the amount of time you spend in non-sexual touching, kissing and sexual intimacy itself, it is relatively a small part of your marriage. However, these aspects of your relationship have a profound influence over every other area of your marriage. Romantic attraction is what drew you to your spouse, and it also has a real influence in holding you together. Solomon said of his wife: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace. How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse” (Song 4:9-10). The word ravished means to make the heart beat faster. Solomon was emotionally motivated and attracted toward his wife because of her love toward him. A real danger comes to a marriage when two people lose this intimacy. Without this romantic attraction you make yourself and your spouse vulnerable to the seduction and attraction of another. Solomon makes this quite clear as he warns his son concerning the necessity of having romance and intimacy with his own wife. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress” (Prov. 5:18-20)? The word enraptured means to be intoxicated, which obviously refers to the romantic attraction between Solomon’s son and his wife. It is especially important to note the reason Solomon gives for this exhortation. Why must you remain intoxicated with your mate? Your attraction to your spouse will protect you from becoming intoxicated and drawn into an immoral relationship. This is why romance and intimacy is so important for your marriage. So, how can you grow in your intimacy and romance with each other?
(a.) Speak kindly to each other. You can’t be critical, sarcastic, and use cutting words with one another and expect to keep a sense of romance alive. Remember, “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Neither can you be silent and expect the fire of love to grow. Therefore, if you want a loving response, you must speak in a loving way. Notice how kindly Solomon and his wife spoke to one another (Song of S. 1:16; 4:1).
(b.) Set aside time alone to build this intimacy. Intimacy will never grow in a crowd. This is why couples tell me that after a long period of houseguests or long hours at work, they sense a need to be alone with their mate. In the Song of Solomon, notice the intentional decisions made by both partners to spend time alone with each other (Song of S. 2:10-14; 7:11-12). This time alone was the seedbed for the growth of their romantic relationship. Be assured, you too can experience this kind of intimacy. Simply make it a priority to spend time alone with your spouse and intimacy will develop.
(c.) Non-sexual touching is also very important to romance. Intimacy and romantic love is not just having sex. Intimacy is a tender embrace, a reaching out for your spouse’s hand, putting your arm around one another as you sit on the couch, or a gentle kiss in the kitchen (Song of S. 2:6; 3:4; 1:2). Demonstrate to your mate in this manner that he or she is important to you.
(d.) On a regular basis choose to demonstrate your affection to your spouse by initiating sexual relations. So often couples come in for counseling and wonder why they are so distant from one another. One of the questions I usually ask is, “How often to you have sexual relations?” Many times the response is, “Very little.” Sometimes one partner is refusing sexual relations to punish or manipulate the other. This kind of behavior is sinful, dangerous, and counterproductive to resolving the real issues that divide a couple.
Therefore, if your romance and intimacy on a sexual level is at a low ebb or maybe even nonexistent, here are some issues to consider.
If you want affection and romance within your marriage, you must realize that your sexual relationship is very important to your marriage. God designed sexual relations in marriage for several very important reasons. Paul explained, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:3-5). Why did Paul command couples not to deprive each other? He gives three simple reasons. (1) The sexual relationship is the most intimate way two married individuals can express their affection for each other. By refusing sexual intimacy you are communicating that you have little affection toward your spouse. In this atmosphere romance will only die. In addition, if you are forcing sexual relations upon your spouse, you are likewise revealing a lack of love and respect for your mate. Therefore, choose to demonstrate love by initiating or restraining your desires. Above all, talk about this issue and come to a mutual agreement as Scripture commands.
(2) Paul also teaches in this passage that both husband and wife gave up the right to their own body when they got married. Your responsibility is to meet the sexual needs of your spouse. If you love your mate more than you love yourself, their needs will be your priority.
(3) If you show your affection for your spouse sexually, you protect your spouse from the temptation of Satan. Remember, Satan is seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t give him an opportunity to tempt, condemn, or destroy your marriage.
Are you in a danger zone right now?
Finally, if you find yourself in any of these danger zones, don’t wait until there is a new conflict before you begin resolving these issues. Don’t allow the frustration to build in your heart to a point where you want to give up. Seek reconciliation where ever you see these danger signs. Get together with your spouse today and talk over how you can change your relationship for the better. Remember, speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).