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Divorce - Would You Abandon a Brand-New Lexus Just Because You Didn’t Know How to Work the Stick Shift?

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I have either officiated or attended many weddings over the years. I bet you have been to quite a few as well. The bride is glowing, the groom is awe struck, and you couldn’t pry the smiles off their faces with a crow bar. All is perfect in their world. To the bride and groom, this day represents the culmination of years of anticipation that probably began long before they even met. Surrounded by friends and family, and in front of the God they praise for bringing them together, they joyfully dedicate their lives to each other, “till death do them part,” and launch themselves out into the world together, as both best friends and intimate companions. The adventure of a lifetime has begun!

But for many, that wedded bliss seems to have an expiration date, doesn’t it? And many times, it’s much closer than we would’ve ever thought. For one couple with a concerned mom who wrote me, it was only twenty-four months before the exuberant bride and groom from their wedding day had already all but thrown in the towel. She said:

I have given my son and daughter-in-law each a book of yours. They have been married for two years. My son is not living at his home. He says marriage is not working for him. They are both Christians and my husband and I have prayed night and day. We feel your book is a start. They have not done counseling, and my son is being stubborn. I feel he has made up his mind. Can you give us any suggestions as parents, knowing this is not our life, or marriage, but this is our son and we love them both so much—what else we can do except intercessory prayer? We know God can do a miracle.

Two years. Twenty-four months. Not even a thousand days together as husband and wife. How can two people who were once so committed to and in love with each other reverse course like this . . . and so quickly? Assuming that no adultery or anything else immoral has transpired, how bitter can a pair of newlyweds truly become in such a short time?

Sadly, while many couples are very familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, even having it recited as part of their wedding ceremony (“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant . . .”), they seem to have no awareness of the chapter in the very same letter that the writer actually intended to be the marriage content, chapter 7. It is in this chapter that Paul wrote, “But if you marry, you have not sinned. . . . Yet such will have trouble in this life” (v. 28).

Again, assuming there are no immoralities such as adultery or abuse, a couple such as the one described above is simply experiencing trouble, which the Bible says we should expect! And if two years into the marriage one spouse has already moved out and saying that “marriage is not working for him,” this simply evidences two people without the knowledge, skill or desire to navigate these normal marital troubles.

I wonder, would that same person give up on a brand-new luxury vehicle that at the car lot he considered to be “the car of his dreams” simply because he had not learned the skills to drive it? Would he say, “This car is not working for me so I am abandoning it”? Of course not. Instead, he’d take it to a mechanic, who might say something like, “This car isn’t working for you because you don’t know how to work it. This is a stick shift and you are trying to start it without pushing down on the clutch, so it lunges on you. The problem isn’t with the car but with your lack of knowledge and skill in working with the design.”

Though I do not know this particular couple personally, they are not unlike most married couples who put a year or more of preparation into their perfect wedding day, start their life together as husband and wife on a vacation in paradise, and remain immune for a while to the little differences and troubles that melt off them like hot butter during what is known as the honeymoon period.

Then one day her pink way of resolving a conflict irritates him more than usual. Or his blue way of dealing with confrontation becomes no longer “livable” to her. And before they know it, the Crazy Cycle has revved its engine. And if they haven’t learned the skills to drive this luxury vehicle from God called marriage, the first Crazy Cycle will lead to the next, which will lead to the next, which will lead to one claiming that “marriage is not working for them.”

But the truth is, most of what is leading couples to the Crazy Cycle are what I call honest misunderstandings from goodwilled people trying to do the loving and respectful thing. For example, he may say, "Drop it, forget it. Let's move on." That feels like the honorable thing to him. But she refuses to let it go, which feels disrespectful to him. Or she may say, "Talk to me. Now!” To her, that's the loving way to approach the conflict. But he refuses, which feels unloving to her. Each has their own pink or blue way of resolving the conflict, but because of the honest misunderstandings in their different approaches, they both infuriate the other. 

For the specific couple above, even the son’s mom calls him “stubborn.” Maybe he is; we all are in some ways. But to him, when it comes to marital conflict, he possibly doesn’t see himself as being stubborn but as being honorable by trying to withdraw. Because in the midst of conflict with his wife, he often feels his heartbeat racing to 99 BPMs, which is warrior mode. Because he loves his wife dearly and would never intentionally lash out at her, he instead chooses to walk away. But this feels unloving to his wife, even stubborn.

While other men get this, women see it as unloving. And they’re not wrong for feeling this way. A wife isn't to blame for her feeling unloved any more than a man is to blame for his good motives and honor. This is an honest misunderstanding, the type of “trouble” Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians.

And when a wife tries to do the loving thing by saying, "Talk to me," it is natural for most men to avoid "the talk" because their wife’s proposal feels provocative to them. Indeed, go through this conversation two times a week for twenty-four months and that is two hundred times! After that many times, this guy knows he is right! "I am honorable, I am not unloving, and she is disrespectful. I have proof. I am not changing my opinion. Call me stubborn but I know I am right. So there. I'm done."

If given the opportunity, I’d love to ask this husband what “is not working for him.” What I feel fairly certain of is, he simply doesn’t know how to make marriage work, so he blames his wife. So, too, with his wife! They are both goodwilled people trying to do the loving and respectful thing, but their lack of knowledge and skills in navigating the pink and blue differences is making it appear to them that their marriage isn’t working.

Analogies break down at a certain point, but stay with me in asking, would they give up on and abandon a brand-new luxury vehicle just because it’s a stick shift and nobody ever taught them how to drive anything but an automatic transmission? Of course not! Instead, they would learn the needed skills to enjoy such a gift.

The same should go in marriage. You may not fit exactly into the roles as defined by this example, but we don’t give up after twenty-four months because no one ever taught us how to navigate the pink and blue differences between men and women. We learn these differences. We practice the needed skills. And we enjoy this luxurious gift from God called marriage.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Was there a “honeymoon period” in your marriage where some of the pink and blue differences between you and your spouse did not bother you as they did later in the marriage? Why were they more manageable then than they became later on?
  2. If given the opportunity to go back in time, what would you spend more time focusing on in your pre-marital counseling? Why?
  3. How have you noticed your way of navigating through a conflict to be different than your spouse’s way? Is this a situation of “not wrong, just different”? What can you do next time to better ensure your spouse feels more loved and respected?
  4. What honest misunderstandings have arisen in your own marriage that were more difficult to navigate through simply because one or both of you hadn’t the skills and knowledge to handle the pink and blue differences? How did the lack of skills and knowledge lead to the honest misunderstanding becoming a much more harmful conflict than it should have been?