Marital drift: what it is and how to stop it

marital separation

I have never met a couple who told me they are getting married to make the other person’s life miserable. Maybe you have, but I haven’t.

People get married because they are in love.

They are passionate about each other.

They want to bring joy and happiness to each other.

They want to pursue common hopes and dreams together.

These emotions of love and desire are so strong they often lead the couple into the covenant of marriage. The logic then should go something like this: if the couple were close like a stamp to an envelope before they were married, then after getting married they should be even closer, right?

Well, not so fast. Something happened to the couple over time to slowly and painfully pull them apart. There was no sordid affair. No physical or verbal abuse. The couple just drifted apart like untethered boats, pushed and pulled by the sea of life.

Marital Drift seems as inevitable as the continental variety. A creeping separateness between spouses often begins on the day they return from their honeymoon and sometimes doesn’t stop until one or both end up in a counselor’s office, a lawyer’s office or somebody else’s bed. Many believe nothing can be done to prevent Marital Drift. Comments like, “I just don’t love her anymore,” “We’ve grown apart,” and “I can’t imagine what I ever saw in him” are common excuses.

What are some of the signs?

  • No physical intimacy
  • Finding pleasure in porn.
  • No more romantic dates.
  • Focus on children more than the spouse.
  • Holding on till the children leave home.
  • Over-investment in work.
  • Spending more time talking to “friends” on Facebook than to each other.
  • No more laughter.
  • Avoidance of conflict.
  • Ennui or boredom
  • Preoccupation with social media.
  • Binging on Netflix.
  • No longer sharing hopes, dreams, failures, daily happenings. Nothing is shared other than, “could you please pass the salt and pepper.”
  • No longer praying together.

If you are in a state of marital drift, what can you do? Or is it too late?

It is never too late to invest in each other. It is never too late to save your marriage. The biggest obstacle you will face is pride. Are you willing to humble yourself, stop blaming the other person and just say, “I (not you) need to change the way I am acting.”

Here are a few things you can do today to stop the drift:

Admit that there is a problem
Say to your spouse, “We know something is wrong with our relationship. I don’t like what we are becoming and I must admit that I don’t know how to fix it.” Admitting that there is a problem, without affixing blame is a great start.

Ask for help
Every couple, if they are honest, is fighting marital drift. If a couple is not growing they are flatlining and drifting. Help could come from a small group of like-minded couples at church. Help could come from seeking a mentor–a couple who are farther along the journey than you. Ask them to walk with you during this time of struggle. You should not be afraid to seek the help of your pastor or a professional marriage counselor. The point is, don’t try to go it alone. Ask for help.

Commit to serving the other person’s needs: What can I do today to make your day a better day?
I came across this practical article in Huffington Post that is worth reading and implementing. This question gets at the heart of being a servant. Most marriages struggle because of an intense desire for individual happiness and fulfillment without regard for the other. It sounds illogical, but if you focus on serving, blessing, and bringing delight to your spouse, the law of reciprocity kicks in and your joy, blessing, and delight returns ten-fold. If you want to be great, if you want a blessed life, learn to be a servant to others. Read Richard Paul Evans’ post and you will see what I am talking about.

Recommit to praying for each other
Prayer is the practice and experience of spiritual intimacy. Many of the couples I meet with have never explored this area of their relationship. They have physical intimacy, financial intimacy, shared social events, but they have never explored what it looks like to pray together.

Judith and I have been married for more than three decades, and over the course of our marriage, we have found praying together to be the single most powerful practice in our lives that keeps us close to God and to each other. We have faced many storms, both personal and in our professional lives—storms packing gale-force winds of a Category 5 hurricane. Without the protection and the anchoring strength of prayer, we would have been blown away. There is something powerful and calming about praying while in a storm. We’ve discovered a simple truth: Jesus is with us in our storms. This is not a time to bail on our marriage or to drift into isolation, to blame each other, or to allow fear to cripple us. When struggling through a storm, call on Jesus.

Take even five minutes in the morning, or before going to bed to pray for each other. Like water renewing a dry flower bed, praying together will restore life to your marriage. 

Again, these aren’t THE solutions. But the first law of halting marital drift is to stop doing what you have always done and do things you used to do or have never done. Any investment in your marriage no matter how small is worth the effort. You can also check out our book: Five Disciplines of a growing marriage for more ideas.

What other steps might couples take to stop Marital Drift?


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