It could have been any day at my CPA firm. It could have been any divorce client. Today it was Suzie. Yesterday it was John. Tomorrow, who knows? The reason always seems to be the same: "We grew apart." And with those words, the death of a marriage is pronounced.
While my job as a forensic CPA for divorce litigation is to give an account of the marital estate, I cannot help but look past the numbers for the cause of the marriage's death. I cannot help but mourn the devastation left by this epidemic that has killed half the marriages in this country.
As I look into Suzie's eyes, I sense that she has long passed the mourning stage. The light of love that must have glowed brightly at the altar has been extinguished. Whatever injustices she has suffered or believes she has suffered have been enough. What is left in my office is a woman who is hoping for a better day.
Beyond my office walls begins the slow and torturous dismemberment of another family. Suzie's husband answers the door. A nameless man asks, "Are you Joe ________?" When he nods his head, the bearer hands him the papers confirming the marriage's prognosis of death that can no longer be ignored. The door shuts with an air of finality that replays in an endless loop in his mind. He falls to the ground, asking God how he could let this happen. Joe is helpless to undo what has started. Will Joe be looking forward to a better day?
Beyond my walls are Suzie's children, who are becoming the subjects of a parenting plan that may ultimately be decided by a judge who will never meet the children. Questions of where the children will live and spend their Christmases and weekends will become battleground. They will be required to live in two homes and possibly with strangers their mom and dad will date or marry. Will the children be looking forward to a better day?
The scariest part is that, left to ourselves, any of us, at a low a point in our marriages, could be Suzie. I doubt any us have not, at some moment in time (secretly or admittedly), found ourselves staring at our spouses, wondering why on earth we ever agreed to spend our lives with them. When tough times come, what will keep us from converting that thought to the action of giving up? What steps can we take to avoid becoming like Suzie?
Understanding the Garden
Before we can learn how to avoid becoming a Suzie, we must first understand what's wrong with the idea "We grew apart." Are we plants? No. In marriage, we agree to be gardeners. The plant is love, which, when tended, bears fruit. When we marry, we vow to tend the garden … to love, honor, cherish … remember? To have a healthy, beautiful garden, we must fertilize and water continuously. We must be alert for weeds and eradicate them early, before they choke out the love.
It was no accident that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He gave them the opportunity to live in the perfect garden with all their needs supplied. Their only requirement was to tend it. This is work (an action). When we do it well, the garden bears fruit. God created man and woman to help each other with this work.
The same is true of marriage. We have the opportunity to live in the perfect marriage garden and bear fruit for God's kingdom, but we must work. God gave us a plot and instructed us to cultivate our relationships: first with him, second with our spouses, then with our children, and finally with our neighbors. Our job is to love (an action), not to be loved (an emotion). He created us to glorify him and his kingdom, not to wait around for someone to glorify us.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought death into the world. What was the sin that marked death for mankind? It was the sin of self-centeredness. What keeps us from tending the garden? It's that same old self-centeredness. When we focus on ourselves, we focus on our needs and desires. Resentment shows up because our spouses don't meet our expectations, or we feel like they are not doing what they are "supposed to be doing." Before you know it, our gardens are so overgrown with resentment that restoring them seems impossible. This is where we found Suzie. She looked at her overgrown garden and found her love plant had been choked out. It seemed easier to throw in the towel and start a new garden. And thus she uttered the words "We grew apart."
Tending Your Garden
Whether you're preparing for marriage, you're newlyweds, or you have been married for 50 years, the truth of the marriage garden is the same: you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-10). Now is the time to take inventory of your garden and take steps not only to seek out and destroy the weeds, but to cause it to bloom and be fruitful in ways that glorify and magnify God. You will reap a harvest from your work.
Is your love planted in godly soil?
- Actively seek God by praying together and for each other daily. Dedicate a specific time to pray together, away from the kids and the distractions of daily living.
- Build your marriage on the firm foundation of God's Word through daily reading and meditation.
- Get the order right: God, spouse, children, neighbors.
Is your love plant healthy?
- Be sure to get your rest, eat a good diet, and exercise regularly.
- Inoculate your love from unhealthy influences, like negative media or friends who tear down instead of build up.
- Tell your spouse each day why you are thankful that God put you together.
- Schedule a date every week where you purpose to spend time together. Be sure to understand and pay attention to each other's interests by alternating weeks. The husband's week might be fishing and the wife's week might be the ballet.
What weeds are growing in your garden that could choke out your love?
• Watch the resentment weed. Don't compare your effort to your spouse's. Marriage is not 50/50. It's giving your all.
• When you feel hurt, first check that your hurt is not based on unrealistic expectations (like how your grew up or what your spouse "should have known"). If your hurt is valid, pray about it, and then share it with your spouse without accusation. Avoid the word "you" and just share how the action made you feel. Use the "sandwich method" by starting your comments with what you love about your spouse, then share, then confirm your love for them.
• Keep your schedules under control, especially with kids' activities. Don't over-schedule. Remember, when you took your vows, you promised to love your spouse even when he or she seems unlovable (for better or worse). God entrusted your spouse to you. That person is your primary mission field. Even the best marriages struggle at times. That's when we have to reach down deep, make a choice to love, and then beseech God's help. What does that look like? Romans 5:8 says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." By dying to self, you will honor God, your spouse, your family, and God's kingdom.
Satan loves to hear the words "We grew apart."
God loves to hear you say, "We grew in love and in Christ for his glory."
Patricia Hartman is a forensic CPA (certified public accountant) who works with clients going through divorce. She is also the director of marriage education for South Florida at Live the Life, a faith-based not-for-profit organization that provides marriage and relationship education with a goal of decreasing divorce rates and increasing healthy marriages.