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STAYING CLOSEStopping the Natural Drift Toward Isolation In Marriage
By Dennis Rainey Barbara Rainey
THOMAS NELSON PUBLISHERSCopyright © 2007 Dennis & Barbara Rainey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMARRIED BUT LONELY
Getting married is easy. Staying married is more difficult. Staying happily married for a lifetime would be considered among the fine arts. -Author Unknown
When the letter came to me, I cried as I read it. Tragically, it represented what is happening with increasing regularity in our country. My friend Dave Johnson is a police officer in San José, California. He often answers that dreaded call: "4-15-Family Disturbance." His letter to me, now published in his book, The Light Behind the Star, described what happened when he received one such call and arrived on the scene:
I could see a couple standing in the front yard of the home. A woman was crying and yelling at the man, who was standing with his hands in the pockets of his greasy overalls. I could see homemade tattoos on his arm-usually a sign of having been in prison.
Walking toward the two, I heard the woman demanding that he fix whatever he had done to the car so she could leave. He responded only with a contemptuous laugh.
She turned to me and asked if I would make him fix the car. The other officer came forward, and we separated the couple to find a solution to the problem.
I began talking to the man, who told me his wife was having an affair and was leaving him. I asked if they had gone for counseling, and he said he wasn't interested. He said he was interested only in getting back his "things," which he said she had hidden from him.
I asked the wife about his things and she said she wouldn't give them to him until she got one of the VCRs. She said she wanted only one of the three VCRs they owned.
The other officer walked over to the wife's car and looked under the hood to see if he could fix the trouble. The husband walked over, took the coil wire out of his pocket, and handed it to the officer. He then told his wife that she could have a VCR if he could have his things. She finally agreed and went into the house. (I found out later that his "things" were narcotics he was dealing in.)
As the wife entered the house, I noticed two little girls standing in the doorway, watching the drama unfold. They were about eight and ten years old. Both wore dresses and each clung to a Cabbage Patch doll. At their feet were two small suitcases. My eyes couldn't leave their faces as they watched the two people they loved tear at each other.
The woman emerged with the VCR in her arms and went to the car where she put it on the crowded backseat. She turned and told her husband where he could find his things. They agreed to divide their other possessions equally.
Then, as I watched in disbelief, the husband pointed to the two little girls and said, "Well, which one do you want?" With no apparent emotion, the mother chose the older one. The girls looked at each other, then the older daughter walked out and climbed into the car. The smaller girl, still clutching her Cabbage Patch doll in one hand and her suitcase in the other, watched in bewilderment as her sister and mother drove off. I saw tears streaming down her face. The only "comfort" she received was an order from her father to go into the house, as he turned to go talk with some friends.
There I stood ... the unwilling witness to the death of a family.
As I put that letter down, I asked myself, "Why did this family die?" Was it drugs? The husband's criminal background? Anger and hatred? All these may have been involved, but the look on the little girl's face said it all.
What Dave Johnson saw was the pain-filled eyes of a little girl who over the years had watched a creeping separateness distance her parents from each other. That family died from a disease that infects millions of marriages today, a disease called: Isolation.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ISOLATED
The dictionary will tell you isolation is "the condition of being alone, separated, solitary, set apart," but I like what my daughter Ashley said once when she slipped into my study to ask me what I was writing about.
"Isolation," I explained. "Do you know what that means?"
"Oh," said our blue-eyed, blonde-haired, freckle-faced, then-ten-year-old daughter, "that's when somebody excludes you."
I may be a bit prejudiced, but I believe Ashley's answer is a profound observation on human relationships. Husbands excluding wives and wives excluding husbands is exactly what happens when loneliness and isolation infect a marriage.
When you're excluded you have a feeling of distance, a lack of closeness, and little real intimacy. You can share a bed, eat at the same dinner table, watch the same TV, share the same checking account, and parent the same children-and still be alone. You may have sex, but you don't have love; you may talk, but you do not communicate. You may live together, but you don't share life with one another.
If there's one thing worse than a miserable, lonely single, it's a miserable, lonely married person. The irony is that no two people marry with any intention of being isolated from each other. Most of them feel that marriage is the cure for loneliness. The phrase "lonely husbands, lonely wives" would, for them, contradict what they think marriage is all about.
Isolation is like a terminal virus that invades your marriage, silently, slowly, and painlessly at first. By the time you become aware of its insidious effects, it can be too late. Your marriage can be crippled by boredom and apathy, and even die from emotional malnutrition and neglect.
The drift into isolation can be seen in what one clever observer of marriage called "The Seven Ages of the Married Cold." As we trace the reaction of a husband to his wife's cold symptoms during seven years of marriage, we might hear the following:
The first year he says: "Sugar dumpling, I'm worried about my baby girl. You've got a bad sniffle and there's no telling about these things with all this strep around. I'm putting you in the hospital this afternoon for a general checkup and a good rest. I know the food's lousy, but I'll bring your food in ... I've already got it arranged with the floor superintendent."
Now, the second year: "Listen, darling, I don't like the sound of that cough. I've called Doc Miller to rush over here. Now you go to bed like a good girl. Please, just for your honey."
And the third year: "Maybe you had better lie down, sweetheart. Nothing like a little rest when you feel punk. I'll bring you something to eat. Do we have any soup?"
The fourth year: "Look, dear, be sensible. After you feed the kids and get the dishes washed, you'd better hit the sack."
The fifth year: "Why don't you get yourself a couple of aspirin?"
The sixth year: "If you'd just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal, I would appreciate it."
The seventh year: "For Pete's sake, stop sneezing! What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?"
Of course, it doesn't always take seven years for intimacy to fade and isolation to enter. Sometimes it can happen in seven months! In other marriages, the twenty- to twenty-five-year mark is the danger point. But the isolation process never ceases.
Unless husband and wife work together to keep it at bay, they face the real possibility of someday knowing the discouragement, anger, and pain that was expressed by a woman who attended one of our FamilyLife Conferences.
The lady opened her letter by wondering what century I was speaking about when I had the unmitigated gall to say wives were tired but their husbands were "mentally tired." She reminded me this is the twenty-first century, when many wives work out of need, and then she gave me her daily schedule, plus the rest of a big piece of her mind:
5:30-rise and start getting myself ready and put coffee on.
6:00-start breakfast and get bag ready for child day care.
6:30-get kids, hubby up, fed, and dressed for school.
7:15-send kids on bus and finish dressing.
7:30-leave for day care center and off to work with coffee for breakfast.
8:00-eight hours' work.
4:30-back to day care, sometimes need to pick something up for supper.
5:15-home, start supper, load washer, help kids with lessons, listen to their tales of school. Fold clothes, wash dishes, run sweeper, bath for kids and me, flop in bed to rest for next day.
Saturday-clean house you neglected all week. Clean up kids and go to store and do weekly shopping. Same meals, same dishes.
Sunday-Get kids ready for church, come home and do usual things around house. Holidays no different. If company comes, all I can see is more work and I'm already tired.
This doesn't include trips to dentist, doctor, shoes and clothes for kids, PTA meetings, school programs. Where is hubby all this time? Glued to the paper or stuck on the TV.
You need to take off your rose-colored glasses and look at life as it really is for women. You could help marriages if you would tell men if we're helping them, they should pitch in. I can't see how men can be so self-centered and not want to help. It's not hard to resent your husband after years of this. All you can see is another mouth to feed, his extra pile of clothes to clean, his dishes to wash. It's pretty hard to want to make love to a glob that finally unsticks himself from TV when I am semiconscious and look and feel like I've been drug through the brush backwards. Thanks for your help.
P.S. My dream is to be single again and come home from work, grab something for supper on the way, and walk into a clean home, pick up my feet and do nothing!
I wish this frustrated wife had included her name and address, because I wanted to write and apologize for sounding unsympathetic and insensitive. Her words are those of someone experiencing the worst kind of loneliness and isolation. Isolation has set her at its mercy.
Because of the alarming number of good marriages unaware of this problem, this book is based on a single premise: Your marriage will naturally move toward a state of isolation.
Unless you lovingly and energetically nurture and maintain your marriage, you will begin to drift away from your mate. You'll live together, but you will live alone.
In 1976 we began the Family Ministry, which is part of Campus Crusade for Christ. We've now held hundreds of FamilyLife Conferences in over fifty major metropolitan areas here in the United States and in a dozen foreign countries. From the comments we've received, it's obvious to us that isolation is the number-one problem in marriage relationships today.
HOW YOU WILL BENEFIT FROM THIS BOOK
What every marriage, no matter how good, needs is the plan to defeat isolation and experience oneness. This book will give you that plan to gain the intimacy you hoped for when you first married. It will help you understand one another, become a better balance to one another, and rebuild trust that may have broken down.
As you read you will also be equipped to take your marriage into the twenty-first century. You'll be better equipped to handle conflict, work through sexual difficulties, and express forgiveness. You'll learn the strength that comes from being accountable to one another. This book will enable you to make that good marriage better and help a struggling marriage recapture intimacy. Most chapters end with a practical project that will ask probing questions to help stimulate you and your mate into a deeper understanding and application of the principles taught. I'd even suggest, if possible, you read the book a chapter at a time with your mate.
Finally, I want to enlist you to leave a legacy of changed lives. I want to challenge you to pass these concepts on to others who need them-people in your neighborhood, your church, your community, and most important, your own children.
Let me help you defeat isolation first. From my counseling experience and from speaking to hundreds of thousands of people on the issues elaborated upon in this book, I'd estimate that well over 95 percent of all married couples are oblivious to isolation and how it works. In the next chapter, we will see just how destructive isolation can be-and what can be done about it.
Excerpted from STAYING CLOSE by Dennis Rainey Barbara Rainey Copyright © 2007 by Dennis & Barbara Rainey . Excerpted by permission.
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