For twelve months, Jennifer meticulously planned her wedding. Everything was going according to plan. Everything except the one factor she couldn’t control — the climate.
During the outdoor ceremony, small flecks of ash fell on Jennifer’s dress. Her wedding fell one mile outside the mandatory evacuation zone for the 2007 California wildfires that were ravaging thousands of acres and hundreds of homes. The fires were visible on the horizon, and if the wind shifted suddenly, the wedding would be called off and guests evacuated. After a drizzle started to fall during the reception, Jennifer commented that every element — wind, fire, rain — had showed up for her wedding.
Just as Jennifer had to deal with fire, rain, and swirling ash, marriages must contend with equally threatening elements. Jennifer’s advantage? She could see what was coming.
The social climate surrounding our marriages, though invisible, poses threats whose effects on a relationship are equal to a wildfire. From the moment you say “I do,” today’s culture puts enormous pressure on you and your spouse. We feel pressure to conform to our culture’s view of four powerful elements: time, status, romance, and the prevalence of divorce. It’s not enough to recognize these pressures; we also need to understand how they influence our marital climate.
In the morning you hurriedly gulp a cup of coffee and devour a breakfast bar as you respond to a dozen emails. You barely say a word to your spouse in the mad dash to clean up breakfast, pack lunches and drop the kids off at school before 8:30. During lunch, you eat an energy bar as you squeeze in a workout and drop off pictures for one-hour processing and pick up clothes from the cleaner. When the kids come home from school, the day really picks up. Two have soccer practice while the third has ballet. You eat fast food in the van as you drive to three different locations. In the evening, after helping with science and math projects, paying bills, responding to more email, checking Facebook and sifting through junk mail, you reintroduce yourself to your spouse as you collapse into bed. You barely say a word to each other as you drift off listening to the news on CNN.
Sound familiar? Experts describe this lifestyle as hurrysickness. It results from living in a constant state of overdrive, cramming each moment so full of events that we have no time to experience them in any meaningful way. This chronic hurry is characterized by the continual need to accomplish multiple task at once. Our addiction to hurriedness and efficiency comes at an unexpected price. “We have quickened the pace of life only to become less patient. We have become more organized and less spontaneous, less joyful,” says Jeremy Rifkin in his book Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History.
How does hurrysickness affect your marital climate? Significant communication rarely occurs between hurried individuals. In a hurrysick world we simply don’t have time to acknowledge each other. How much time do we take each day to focus on each other and engage in interpersonal communication?
Proverbs 20:5 says the “purposes of a [person’s] heart are deep waters,” and that only time and careful prodding can we “draw them out,” to use the language of that proverb. Drawing out the thoughts and feelings of another requires what psychologist Gerald Egan calls “total listening.” As hurrysick individuals, we may desire to draw our spouse out, but we live in a way that makes it almost impossible to accomplish. “We are a nation that shouts at a microwave to hurry up,” notes columnist Joan Ryan. Our time and energy disappear because of another cultural element that presses against our marriages: our desire to keep up with the Joneses — literally.
“We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like,” Woody Allen once observed. This condition, creatively called “affluenza,” is a “painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting in the dogged pursuit of more.” The presence of affluenza becomes obvious when we consider what we value, how we spend our time, and our level of contentment in the midst of it all.
Columnist Ellen Goodman describes what this obsession costs us on a day-to-day basis. The day starts “getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.”
How does affluenza affect your marital climate? It breeds dissatisfaction. Every time I connect to the Internet, I’m met by a pop-up window that tells me my Internet connection could be twice as fast. Our family van is fine, but TV ads remind me that it doesn’t have OnStar or built-in DVD players. In an age of affluenza, we are taught to be dissatisfied, to focus on what we don’t have.
This conditioned dissatisfaction bleeds over into our marriages. If we’re not careful, over time the dissatisfaction we have over our possessions can become true of how we view our spouse. We start to take note of the qualities our spouse doesn’t have.
Affluenza fosters isolation. Our homes become cocoons where we cut ourselves off from neighbors and even from each other. Glenn Stanton, a director of a family-support organization, calls this phenomenon “the new homelessness.” “Everybody is connected to something outside the home even though they are physically within the home.” The effects are obvious: less time together, less time to communicate.
Affluenza also threatens the most important part of the communication climate: trust. When so much time and energy is spent doggedly pursuing more, we start to lose trust that we are more important than status and things. On our wedding day, we made a promise in front of friends, family, our lover and God that our marriage would be primary above all else. Now, in an age of affluenza, we are in danger of breaking our word and the trust our spouse had in us.
When we finally do carve out time to discuss key issues in our marriage, the unrealistic expectations we have of each other often fuel frustration.
An Overly Romantic View of Love and Marriage
One hundred volunteers for a study done by relationship experts watched romantic comedies and then discussed their view of love and romance. Researchers concluded that these movies could easily “spoil your love life” by fostering unrealistic ideas of love, such as believing fate brings individuals together and that a soul mate will anticipate your deepest needs without you having to voice them.
To expect our spouse to love, pursue or understand us as only God can is unrealistic and sure to cause frustration and profound disappointment.
How does an overly romantic view of love affect your marital climate? A prototype is the clearest example of a category. We all have prototypes of the perfect date, the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect romantic evening, the perfect marriage. We also have a prototype of romantic love. When I ask my students at the university where I teach to describe the person they want to marry and love for the rest of their life, they give the following general description: a person who will always care for me, always look out for me, always accept me, always pursue me, always be interested in me. But perfectly consistent love — one that isn’t subject to good and bad days — can be found only in the Scriptures. To expect our spouse to love, pursue or understand us as only God can is unrealistic and sure to cause frustration and profound disappointment. Only one being can love you perfectly: God.
The last element that presses against our marriages is the strongest and most damaging.
Divorce Culture and Starter Marriages
When it comes to love and commitment, the message we get from society is clear: nothing lasts forever. Love, as presented in films, novels, and music, is a powerful emotion that ebbs and flows and eventually flames out. A first marriage is often described as a “starter marriage.” Just as you buy a starter home with the idea of moving on to something bigger and better, so teens also view a first marriage. While they don’t plan to divorce, they view a first marriage as a possible steeping stone to a hopefully more lasting marriage.
Can we blame them?
Divorce has become a tragically common occurrence. So how does the divorce culture affect your marital climate? The fear that your marriage may not make it poses the greatest threat to your marital climate. While all couples experience struggles during marriage, there’s a significant difference between being secure in the relationship as you face struggles and being worried that difficulties could end the marriage. In light of today’s sober statistics concerning divorce, many couples live with the unspoken fear that their marriage will not make it.
Tragically, many couples within the Christian community also live with this fear. According to research from the Barna Group, Christians are less likely to live together before marriage but just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. The study concludes that in America the institution of marriage is not as stable as it once was. Unfortunately, that appears to apply equally for those inside and outside the Christian community.
The Scriptures take a dramatically different view of love and commitment and call us to a higher standard. In the Song of Solomon, Solomon’s bride exclaims, “Love is as strong as death” (8:6). If we want to create healthy marital climates, we need to reverse the disturbing trend reported by Barna and embrace this biblical view of love
One of the reasons Jennifer pulled off her unlikely wedding in the face of raging California wildfires was that she and her guests knew what they were facing. Received constant weather reports and seeing the red glow on the horizon allowed them to make plans to counteract a hostile climate. The more we understand how the cultural climate surrounding our marriages threatens to hinder our intimacy, the more we can, like Jennifer, make plans to counter those challenges. All followers of Christ are urged to resist the temptation to confirm to the seductive and powerful pattern of this world
Taken from Marriage Forecasting by Tim Muehlhoff. Copyright (c) 2010 by Tim Muehlhoff. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com