One Sunday afternoon, not long ago, I (Gary) pulled out my childhood family album. As I flipped through the old photos chronicling my life, I stopped to examine a black-and-white photo of my mom and dad. What was once a vibrant, crisp photo that held the dreams of a newly married couple was now dull and faded.

Decay is normal – it’s a natural process in our lives. Top of the line machinery breaks down and ornate buildings lose their eye appeal and fall to disrepair. To keep anything fresh, alive, and in good order requires care, maintenance, and at times repair. A marriage is no different. At every moment, the dynamic love relationship between a man and a woman is either growing deeper and richer or stagnating and decaying. Unless a marriage is kept fresh and nurtured, it will fade like my parent’s old photograph.

When husbands and wives fall into the trap of daily distancing, they are fighting against God’s plan for their marriage and missing out on the blessing of oneness that God designed for them. In the early years of our marriage, when Gary was working on his doctorate, I (Barb) found it was easy to slide into relational distancing. It was a natural by-product of two people who were very much in love with each other yet struggled with how to connect deeply in the midst of disappointment and discouragement. We were not purposely cool toward each other, but since we did not spend time on our relationship, we undermined the oneness we both wanted and needed.

Knowing how to remedy a deteriorating marriage is vital for keeping any marriage alive and well. How close are you to your wife or husband today? Have the stresses, demands, and disappointments of life created an emotional distance between you and your spouse? If you are not growing closer together, you are drifting farther apart. Although you may never consider divorce, the road of a decaying marriage is always heading in that direction.

Many years ago, through counseling couples in my office, I (Gary) discovered that most marriages followed the same path. It was through that experience I realized and created what we call the marital road map that has led countless couples, many with good marriages, to restore and revitalize their marriage. The marital map helps you to identify where you are in your relationship. It is a long journey from the marriage dream to divorce, but there are a number of in-between stops and telltale signs that let you know if you are headed in the wrong direction. Understanding the map will enable you to fight negative tendencies, keep your lives fresh and vibrant, and keep your relationship intimacy connected and perpetually enriched. The marital map is not a magic formula or an easy three-step approach to marital bliss. This road has been traveled by thousands of couples before, including Barb and me, and walking this path has not, and will not be easy. But one thing we can guarantee is that following God’s design will reinforce and strengthen your marriage.

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So take some time and review the marital map diagram to see where you would place your relationship. Are you still in the dream phase? Have you moved from dream to disappointment, discouragement, or distance? Or have you disconnected completely from your spouse and are experiencing and emotional divorce?

When sharing this marital map with thousands of couples across the country, we have never had a couple jump up and shout, “Woo-Hoo! We have it all together!” And that’s not a claim Barb and I can make either. We are still, day in and day out, on the journey of divorce-proofing our marriage. Marriage takes work if it’s going to grow. As difficult as it may be for you to admit that your marriage falls short of the dream, we hope you have been captivated by the reality that there is a path that leads back to the marriage God intended. As you purpose to travel back towards the dream phase, utilizing the six biblical principles of forgiving love, serving love, enduring love, guarding love, celebrating love, and renewing love, understand that it takes time, God’s grace, and an intentional attitude to find the path that leads back to home.

Copyright © 2003 Dr.Gary and Barbara Rosberg, used with permission, published by Tyndale House Publishers. Adapted from Divorce Proof Your Marriage.

Married nearly 30 years, the parents of two married adult children, and grandparents of two, Dr. Gary and Barbara Rosberg have a unique blend of insight and wisdom that touches people of all ages. Together with Gary’s 25,000 hours of counseling experience and Barbara’s wise counsel and biblical teaching, they are America’s Family Coaches (AFC) — equipping thousands of families across the nation.