Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Marriage: Garden or Weedpatch?

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

Several years ago my wife and I were attending a marriage seminar conducted by Dr. H. Norman Wright. He quoted a woman saying to her marriage counselor, “When I got married, I was looking for an ideal, then it became an ordeal, and now I want a new deal.” Someone likened the adjustment in marriage to two porcupines. When snow began to fall, they felt cold and drew close together. However, when they drew close, they began to stick one another with their quills. In order to keep warm they had to learn to adjust to one another. How true an analogy this is for marriage. In many ways it parallels Solomon’s teachings on relationship in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

It should not surprise anyone that a happy, satisfying marriage takes work and the ability to change. Adjusting takes commitment, faith, and patience. One does not just live happily ever after but, instead, must follow a basic rule that affects all of living–“You don’t get something for nothing.”

The problem of marital dissatisfaction is pervasive in our society today. People in all faith groups, socioeconomic levels and geographic locations experience it. Marital dissatisfaction can also affect couples in every stage of their relationship. Take for example newlyweds in the U.S.–a time when most people assume that the “honeymoon glow” will still be warming each other’s romantic ideals. The predictions are that marriages at this stage face a 40% likelihood of ending in divorce.

Studies of relationship development indicate that such factors as poor communication, problem-solving skills, and dissatisfaction with other interactions, when present pre-maritally or early in marriage, can predict the development of relationship distress later in marriage. Some may be saying at this point, “These figures do not pertain to Christian marriages!” If you are one of those skeptics, then take an honest look around your church, neighborhood or even your own relationship. Christians and non-Christians alike have allowed an insidious passivity to lull them into complacency regarding their marriages. The sad statistic is that the divorce rates between Christian and non-Christian couples do not vary much and in some areas of the country, Christian marriages break up at a higher level.

Everyone wants a satisfying marriage, but few are willing to sacrifice what it takes to bring about a happy relationship. Marital satisfaction necessitates active, intentional involvement. One does not get good at anything without practicing. In other words, a happy, growing intimate marriage is not a state of being but rather a process of involvement and growth.

There is a law of physics that is applicable to relationships and speaks directly to this dilemma in marriage. It is the Second Law of Thermodynamics is called “Entropy”. This principle maintains that any closed system left to itself tends toward greater randomness and can break down and collapse. It takes an ordered input of energy to keep anything together. We must exercise, eat well, and drink liquids to keep in good physical condition. We must also put energy into our marriages for them to be intimate and growing. If no energy is expended on the relationship, it eventually atrophies either to the point of needing an overhaul or else it dies of neglect. It is a wise couple who continually invests in their marriage, rather than waiting for it to fall apart and they have to seek a complete overhaul.

Individuals don’t just “fall out of love”, they starve themselves out of love. A quote in the Readers Digest summarizes my point: “Even if marriages are made in heaven, man has to be responsible for the maintenance.” The apostle Paul exhorts us all in being actively involved in maintaining our marriages through the processes of love (Ephesians 5:25), nourishing and cherishing (5:29), and respect (5:31). These are vital and basic ingredients to the oneness which God has for Christian marriage. These are active ingredients of marital blessings.

Several years ago, I discovered that approximately one-third of my lawn was inhabited by “bind weed”. One sunny spring Saturday morning, armed with hand tools and garbage bags, I went to work. By Sunday afternoon I had not only taken care of the dreaded “bind weed”, but also half of my front lawn as every tiny weed was hand picked. Proud of my efforts, I called a landscaper friend who, upon hearing of my weekend project, instructed me that “bind weed” couldn’t be eliminated unless all the roots are dug up or the lawn resodded. He told me that if I spend more time fertilizing and watering my lawn and less time on the weeds, then just maybe I could build up the root system of the lawn and choke out the weeds. The analogy is a great one for marriage. The more time spent nurturing the relationship, the more the relationship will become intimate. The word “intimate” means a process of being in a close association, which produces familiarity. There is a sense of belonging which characterizes one’s deepest nature.

Peter stated in his teaching on Godly living, which has a lot to do with the investment of nurturing energy in our marriages. “…Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (I Peter 3:8-12).

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