I was shocked when one of my key volunteers called early on a Sunday morning crying, “Linda, we need help. Our marriage is in crisis. I don’t know what to do”. What? I must have heard her wrong. Doug and Lisa appeared to be this strong, Christian couple who had been married for 12 years with 5 healthy and happy children. No way!
We scheduled an appointment that same week and began to slowly uncover what I see as one of the most silent but deadly killers of marriages today; it’s what I call -the SLOW FADE.
Unfortunately, Doug and Lisa’s story is not an uncommon one, especially for young and busy families. Lisa admits she had put kids and activities above her relationship with Doug. Doug, on the other hand, had slowly drifted away from his wife no longer feeling like a priority in his home. While feeling distant from his wife, Doug found someone at work who was willing to listen and give him the time and attention he was desperately craving. Young couples aren’t the only victims of the slow fade. I’ve seen it destroy just as many or more “seasoned” couples too with 20-30 years under their belt. This is why I believe the SLOW FADE is one of the greatest epidemics plaguing marriages today.
In the 1960s, Charles Hummel published a little booklet called Tyranny of the Urgent, which quickly became a must read for many professionals. In it, Hummel argues that there is a regular tension between things that appear urgent and things that are important—and far too often, the urgent wins. I see the same tension destroying homes and families today. We have allowed the urgent to slowly push out what’s really important for a healthy and strong life-things like faith, family and personal wellness.
You go through the McDonald’s drive-thru day after day eating in your car on the way to appointments or kids events instead of eating healthy meals at home as a family. Couples trade date nights for kids’ soccer tournaments week after week complaining about how they never have any time together. But then after a while, they stop complaining and give up even trying. That’s the slow fade we’re talking about.
Your spouse just walked in the door from work while you’re getting a call or text from a friend. We have allowed the world to have 24 hour access to us through things like texts, calls, notifications all while the most important people in the room are feeling...well, not that important.
Sometimes, what appears to be urgent is happening right in our own home. Let’s face it, kids can make anything look like a crisis. You know what I’m talking about. Your son can’t find his shoes and he’s screaming YOUR name for the hundredth time while you’re in the bathroom. Or your daughter “needs” to go to the mall TONIGHT because next week she needs a black tshirt for her concert.
It’s rarely mean or malicious but over time, there is this slow fade. It’s an unconscious drift that happens when couples don’t prioritize and fight for what’s important.
Here are some warning signs that your marriage may be in a slow fade…
Physical intimacy is little to non-existent and it’s not because of a physical condition or ailment. Are you sleeping in separate beds? Are you always too tired or too busy to be sexually intimate with your spouse? What’s going on? Is there a physical issue that needs to be addressed? Is there someone else who has captured the heart of your spouse so he/she no longer has any desire to be with you physically. Lean in to your spouse and work on a plan to rekindle the physical intimacy between the two of you.
Emotional Intimacy is waning. You’re not dreaming together anymore. You don’t feel like you can be authentic or vulnerable with your spouse. He or she won’t sit down and open up about what’s going on inside. Is there someone else outside your marriage who you ARE having those kind of conversations with? That’s a slippery slope if it’s someone of the opposite sex. Acknowledge that is NOT healthy and open up to your partner about your needs.
Spiritual Intimacy is non existent. It’s tough to pull away from your spouse when God is at the center of the relationship. Less than 1% of couples who pray together on a regular basis divorce. Working in the church for 20 years, it was not uncommon for couples in a slow fade to fall off the radar and disappear. Kids stop coming to sunday school. Mom and dad stop going to church or drop out of their small group. It was the start of an ugly downhill slide for their family. Don’t let that happen if you are involved in a church. It’s a red flag of something deeper going on.
Misplaced priorities-Put the big rocks in first. God, spouse, children in that order...and the others will fall in place naturally after that. If you or your partner continuously put other things or people ahead of those big rocks, danger, danger...you’re in a slow fade.
Unrealistic expectations or petty arguments-Are you and your spouse constantly fighting over silly things like socks on the floor or dishes in the sink??...can I just tell you. It’s not about the dishes. There are some deeper issues looming. Maybe your spouse is hoping you’ll lean in and ask what’s really wrong. Or maybe you’re afraid to say anything because it will just lead to a blow up.
Shut Down Mode-This is probably one of the most dangerous red flags of the slow fade...the shut down mode. You’re getting nothing...no physical intimacy, no emotional intimacy, no spiritual intimacy...there’s not even any arguments. You and your spouse haven’t argued in years, because you haven’t really had a real conversation in years. GET HELP TODAY! That’s not a marriage-that’s a roommate. You may be thinking your marriage is a nine out of 10 because you never fight but your partner is at a one. He or she has already checked out and maybe even checked in with someone else.
If you or your spouse feel like you are in that SLOW FADE we described above, do what Doug and Lisa did. Get some help today. They are celebrating 22 years this year because of what God did in that difficult season 10 years ago. They are grateful to him for saving their marriage and have seen God use their story many times to bring others hope. Talk to your priest or pastor. Reach out to a professional Christian counselor. Contact us at rocksolidfamilies.org. Don’t keep brushing those feelings of emptiness and despair under the rug. Just as Satan can use those feelings to destroy your relationship with your spouse, God can use those SAME feelings to bring your relationship to a new and better level. I’ve seen it happen. Trust me; there is hope! You don’t have to settle for the status quo and think that’s all there is. But the answer is not in another man or woman. The answer is not working more or shutting down. The answer is looking up, leaning in and getting the help you need to have a healthy and strong marriage maybe even for the first time.