Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Category: Threats to Marriage
My wife, Shawn, and I were recently with some other couples watching Paul David Tripp teach on marriage. He said something that shocked most of us in the room. He asked his audience what they thought the "Number One Killer" of marriages was. Answers like adultery, pornography, lack of communication, and money were suggested. But none of those were correct.
So what is the Number One Killer of marriages? NEGLECT
Plain and simple: Neglect. As husbands and wives, we simply stop investing the time, energy, and prayer needed to grow this most important earthly relationship. And the results are devastating.
We see a large number of couples who are walking through the after effects of adultery. But long before adultery happened, there was neglect in the marriage - neglect of each other and/or their relationship with God. When a husband and wife are growing in their connection with each other and God, there is usually little temptation to an adulterous relationship.
But neglect threatens every one of our marriages. As we display our sinfulness and selfishness and hurt one another, we often don't take time to work to resolve those hurts. Our neglect of healing these hurts ends up, in many cases, in unforgiveness and bitterness between husband and wife.
God opened my eyes to this the first year of our marriage. I had pursued and pursued and pursued during our dating, but now that we were married, I turned my attention to my career and other interests. This was totally dishonoring to my wife and very hurtful in our marriage. And the temptation to neglect continues to plague us even after 25 years of marriage.
So if neglect is a real temptation for every married couple, then what are we to do? What practical things can we do to fight this battle?
I would suggest three steps to fighting this battle. The first step is the most important...so be sure NOT to gloss over it just to get to steps 2 and 3 :)
Step 1: Vertical Repentance
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7
In God's economy, all true change starts with my repentance as I “own” my sin. I must remember that my sin is first and foremost against God. In Psalm 51, David declared, “against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”. Although our sin is both vertical (against God) and horizontal (against our spouse), our repentance must start by acknowledging our sin before the Lord and asking for His forgiveness.
True biblical repentance is a response of my mind, my emotions, and my will. With our mind, we ask the Lord to give us a “change of viewpoint” - the ability to intellectually see that we are guilty before Him. With our emotions, we ask the Lord to help us have a “change of feeling” - that manifests itself in Godly sorrow for our sin committed against a holy God. And finally, with our will, we have a “change of purpose” - as we make a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. Each of those three elements is deficient apart from the others. Repentance is a response of the total person.
Finally, true repentance is not something you can conjure up on your own. It is a gift of God given in response to our humility and brokenness before Him.
So Step #1 is critical. Our desire to move away from neglecting our marriage relationship must begin with this step, if this is to be long-term change and not just a “temporary fix”.
Step 2: Horizontal Confession
After completing the first critical step of repenting before God vertically, we need to ask the Lord to help us truly humble ourselves and go to our spouse to work on horizontal confession and repentance. Neglect in marriage hurts. And hurts can fester into bitterness and unforgiveness when we do not address them biblically.
So what does that look like? It's a simple statement like, “God has shown me that I have been wrong in neglecting our marriage and you as my spouse. I have done this when I have ______________(be specific about things you have done or not done). I know this has been hurtful in our marriage and to you as my spouse. I am so sorry for having neglected you in this way. Will you please forgive me?”
Again, the words you say are not nearly as important as the attitude of your heart as you do this. Your spouse will know if you say the words but your heart is not in it. That's why it is so critical to start the whole process with Step #1.
Your spouse may be able to forgive you in that moment or they may not. Don't press the issue if they are not ready in that moment, or say “no” to your request. As you begin to consistently do things to show your care and concern for them, trust God to give them eyes to see the change in you. At some point, God will allow the horizontal relationship to move toward healing and restoration. And if you are the spouse that wasn't ready to grant forgiveness in the moment, it is your responsibility to go back and open up the conversation another time. Ask God to help you move toward giving out the grace He has so richly given you.
Step 3: Rearrange Your Priorities
I know – this is a difficult step for anyone to take. But the truth I must remember is that it is likely, because I have gotten my true priorities out of whack, that I am in the situation I am now facing. So if I want to avoid being back here again in the future, I must make changes to re-prioritize what is most important.
First, that means we must put the Lord back in His rightful place. This is not a one time event, but a continual process of taking ourselves off the “throne of our own life” and allowing the Lord to ascend to His rightful place. This is not just about going to church more, or reading your Bible more, or even joining a Bible study group, although those are important activities. This is about you truly making God, His Word, and walking in the power of His Spirit your daily top priority.
A great way I have found to jump start this is to take a full day away – just to spend time with the Lord and your Bible. There is really no substitute for this. Extended time away from the pressures of your daily life allow you to hear the Lord in ways that our daily routine hinders. I have heard person after person come back from a day away and say “WOW! That is just what I needed!”
As a second step toward changing your priorities, I also encourage you to get together with your spouse and setup a time to meet to specifically talk about rearranging your priorities. I would suggest at least 90-120 minutes for this meeting. Take your schedules and look at how busy you both really are. Then put time on the calendar – regular and significant time – for the two of you to connect relationally as husband and wife. And take real time to listen to what your spouse is saying, rather than just wanting them to hear what you want. As you end your time together, pray as a couple asking the Lord to make His priorities your priorities.
A Final Thought
For many of the couples we see, neglect has been happening in their marriage for years, or sometimes even decades. Please don't expect this to change overnight. God's process of restoring and strengthening marriages takes time and consistent investment. So be committed for the long run. And never forget that God is committed to you, your spouse, and your marriage for the long run. And that alone should give us great hope for change!
AUTHOR: Glen Solberg is a man who is passionate about marriage - his own and the marriages of those around him! He and his wife, Shawn, have been married since 1992 and have been investing in the marriages of others full-time since 2003. You can find out more by going to the About Page.
Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2018. All Rights Reserved. If you have questions or suggestions, you can connect with us via our Contact Us page or you can email us at email@example.com