I am auditing a class at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando for the next several days on Couples Counseling. I wanted to get some focused training to become a better counselor for engaged and married couples at my church. I'll try to post a blog each day to reflect on a key concept I need to process further.
Perhaps the most important concept I took away today was this: Many of the marriages represented in the church today are what the professor termed "intact but drifting marriages." These are the couples who, though married, live on parallel tracks. (I have often called these people "married singles.") They live under the same roof but live as singles, with separate hobbies, separate passions, separate communities, separate jobs, separate ministries, and separate visions for their future.
What makes helping these couples difficult is that they will say their marriage is good. They have adjusted to the low level of intimacy they experience and get along with each other. They take care of business and keep things running. They are often quite involved as volunteers in the church. Divorce would not even be in the vocabulary of these couples. Yet as Wallace Stegner writes in Angle of Repose, "It is a bruised and careful truce; we walk in bandages and try not to bump our wounds.”
When couples like these come for counseling it is often because the husband says his wife is depressed; or the wife says her husband is having a mid-life crisis; or both of them say they are having problems with their kids. The real problem is their own loss of intimacy with each other and with God. But they don't recognize it.
One thing I thought was especially interesting is the idea that these couples have chosen married singleness instead of facing the chaos of relationship and the mystery of their partner. It's a lot easier to establish parallel tracks instead of facing our resentment toward our spouse, or our broken dreams about what we expected marriage to be, or our anger at our spouse's sin. It's messy and threatening to express negative emotions to our spouse. So what many people do is bury those emotions, silently come up with a contract to co-exist peacefully, and seek deeper intimacy in other pursuits or people.
It made me wonder, how many of the married couples in the typical evangelical church -- in MY church -- are "intact but drifting"? How can we help them if they don't see the truth, wave the white flag, and seek help? In our small groups and elsewhere are we picking up the warning signs and, like a surgeon, probing down to the heart of the matter to help bring healing and wholeness to these marriages? I'm wondering if we even perpetuate the problem by being content to "do church" without taking the time to expose the disease at the heart of so many marriages. What do you think?