A wife says to you and your husband: “You guys sure do a lot of fun stuff together. I used to do fun things like that with Ben, but now I’ll go out with my girlfriends, and he goes golfing. Or I go to garage sales while he stays home and watches football. It seems like we just do our own things these days.”
- It sounds like you miss doing those fun things with your husband. Is that true? How does this situation make you feel? Has anything changed lately in your relationship?
- Taking the Focus on Marriage Assessment can help you figure out why you’re not spending time together.
- Do you have regular moments each day when you connect with each other? For example, how do you say goodbye to your spouse in the morning? Do you kiss and give affection, encourage each other, compliment each other, say a quick prayer for each other?
“This couple has settled into a place of living parallel lives,” explains Erin Smalley, strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry. It’s common for couples to end up in the “slow fade,” gradually moving from all of the attention they gave each other at the beginning of their marriage to a “gentle neglect” of each other. They eventually stop turning toward each other, which means they become disconnected. Maybe the husband feels neglected, or the wife might be the first one who feels neglected.
As a marriage mentor, you may hear couples at all stages talk about living separate lives. It might be a couple who’s been married five years and has begun to neglect each other as their children and everything else in life takes priority over their relationship. Maybe you’ll hear from a couple who’s been married many years talk about their boring routine. Their relationship has become humdrum; they’re not having adventures together anymore.
The basic issue is that these spouses are slowly fading from each other’s lives. When you hear a couple expressing similar scenarios, use the L.U.V.E. response (Listen, Understand, Validate, Equip).
Give the mentee your full attention as you listen. Repeat what you hear to make sure you’ve heard correctly.
Mentor: “What I hear you saying is that you and Ben are doing a lot of things separately. You’re not spending time together and doing the fun stuff you used to do with each other. Is that right?”
Ask questions to better understand what the spouse or the spouses are feeling. Remember to supply the names of emotions or “soul words” if the mentee is having a hard time communicating how he or she feels.
Mentor: “It sounds like you miss doing those fun things with your husband. Is that true? How does this situation make you feel? I imagine you might feel alone. Or maybe you feel neglected or confused? Has anything changed lately in your relationship?
Empathize with the spouse.
Mentor: “It makes sense that you feel that way. You used to spend a lot of time together, so of course you’re missing that.”
Here’s where you’ll supply a tool, skill or information the person can use. In this example, the couple is experiencing the slow fade and the wife is feeling neglected and disconnected from her husband. Couples end up disconnected for many different reasons. What’s causing the couple you know to live parallel lives? You can help them discover the root issue by making these suggestions:
Encourage the couple to take the Focus on Marriage Assessment. “The assessment will allow them to dig into the deeper issues,” Smalley says. “Is this about a communication issue? Is there a mishandled conflict, a sexual disconnection, a spiritual disconnection?”
If they are resistant to taking that assessment, show them the short assessment found in the book Reconnected (starting on page 11). Encourage the couple to answer the 11 questions and discuss them with each other.
What if a spouse says, “I don’t take marriage assessments”? Mentors can encourage the spouse by saying:
- “Did you know that simply doing this simple assessment will have a positive impact on your relationship? That’s because you’re taking time to focus on your marriage. Just answering these few questions connects you and your spouse and benefits your marriage.”
- “The assessment reveals more than the areas of conflict in a marriage. It also shows the positive side of your relationship — the strengths of your marriage.”
- “Also, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening between the two of you. The assessment could give you that awareness. We can’t fix anything unless we know what’s wrong.”
To prepare for a person who’s reluctant to take the assessment, role-play the situation with your spouse. Take turns role-playing the reluctant spouse and practice persuading the person to take the assessment.
Encourage the couple to build sacred moments. Doing so can make a positive impact if a wife or husband feels neglected.
“Sacred moments” are important bonding times that should happen daily, but they don’t have to take much time. One of those special connecting moments of the day is when a husband and wife say goodbye in the morning. Ask the spouse or couple how they say goodbye to each other in the morning. Encourage them to focus on each other for that short time as they send each other off on their day. They can build connection by:
- Kissing and giving affection.
- Encouraging each other.
- Complimenting each other.
- Saying a quick prayer for each other.
- Sharing Scripture.
Suggest that the couple read Song of Solomon together, especially Song of Solomon 5:10-16 and Song of Solomon 6:4-10. Reading how Solomon and his bride complimented each other in these chapters might remind the couple of earlier times in their marriage when they were passionate about each other and paid attention to little else!
If the couple continues to struggle and the wife and husband feel neglected, suggest counseling. You can help them find a counselor, or they can call Focus on the Family at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time) to request a free consultation with a counselor.