Imagine, if you will, you and your spouse sitting down together with us at a newly-reopened Starbucks for a cup of hot, aromatic, bold-roast coffee (or any beverage of your choosing). “So what’s your home life looking like these days?”, we ask. We’re aware, of course, that this season of quarantine is taking its toll on marriages. It’s become ‘nowhere to run; nowhere to hide’ in homes across the globe.
You share what has undoubtedly been a challenging season for all of us. And then you turn the tables and ask us how we’re doing? Wait . . . what? You want to know how OUR marriage is doing? Most people don’t think to ask us that. And we’re wishing you’d asked us that a couple of weeks ago – we probably would’ve had a more favorable response. The timing of that question hits us cold. We quickly recognize it’s a unique opportunity to share how very human and flawed we are.
Truth be told, the past week or two has been rough for us. Very rough.
Despite what appearances may convey, the challenges we struggle with are the same ones you wrestle with. Who knows how it all started, but it became back-to-back-to-back days of inaccurate assumptions, quick retorts, sarcastic responses, and frayed last nerves. Thankfully, after lengthy discussions and extending grace for each other’s shortcomings, we’re mostly on the other side of that now. But the lessons learned and insights gained are worth passing on just in case they can give you some perspective on your own situation.
Almost two months of being together virtually 24/7, for us, has illuminated this fact: ‘Proximity Doesn’t Equal Connectedness’. Before you gloss over that ditty a little too quickly, we should repeat that: Proximity Doesn’t Equal Connectedness. In fact, we would go so far as to say that in recent days we felt anything but connected. The apostle Paul gave us a preview of times like these when he stated in 1 Corinthians 7:28 “If you marry you have not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life.” That’s a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it? It’s a safe bet that it’s probably not a verse that’s emphasized in premarital counseling! But the point is that our marriages aren’t going to be perfect – and we should expect that to be the case.
The 80-20 Rule
Dr. Emerson Eggerich, author of the best-selling marriage book “Love and Respect”, introduced the rule of 80-20 ratio in relationships. It says that around 80% of the time your marriage will experience some degree of good, or even great, while around 20% of the time you may have troubles of one kind or another. (Percentages are arbitrary simply to make a point. Some couples may have more or less “trouble”). So from God’s Word, we know that we will not experience complete marital fulfillment 100% of the time, and therefore need to be prepared to deal with the remaining 20%, also known as the ‘trouble zone’.
According to Eggerich, when we’re in the “trouble zone”, we tend to focus solely on just that – trouble. All of our thoughts, all of our energies, and all of the “I’ll give you a piece of my mind” internal dialogues are spent on that 20%. When we focus only on the 20%, we completely lose sight of the 80% that is good or great in our marriage and our perspective changes significantly. In our minds, the pie-chart flips and now it (inaccurately) feels like 80% of our marriage stinks, and we may have difficulty finding any good at all. By doing that, in actuality, we end up poisoning the 80% that is good!
By way of application, consider the following progression: Our thoughts (what we dwell on) plant seeds in our hearts, which express themselves through our words. We found this to be exactly true from our own situation that we described earlier.
Our thoughts are powerful.
Proverbs 23:7 bears this out – “As a man thinks within himself, so he is.” Only we can determine what we’re going to think about, what we’re going to let germinate in our brains, and then consequently what we’ll say. This isn’t talking about the fleeting, passing thoughts that we all have. It’s addressing both the positive and negative things we let endlessly play in a repeating loop, ruminating, forming opinions, and yes, even letting them manifest in our relationships with other people (our spouses!)
These thoughts plant the seeds in our hearts that will overflow where?
You guessed it, our mouths. Luke 6:45 declares, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Eventually whatever thoughts have taken root in our heart will produce fruit of some kind, either rotten or ripe. And the abundance, or overflow, of the heart, spills out of our mouths. Paul Tripp, a noted speaker, and author, states, “Our words and behaviors are more formed, shaped, caused and directed by what’s inside of me, not outside.” It’s a sobering thought to think that if it hadn’t been in our hearts, it wouldn’t have come out of our mouths.
How can we regain a proper perspective?
For the correct outlook, we turn once again to God’s Word. We find the antidote in Philippians 4:8, “Brothers, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and commendable . . . dwell [fix your mind] on these things.” The verses that follow also give instruction: Paul says that we are to practice these things. It’s not going to be automatic. It’s not a “one and done” proposition”. Do it – over and over again, until it takes root in your mind and in your heart.
How do we course correct when the pie chart flips and the perceived 80% says your marriage stinks? We once heard a powerful speaker deliver an inspiring talk. He said, “The first step to getting a grip on reality is to Go Back To The Truth.” In this case, the truth is all the things your spouse does well, or that you enjoy, or that you appreciate about them. The truth is, there are positive things about your spouse and your marriage that you can pull to the surface easy enough and openly affirming them.
This can be over-trivialized so don’t try to micro-manage a bunch of minute things. Instead, focus on something more meaningful- like I really appreciate that no matter the conflict we’re committed to stay together and work things through. Or, I’m grateful I can trust you to be faithful, even in our darker moments.
By embracing a ‘truth perspective’ and focusing on the actual 80% of the good, this will help ‘flip’ the pie chart once again into its correct order. It’s not to ignore the longer-term, recurring issues; those have to be dealt with over time. But focusing on the truth will change our perspective and greatly help with the day-to-day of living in quarantine. If we can support you in any way, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eddie & Florrie Martell– Island Christian Church Marriage Ministry