Jorge was a typical soft middle-aged man when he got a taste for endurance sports. Within a year, he was absorbed in it. His body became chiseled, his weekends and evenings consumed with various competitions. His topic of conversation centered around training and times. Even his circle of friends gravitated toward those sharing the same interest.
His wife Camilla (these are not their real names, of course) responded as I’ve seen many spouses respond: slightly disgusted at her husband’s sudden change of priorities, radical change of schedule, and regular neglect of family time. She either consciously or unconsciously said to herself, “For every pound Jorge loses, I’m going to gain one.” She became more sedentary, rolled her eyes if she heard him talking about races or his times, complained about how bad his laundry smelled, and nagged him about neglecting their children.
I’ve run 12 marathons, so it might seem like I’d be somewhat sympathetic with Jorge, but in fact I believe Camilla had a point: Jorge was neglecting his family to pursue a new passion.
Camilla’s response of rebounding in the opposite direction, though, ended in disaster: divorce, with the children divided up and eventually even living in different states.
I don’t blame Camilla for the disaster, but I do think her response wasn’t helpful.
If your spouse goes off on a tangent, it’s healthy to directly talk to them. If they don’t repent, however, and you know they know what you think about what they’re doing, repeatedly telling them your opinion won’t change their minds at all. At that point, you have a choice to make: you can do what Camilla did—rebound in the opposite direction—or find a way to grow closer to a spouse even as they are pulling away.
No, you shouldn’t have to pursue someone who is focusing elsewhere, but I prefer to live in Realville where a spouse is often forced to do what must be done rather than sacrifice his or her family on the altar of the ideal. Paul says several times that the “stronger” (mature) must make way for the “weaker” (immature). If you’re the “stronger” spouse, Paul would tell you it’s time for you to step up. Trying to fight selfishness with selfishness increases distance, it never erases it. If your spouse misplaces his or her priorities and won’t repent or even listen to you, you have to deal with what is.
In Sacred Influence, I tell the story of one woman’s husband who started leaving her and the kids alone on weekends and then on vacations to go fishing. When she felt God encouraging her to join him, she said it felt like God was asking her to “hold the hand of my husband’s mistress.” That’s honestly what it felt like to her, but in moving toward him and occasionally joining him she kept her marriage alive and even learned to enjoy fishing.
This is what love does: it moves toward the one you love. When my youngest daughter was still in college, I got the Amazon invoices for the books she was ordering for her classes. I’d order some copies for myself so that we’d have something to talk about. When my other daughter was at home and watching The Bachelorette, I’d occasionally, every few weeks, join her for an episode, though there is much I loathe about that show. My daughter has a very high EQ and is relationally aware, and talking about some of the situations and characters that came up was interesting and insightful for me and helped me to spend meaningful time with her.
If you love someone, you find a way to move toward them, to share their interests, even if it doesn’t naturally interest you.
So what could Camilla have done differently? She could have brought the children to the club when Jorge finished his Saturday morning exercise routine so they could have breakfast together. They could go as a family to as many races as possible. She could organize cookouts with his exercise buddies so that she knew who he was spending time with. The goal is this: “He’s not willing to move toward us, so we have to find ways to move toward him.”
It might not have worked—but rebounding didn’t work, either. Going the opposite direction never does—it just increases the speed of the rift. If you want to keep your family together, you may need to get creative and ask yourself, “How do we enjoy family times of togetherness, even in the face of my spouse’s selfishness and poor priorities?”
If you do this in an attitude of snarkiness, you’re wasting your time. Love is gracious, love is kind, love is long-suffering. It’s not snarky. It’s not negative. It’s not critical. Bitterness hasn’t ever won a spouse back. Never.
I’m not suggesting you let your spouse go off on a tangent without speaking up. If they won’t respond, however, that’s when you have to launch plan B, figuring out how, in the face of your spouse’s poor or selfish priorities, you can keep the family as close as possible.
Sadly, that goal may mean, at times, moving toward someone even as they are moving away.
If you need to read more about this, I go into much more detail in my book for wives entitled Sacred Influence: http://www.garythomas.com/books/sacred-influence/