August 29, 2018

Relational Drift

Gary Thomas — 

The woman on the other line exploded Diana’s life with one question: “Did you know your husband is about to meet my daughter for a rendezvous at the next NASCAR race?”

When Ken and Diana’s daughter made some horrible decisions, Diana made their teenager her number one priority. Then the computers went down at Diana’s workplace. As the IT manager, she made getting the computer network back up her second priority. She stayed at the office late and brought work home.

Ken was barely hanging in there at priority number three.

You can understand Diana’s mindset. When your child is in crisis, it’s not easy to think about marital romance. When everyone at your workplace is begging you to fix a problem because work has all but stopped until you do, it’s hard to see keeping your marriage intimate as similarly urgent.

And, for a while, the drift didn’t seem to come with any particular consequences, or so Diana thought until that phone call shocked her back to reality. When she confronted her husband, he confessed that he and this other woman hadn’t ever actually met, but they were planning to. He said he still “cared” about Diana but didn’t “love” her anymore.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to predict this one: extreme pressures at work, serious problems with a child, no sex, and little communication. Of course one partner began to feel as if he were no longer in love. “If you don’t water your plants,” Diana admits in retrospect, “eventually they’re going to die; you have to nourish your relationship.”

Diana owned up to her busyness, but then called Ken back to the covenant of marriage, reminding him that, while she shouldn’t have ignored him as much as she had, the last thing their daughter needed was the additional stress of a broken home. She was willing to start moving back toward him if he would move back toward her.

Her courage, grace, and winsomeness won Ken over. But Diana knew they had to make some changes to stay together. One of the things they had allowed to go wrong was a slow drift when it came to entertainment. For years, Diana went off to watch romantic comedies, while Ken watched NASCAR races.  Ken thought the romantic comedies were too predictable; Diana never understood the excitement of watching cars drive in circles and occasionally stop for gas. Though they didn’t mind having separate hobbies, over time they began feeling lonely.  When Ken found another woman online who was as enthusiastic a NASCAR fan as he was, an emotional affair erupted.

Ken and Diana’s story typifies what happens to so many couples: they never plan to grow apart, but they stop making plans to keep growing together.  At first the drift is slow, almost imperceptible; but given enough time, the slide can become a fatal relational avalanche.

Life with Lisa

Our kids have often remarked that Lisa and I don’t seem all that “compatible.” We don’t like the same foods. We have different definitions of “vacation.” But what outweighs these differences by a ton is the fact that we are as committed as a couple can be to seeking first the kingdom of God. We share articles on various issues, pass around books, talk about sermons and podcasts.

When it comes to entertainment, we’ve settled on walks and bike riding, usually (on vacation) fit around my running. And we’ve developed over the years into finding television series we can watch together. We may watch more television individually than as a couple since Lisa doesn’t do sports and I have a definite limit about how much HGTV (approximately 30 minutes) I can consume without losing my mind, but we make sure that several nights a week we’re watching something together.

Don’t focus on where you don’t match up very well. Find areas where you can and build on those.

A Different Marriage to the Same Person

Instead of signing divorce papers, Ken and Diana took a twentieth anniversary trip to Vancouver and Victoria British Columbia to see the sights and the whales. They toured Butchart Gardens, had high tea with “the best strawberry preserves,” drove up the coast and saw the tide pools, and renewed their love.

They realized that they still loved each other; they just suffered a relationship that had been starved. They learned the secret that just because you’re dissatisfied with a disconnected marriage doesn’t mean you won’t be satisfied with a marriage to the same person when you’re in a connected marriage.

Diana, despite herself, became a NASCAR fan, with her own favorite driver. And Ken agreed to join Diana for some weekend movies, even making the popcorn. They found out that marriage is much better when you enjoy each other’s “fun.”

If you truly love and cherish your spouse, you can enjoy the pleasure they get out of something in a way that gives you pleasure. I’m not a big fan of the sand, but Lisa is so happy walking on the beach that it makes me happy to walk beside her.

Before you change your spouse, try changing your marriage. Ask yourself if your daily schedule and focus is regularly bringing the two of you together or whether you’re allowing life to pull you apart. If you can’t remember the last time you laughed together or made love together, you’re already in the midst of serious drift. Lonely people in lonely marriages make bad decisions they often wouldn’t make otherwise.

Either we make plans to grow together, or we will “accidentally” grow apart.


This blog post is based on Gary’s book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband. 



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19 responses to Relational Drift

  1. Great short article of relational change in marriage! Its important for all to understand this,while men may not purchase books on relations, men appear to use the internet often. Therefore more blogs would definitely provide a perspective to them. I have many friends that ask the same question, why do men seem to focus on the short time when their wife is not as close as they would like. Not all but some assume its the start of their wife not caring for them and it will always be that way? Could you provide some insight, perhaps how women communicate that its only a short phase, perhaps a way husband could ask about the phase before going to find another. I have experienced due to similar circumstances in your. With more cultural acceptance of married women/men having affairs at work, the topic of your article is more common problem then it should be. Appreciate your work to mend families!

  2. Great thoughts to ponder! Thank you.

  3. Dear Gary,

    I agree to everything you are warning about drifting apart. Really remarkable is Diana confessing her own failure without excuses or justifying herself. But I missed Ken’s on this issue a lot too. I had the same thoughts as Patricia, Serena and Laura while reading the blog on drifting apart and the comments written below.

    That men almost read nothing about ‘How to love HER well’ I experience in my own marriage being married since over 20 years now. So I have to agree to your publisher that there is not much use to a book like that. But, Laura – you definitely are right that it is a need! I experience both nearly every day!

    I tried to follow every biblical advice that was given to a woman. Sure enough I wasn’t perfect, but I tried hard to fulfill my mission as a Christian wife with the help of God – I really needed Him to stand these years. But it is tiring, exhausting, frustrating when you feel like you are nearly the only one in your marriage trying. I also tried a lot to motivate my husband to look for things to share with each other, but he hardly listened or took it seriously, rarely considered it necessary. His priorities were others than mine and I definitely wasn’t somewhere on the top of his priority list (I seem to share the same place as God though on his list. Sorry about sarcasm but It just makes me sad.) I tried to honor him as it is said in the bible and give him the respect he deserved and to cherish him. For sure I could have done better than I did. But he didn’t even try and I was attacked because of every tiny mistake I did and he intimidated me to make me compliant. I went through depressions and burn out and I’m completely fed up. I can’t even imagine anymore it would change my feelings for my husband even if he would start changing more than he did already since he recognized that I think about divorce seriously. Maybe I would feel committed and would feel guilty because of missing positive feelings for him – I don’t even dare to speak about something called love or intimacy.

    I don’t want to give the impression that women are saints, but I notice lots of women going through more or less the same – them trying to keep up their marriage or searching for advice what they could do better and men looking out for everything else they are in but not their relationship. As if they were blind to the feelings and needs of that human being at their side or even bothered because of them. But complaining on the other hand when they are the ones missing something.

    I have to agree to Laura: It can not be the only solution to this problem to encourage and remind women to their responsibility and to do something most of them already are trying over a long time, often enough over their strength. It feels like a marathon runner getting the advice to train for a half marathon after he just achieved the Iron Man.

    What I am asking myself and I want to ask you, Gary: when is it enough trying? Does the bible say something about that too? (And I want to ask in the name of those men too, who try to keep up their marriage, are totally exhausted, sick and tired and their spouse hardly cares about it. I assume though that they are a minority if you compare the sexes.) Am I really to bear the consequences out of the behavior of my husband until death separates us?

  4. Thank you Gary for another great post and for reminding us about prioritising marriage. It’s so easy to take it for granted! With so many of my friend’s marriages on the rocks and having gone that painful road ourselves too, there is never enough talk about that. Recreational company is one of the top needs of men and meaningful conversation is that of women, both leading to a deeper feeling of intimacy. Yet these get lost among other “more important” things to do in every day life. It’s much better to put the work in before the crisis than after.
    Thanks for your commitment to improving marriages.

  5. Gary, thank you for this wonderful reminder of putting your marriage first. It is an amazing thing how God works. I have recently noticed that when he puts a blog post on my heart, it is everywhere. That exact topic will be on Instagram or any other blogs that I read. Interestingly, my next blog post is about keeping your marriage at the forefront and why that is important. We serve an amazing God! Thank you and God Bless!

    PS I loved your book Everybody Matters. It changed and reiterated the way I thought about things. Thank you for that!

  6. I am genuinely disappointed at the tone and the conclusions of this blog. You describe the Mom , addressing the needs of a child in crisis, without mention of the role that this Father had or didn’t have in that job. The workload, undoubtedly exacerbated by having to address the parenting priority is further criticized as resulting in “ignoring” the needs of her spouse. Even the description of “calling her husband back to the covenant of marriage” speaks of her ignoring him and their daughter needing stability. No marriage “drifts” because of one party, and planning adultery because you don’t like romantic movies, and your wife is desperately trying to keep a child well and safe, requires more unpacking. It comes dangerously close to, “because you weren’t meeting my needs, I was “forced” or “legitimized” to look elsewhere. Your books have stood for the proposition , that it is the sacrifice of our own needs that renders marriage holy. We do need to invest in and prioritize our marriages…. but the Husband in this story has to own his role, and going elsewhere is never justified.

    • Patricia, thanks for your thoughts, but I think you’re missing the main point of this short blog post: the danger of relational drift. If you read the entire chapter rather than just this excerpt, you’ll see that Ken did own up to his own failings, and that Diane didn’t excuse him for considering an affair because things had slowed down in the bedroom. With great humor, she had him laughing at himself for how stupidly he was acting. For the purposes of this post, however, I wanted to capture the beauty of how Diane owned up to her poor priorities–she confesses what she had done wrong, without excusing her husband. Our spouse’s sin never excuses our own.. I hope anyone reading this blog would know by now that I would never excuse a husband for considering an affair because his “needs” weren’t being met. I chose a portion of a marital story, and a wife’s own response-taking, to make the point that it is dangerous to allow any marriage to drift, including with entertainment. That’s it. I’m not excusing the husband. Diane didn’t excuse him, either. Accepting her own failings, however, did help enormously when it came to putting the marriage back together.

      • Gary thanks for your prompt reply. Full disclosure, as a Christ follower who is also a family law attorney, I am regrettably confronted with the results of “drift” , including among christians. My well worn, filled with notes , copy of your books sit on my desk.

  7. I enjoyed this article Gary. Life can get so busy sometimes…but I will start practicing doing things together at least on weekends with my husband, cause I don’t want to see our marriage reach to that state. So far we are doing ok.

  8. What a great post!

    Just the other day, my husband pointed out that we don’t have a lot in common, and I had to agree with him. But, we can’t let that hinder our intimacy.

    We already do what you do with picking a show then enjoying it together. But this post has motivated me to continue looking for things we can enjoy together so we don’t find ourselves drifting apart!

  9. This is excellent Gary! I love that you share from your own marriage how your differences are greater than your common interests, but you both have a passion to glorify God. This makes leaning in possible in the strength and motivation that He provides.
    I’m reading this book now and gleaning much wisdom. Thank you!

  10. What if you truly don’t love your spouse? If we are followers of Jesus, we are still committed to remain with him/her unless infidelity has occurred (Mathew 5:31-32, 19:9). Love can take many forms. Although I am committed to my husband’s well being, I don’t particularly enjoy his personality. Yet i do choose to remain and make ours the best marriage it can be!

    • Serena, I think I get what you’re saying but I wish you wouldn’t use that phrase, “what if you don’t truly love your spouse.” I’m guessing many readers wanted to jump in with “love isn’t a feeling.” You can support your spouse, which it sounds like you’re doing. But I also believe you can learn to cherish your spouse. I truly believe that (absent abuse, of course). “Cherish” doesn’t mean your eyes are blinded to certain things that aren’t pleasing; it’s a policy of building on the things you can respect and adore. The perfect God who cherishes the imperfect us can teach us and empower us to cherish our imperfect spouse.

  11. I’m curious…do you have a book for a husband about loving a wife well?

    • Cathy, that may be the most frequent question I get. Every time a new book contract comes up I suggest it to my publisher. The honest answer is that men don’t buy many books. The few “men’s books” that have broken out aren’t necessarily focused on loving your wife, either–they’re about being the man God created you to be. I find that to be very sad, but I also recognize my publisher has some fiduciary responsibilities. Having said all that, I think any man who goes through Cherish or A Lifelong Love would pick up much of what I’d say in a book targeted only to men.

      • It saddens me that as authors we are expected to write only what will sell and not what people need. Your books are great – we’ve been through 2 of them, one of which was Cherish and found helpful perspectives, and I understand that publishing is a business (I’m an author too). I also get that men may not read as much about marriage as women do. But when men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church and marriage is an example to the world of God’s love for us – the bride of Christ – maybe we should consider a way to give men what they need in their role too, not just write and publish to the crowd of desperate women who are trying to hold marriages together by being the one to change and be responsible for their families. I appreciate the strong stance you take with men about their roles (especially standing against abuse) especially when that isn’t common, while still encouraging and holding wives to their responsibility too. I think that is why this comment disappoints me.

        • Laura,

          Perhaps what I need to do is write the book “outside of contract.” I’m at a point where publishers offer a certain advance expecting a certain return. When I fulfill the contract, I could always just offer the book as a one-off. So you are well within your rights for challenging me on perhaps being too market driven myself. But what did you think about my comment that Cherish and A Lifelong Love would cover most of what I’d say to men? I wrote “Loving Him Well” before either of those books came out.