“We just drifted apart.” We will never know how many times this statement has woven itself into stories of marital crisis and divorce. We all know that having a great marriage is hard work and that a perfect marriage is impossible. So how do imperfect marriages stay great? One key is that they catch their drift.
What is Drift?
Drift occurs in life whenever we deviate from our intended course. My worst experience with drift came in middle school, when a pleasant, two-hour, hike in the woods devolved into a six-hour nightmare in the rain. Our leader had not taken to account the sixteen degrees of difference between his compass and map. Sixteen degrees of drift on a hike is not a big deal if you catch it right away. At that point it is easy to realign and get back on course. However, after many miles of drifting off course, we were miserable, lost, angry and in a lot of pain.
Marital drift is very similar. We can get just a bit off track in our communication, conflict or some other central facet of life together. If we catch our drift quickly and get realigned, minimal difficulty is experienced and we continue in the direction God intended. However, when marital drift persists, the distance between husband and wife widens. Damaging habits and sin patterns, left unaddressed, can develop into a marriage trapped in a painful place. There are many issues that can lead to drifting apart. Three frequent causes we will briefly examine are anger, assuming negative intent and selfishness.
Anger, quickly and properly processed, can lead to relational health. However, the Bible warns against anger that drifts into sin and resentment. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” When we catch and address anger with our spouse quickly, we are better able to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), be reconciled and move on. Doing otherwise, allows a foothold for destructive drift.
Assuming Negative Intent
Another cause of drift occurs when we assume negative intentions in our spouse and fail to give them the benefit of the doubt. When offended, negative intent is immediately read into whatever was said or done. The words and actions of our spouse are interpreted through our lenses of criticism, judgment and defensiveness, and we respond accordingly. As this pattern snowballs, so do problems in the relationship. Catching and correcting this cause of marital drift means clarifying our spouse’s intent rather than deciding it for them. It means surrendering to the scripture’s call to give the benefit of the doubt through a love that “…always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:7).
Selfish Need Meeting
Selfishness, so central to our sin nature (Galatians 5:20), also leads to marital drift. Every married person has been guilty, at times, of trying to meet their needs to the exclusion, or even expense, of their spouse. However, left unchecked, selfishness quickly drains a marriage of its vitality. Successful marriages catch these natural drifts into selfishness by talking openly about them, repenting and pursuing mutual need meeting. When they do, they can quickly return to God’s marital design of mutual dependence and aid (Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 9:9-12).
Stay the Course!
Great marriages drift! This is good news for all of us who aspire to marital success, while also knowing all too well our fallen natures. Whatever may cause your marriage to drift, seek the help of the Lord, and one another, to catch your drift quickly and realign and rejoin the blessed course He has set for you (Jeremiah 29:11). If more help getting realigned is needed, seek the help of a trusted Christian counselor or a group like Re|Engage, a ministry at Mission Hills where other couples come to catch their drift and seek the abundant life together that God desires for them.
✍️ Credit :: Joel MacFarland
🎨 Credit :: Matt Rhodes
Creative Associate Director