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ISOLATION: Enemy Number One of Your Marriage

By Dennis Rainey

If there’s one thing worse than a miserable, lonely single person, it’s a miserable, lonely married person. The irony is that no husband or wife marries with the intention of being isolated from their spouse.

Most people believe that marriage is the cure for loneliness, but I want to warn you: You began battling the dreaded foe of isolation as soon as you drove off on your honeymoon. Isolation has reached epidemic proportions in the most intimate of human relationships. It not only leads to divorce, but it also saps the strength from millions of marriages that still appear intact.


I believe that isolation is Satan’s chief strategy for destroying relationships, especially marriage. It is the number one enemy of your marriage. Barbara and I feel the deadly impact of isolation when we have disagreements and misunderstandings. Our busyness repeatedly invites its presence into our marriage.


Like a terminal virus, isolation invades your marriage silently, slowly, and painlessly at first. By the time you become aware of its insidious effects, it can be too late. Your marriage can be disabled by boredom and apathy, and even die from emotional malnutrition and relational neglect.


What is isolation?


The dictionary will tell you that isolation is “the condition of being alone separated, solitary, set apart,” but I like what our daughter Ashley said once when she slipped into my study to ask me what I was writing about.

“Isolation,” I explained. “Do you know what that means?”

“Oh,” our 10-year-old replied, “that’s when somebody excludes you.”


Ashley’s answer was a profound observation on human relationships. When isolation infects a marriage, a husband and a wife exclude each other. When you’re excluded, you have a feeling of distance, a lack of closeness, and little real intimacy. You can share a bed, eat at the same dinner table, watch the same TV, share the same checking account, and parent the same children—and still be alone. You may have sex, but you don’t have love. Talk, but you don’t communicate. Live together without sharing life.

Because of the alarming number of couples in good marriages who are unaware of this problem, I must state forcefully a sobering truth: Every marriage will naturally move toward a state of isolation. Unless you lovingly and energetically nurture and maintain intimacy in your marriage, you will drift apart from your spouse. It’s as inevitable as gravity, and if you aren’t purposefully trying to defeat it, isolation will win.

And that’s a tragedy, because the soul was not created to live solo. We yearn for intimacy, and marriage is where we hope we’ll find it. The tragedy is that few couples succeed in achieving it and maintain it in their lifelong journey.


A typical story


Barbara and I have seen this death of hope occur in many marriages over the years. Here’s a typical story of some friends:


This couple enjoyed dating and were married in their early twenties. After a brief honeymoon, they packed up their belongings and moved to a new city. On the two-day drive to their new home, they began to notice their differences. She felt alone and apprehensive about their new life together; he felt puzzled that their conversation had dried up so quickly. Isolation had already begun.


She took a demanding job, and he was promoted in his. Busyness and fatigue set in as they moved into the stream of everyday life. Instead of experiencing companionship, they felt alone. She felt undiscovered, unknown. He felt uncared for.


Initially, the birth of their first child seemed to bring them back together. Later, when she returned to her job, she adjusted her hours to maximize her time with the baby. Life became focused on the child and their relationship withered. Their marriage lost its vibrancy under the draining influence of isolation.

She would bring up a problem. He would quickly deny it or say, “When this phase in our lives passes, things will get better.”


Because their frequent spats became increasingly painful, each retreated and learned to feel safe that way. Both realized that life was smoother when they wore their masks, and they played the marriage game as if there wasn’t anything wrong.


Although they seldom missed church, and no one who knew them would have guessed it, isolation had firmly entrenched itself in their marriage. Had this couple not attended FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember getaway, their marriage might have continued its spiral farther into isolation and, ultimately, divorce. But at the conference they recognized they had a problem. They realized they needed to take steps toward oneness as a couple by biblically resolving conflict, listening to each other, and making God the builder of their home.


Telltale signs of isolation

As it happened with this young couple, isolation starts when husband and wife slowly drift apart in ways they may not recognize at first. Signs include the following:

·      Feeling that your spouse isn’t hearing you and doesn’t understand.

·      Feeling unappreciated.

·      Feeling unable to please or meet the expectations of your spouse.

·      Sensing that he’s detached from you.

·      Feeling that she’s going her own way.

·      Refusing to cope with reality: “That’s your problem, not mine.”

·      Keeping the peace to avoid the conflict rather than experiencing the pain of dealing with reality.

·      Attitudes of, “Who cares?” “Why try?” “Tomorrow we’ll talk about it—let’s just get some sleep.”


Couples will present a happy facade, keeping house and playing at marriage while real needs go unmet. Unmet needs indicate the presence of isolation in a marriage, and slipping into a state of isolation may seem to offer protection and self-preservation. Although silence feels like a security blanket, it is perilously deceptive.


Many marriages continue for years in a state of armed truce. Competition replaces cooperation, and ugly reality dashes the dreams of hope as conflict unravels the fabric of love and concern. Broken hearts stain pillows with bitter tears.


The choice is yours


Every day, each spouse in a marriage makes choices that result in oneness or in isolation. May I recommend three important choices you need to make?


Choice #1: Resolve to pursue oneness with each other, and repent of any isolation that already exists in your marriage. Remember, you don’t have to be married a long time to be isolated.  Don’t allow isolation to take up every day residence in your home.


Choice #2: Resolve never to go to bed angry with each other. Find a way to resolve your differences and move toward oneness. Realize that often it’s easier to hold a grudge than to forgive. Resentment and oneness cannot coexist.


Choice #3: Resolve to take time to share intimately with each other. Allow your spouse into your life. Ask questions of your spouse and listen patiently. Learn the art of healthy, transparent communication.

I can hear someone asking, “What if we’re already in deep trouble?” Swallow your pride. Get help, Divine help. Psalm 127:1 reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Cry out to God and ask Him to rescue your marriage. I would even suggest something that may feel unthinkable: Ask your spouse to pray with you for God to do a work in both of your hearts and redeem your relationship.


Second, call a friend in your church who has a solid marriage and ask them for help. Or call your pastor and ask if he knows a couple who could mentor you and your spouse. Or ask your pastor to help you find a couples Bible study that you could attend together.


Finally, attend FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage conference. There’s no finer investment you can make in getting out of your rut and making what was once a good marriage, better.


Make the right choices, and you’ll know love, warmth, acceptance, and the freedom of true intimacy and genuine oneness as husband and wife. Make the wrong choices, and you’ll know the quiet desperation of living together but never really touching each other deeply.

We were not meant to be alone in the most intimate human relationship God created. Choose today to move away from the chill of isolation and toward warmth in each other.  You’ll be glad you did.


© Copyright by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.

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