We’re Mark and Jill Savage. We’ve been married thirty-four years, twenty-four of them happily.
While that seems like an odd way to start a devotional, it’s honest, and probably not so far off from what you’ve experienced in your imperfect marriage. The blending of two lives into one relationship is hard work. It’s complicated. At times overwhelming. It’s also humbling, enlightening, and one of the most effective ways for us to grow up.
Most of us entered into marriage with stars in our eyes and a belief that our spouse would meet our needs, fulfill our dreams, and satisfy our expectations. We spent months preparing for our wedding and just a handful of hours—if we had some form of premarital counseling—preparing for our marriage.
In our ceremony, we uttered vows that promised we’d love each other “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” having no understanding of what that might look like in practice.
Reality set in as soon as you discovered this person you committed to puts the toilet paper on the roll backward. Not only that, but they think, process life, deal with conflict, manage money, desire sex, solve problems, handle stress, and make decisions differently than you do.
What we’ve come to understand is that a real marriage isn’t perfect. A real marriage is two people being perfected. If we’ll let Him, God uses marriage to refine us in ways we never could have imagined.
Our “for better” years have been wonderful. We’ve raised five kids and spent over 30 years in ministry. Our “for worse” years included dealing with stuffed emotions, communication challenges, anger issues, and dealing with our differences. Our darkest year, however, was the year of Mark’s midlife crisis, affair included.
The thing about our “darkest year” is that we were “working” on our marriage. We knew each other’s love languages and spoke them often. We had date nights. We did getaways on a regular basis. We were intentional about communication. In the midst of that much intentionality, infidelity became a part of our story. How in the world did that happen?
Looking back, it wasn’t the big things that made a difference. It was the little things. Things that simmered under the surface. Things unnoticed. Unattended. Untouched.
These unknowns began an unraveling that gained momentum over time. No marriage crumbles in a day. It’s a drift of one centimeter to another, one feeling or one decision that leads to another feeling or decision that’s a little off-center. If left unaddressed, those feelings will draw us away from each other instead of toward each other, creating a fade of feelings.
But what if you could see those early symptoms? What if you could identify the slow fade and do something about it before your marriage is in crisis? Or, if your marriage is already in crisis, you could identify the fades you’re in and, with God’s help, turn things around? Understanding the slow fades and knowing what to do about them can make all the difference in the world.
We’ve identified seven fades that we have experienced:
The Slow Fade of Unrealistic Expectations happens when we experience perpetual discontentment because of the unrealistic expectations we have of our spouse or of marriage in general.
The Slow Fade of Minimizing happens when we either minimize our own thoughts and feelings or minimize the thoughts and feelings of our spouse.
The Slow Fade of Not Accepting happens when we don’t accept who our spouse is and we work to change him or her.
The Slow Fade of Disagreement happens when our likes, dislikes, opinions, thoughts, and feelings clash with our spouse’s.
The Slow Fade of Defensive Responses happens when reasons trump relationship and we react with a war mentality to a non-war issue.
The Slow Fade of Naïveté happens when we knowingly place ourselves in a position of relational danger downplaying the possibility that it could lead to compromise.
The Slow Fade of Avoiding Emotion happens when we have a guarded heart that keeps us from being vulnerable with our spouse.
In talking with other couples—some who just face the daily challenges of marriage and some who have weathered crisis in their relationship as we have—we know that these are common patterns of drifting that every married couple needs to understand, guard against, and correct when identified. Ephesians 4:27 counsels us not to “give the devil a foothold.” John 10:10 tells us that the enemy comes to “steal and kill and destroy.” When we allow a fade to begin, it is fertile soil for the enemy to begin to divide what God has brought together. If the drift continues unnoticed and unattended, the divided relationship heads in a direction toward slow destruction.
No marriage is perfect, but some have the right tools. We’re going to equip you with some powerful God-tools to use when marriage gets hard. These tools stop the fades by lining our heart up with God’s heart. They keep us on track or get us back on track. More than anything, these right choices strengthen and mature us to become more like Christ each and every day.
‘and do not give the devil an opportunity. ‘ Ephesians 4:27
What about you? Do any of the slow fades resonate with you? Can you see unhealthy thoughts and attitudes underneath the surface that are pulling your hearts apart?