St. Valentine's Day is coming up soon. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on love and marriage. I did not keep count, but I must have done some 2,000 marriages in my 62 years in the ministry. It is not unusual to receive letters from people you have married.
I remember quite well a note received from a young husband who wrote, "Dear Dr. Butts: Thank you for performing our marriage ceremony. It was beautiful the way you brought our happiness to a conclusion." Well, that shows what a great difference there can be between two words that sound very much alike: "conclusion" and "consummation." Sometimes, things that seem alike can be very different.
Several years ago there was a cartoon of an elderly man and his wife riding down the road in a pickup truck. In the first frame, he was on the driver's side with his arm out the window, and she was sitting up against the door on the passenger side. The second frame shows a young couple passing them. The girl is sitting so close to the young man that you can hardly tell which one is driving. In the third frame the old woman says to her husband: "Pa, I remember when we used to sit like that!" In the fourth and final frame the old man responds: I AIN'T MOVED."
We all start out like the young couple, snuggled up together, enjoying each other, really delighting in the closeness of a relationship. Unfortunately, many marriages end up with great distance between two people who thought they would be close forever.
What happens to kill off a relationship that starts with such passion and enthusiasm? Dr. Charles Petty, who spends his time lecturing on marriage and family life, says there is no single overarching cause for divorce, but that if he had to offer a one-word explanation, it would have to be the word, "DRIFT."
Two people fall in love, get married and ride off into the sunset. The problem is that they often ride off in different cars and in different directions. All of us remember when we sat close and delighted in the presence of each other. It is sad how so many married couples move from the heat of romantic love to the frigid atmosphere of rejection and contempt without ever becoming friends along the way. It happens!
When questioned, most of us males find ourselves repeating the same lame defensive excuse as the old man in the cartoon, "I ain't moved." We'd like to think that if we told our wives we loved them when we were under the influence of romantic love, and we have never taken it back, then there is no need to repeat it. Big mistake.
We do not know quite how or when it started, but the "drift" got us. Little by little, we lost the people we love because we were not intentional in checking to see where our loved one is, how they are feeling or where they are going and growing.
It only takes a very small degree of deviation to develop into a vast distance over a period of time. Suddenly one day we realize that someone we love, with whom we were once very close, and with whom we have had children has disappeared over the horizon. Drift.
Many people feel guilty because they do not have a perfect marriage. I hate to disappoint you, but there are no perfect marriages. There are no perfect partners or parents. There are no perfect children. We may foster our own myths about being perfect, but images of perfection are illusions based on poor memory, denial, or merely lying to oneself and to others.
Marriage and family life generate more than enough guilt. We certainly should not compound that guilt with a goal based on illusions of perfection. We are going to make mistakes with our children, our spouses, our in-laws, and just about everybody else in our constellation of relationships. Everyone we know and love will make mistakes too. So just drop the expectation of perfection before it gets a grip on you, and before it becomes detrimental element in your family life. If a marriage is to work you will find yourself having to forgive and be forgiven over and over again. Nothing is more detrimental to a marriage than unrealistic and romanticized expectations
Watch out for drift. Send flowers, bring candy, spend time together, and don't forget to use the "L" word often.