Dr. Donald Harvey’s concept of “commitment drift” in marriage is much like the physical aspect of exercise. If we don’t exercise, muscles will atrophy. However, when we do exercise they grow stronger. When couples fail to put positive energy into their marriage, it grows weak as well. According to Harvey, “drifting of marital commitment is a gradual, subtle, often unintentional, sometimes intentional severing of the emotional ties between a husband and wife”(“When Commitment Drifts”, Christian Counseling Today 1996). This is the kind of marriage that looks good to others on the outside and also usually functions fairly well internally. The problem comes when a crisis occurs in this type of marriage. Instead of a commitment to work through the crisis, the couple reacts with hostility toward one another. One way to help mentee couples who have allowed their emotional bonds to drift apart is to help them understand some of the ways they have drifted. Here are a few ways couples drift apart:
Becoming overwhelmed with life’s demands: When life becomes demanding, the home becomes the place one or both spouses come to just collapse. They don’t feel like being active or intentional at home and they don’t feel like being nice. Maybe you can relate to hearing this phrase from your spouse. “Everyone else gets to enjoy the “good” you; the fun and animated you, and we get what’s left over”. Ouch! So often it’s true.
The drive to succeed: Being driven to succeed outside the home can lead a spouse to spend all their time, resources and energy anywhere but home.
One partner decides to keep their distance emotionally: More intentional drift occurs when one or both spouses decide to distance themselves emotionally from the marriage. This may be to protect their feelings or to exact revenge for a perceived injustice.
Investing in outside interests as a way of avoiding home: Some spouses may intentionally spend more time at work or out with friends just to avoid coming home.
Asking your couple to prayerfully look at how they may be intentionally or unintentionally contributing to their own commitment drift can help pave the way for them to become intentional about investing more energy into their marriage. So many of the issues couples face in marriage result from the subtle drift we allow to creep in. Sharing the day’s events with a good friend instead of our spouse can possible prevent us from doing the same with them, because we have already had that need met from someone else. While sharing with friends is not a bad thing, it can become a problem over time because this type of sharing is needed to promote intimacy in the marriage relationship. Help your mentees become aware of possible commitment drifts and then hold them accountable to take positive steps to combat it in their relationship.
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