Growing Apart: Fighting the Marital Drift
The natural tendency marriages have to drift towards isolation and what you can do to get out of autopilot. Check in with Jesus and check in with one another. Start having intentional conversations- where you are vulnerable and tell your partner what you need from them. Invite in mentors, counselors and others for help.
About the Guest
Growing apart in your marriage can feel alienating, frightening. FamilyLife President David Robbins & his wife Meg offer proactive ideas to stay close.
Growing Apart: Fighting the Marital Drift
Dave: It’s not every day that you get to be in the presence of somebody like the president.
Ann: I know; this is an exciting day.
Dave: This is an exciting day; we’ve got the president in the studio. [Laughter] No, it is not Joe Biden. It is David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife Today, and Meg Robbins. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
David: It is good to be here, guys.
Ann: Should we call you “Mr. President”? [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, Mr. President.
David: Let’s don’t—and neither First Lady either—it’s not what we go by. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Ann: This is an exciting day.
Dave: This is an exciting day; we’ve got the president.
Ann: I wish you guys could all sit down with David and Meg, because they’re amazing people. You would like them, right off the bat, and you would relate to them. They’ve got four kids; they’re in the midst of raising these kids. They’ve got a high schooler all the way down to a kindergartener.
Meg: This is true; we just started kindergarten.
David: They are all in school; here we go.
Ann: Yes; they are all in school.
We recently heard you guys give a talk that I thought was pretty riveting. One of the reasons you caught my attention at the very beginning was because you were talking about the drift toward isolation that can so easily happen to every single marriage. Would you agree that is true?
Meg: Most definitely.
David: No marriage is static/no family is static, because the circumstances around us and the currents of life are not static.
Ann: Especially, when you are in the stage of life where you have kids, life is demanding.
You are the president of a large organization; we’ve been in the midst of this pandemic, which creates a lot of stress. Kind of take us to what you’ve learned and how that isolation is something that we all need to figure out how to deal with that.
Meg: That’s a great question—because if we’re honest, it doesn’t have to be in the middle of a pandemic; life on a regular day—you know, life is going to push us away from each other. The drift is not going to just naturally create intimacy between the two of us in our marriage. The reality of life is that it is hard, and hard things happen; it’s busy. If you have kids, or you’re an empty nester, or whatever stage, I think the natural tendency is for us to drift apart.
David: And that goes with our relationship with the Lord—drifting apart—our relationship in a marriage, with your kids, with those that you want to have a heart for mission and invest in and trust the Lord to work in their lives.
The reality is there’s selfishness that we have in our own life that will drift me apart from Meg, because of my own selfishness I have going on. There’s the world and the forces and cultural currents that happen in our lives, and then there’s also the enemy. Meg is not my enemy. We have an enemy at work seeking to draw us apart from the relationships that matter most, and we have to pursue one another.
Meg: We were actually at the beach this summer with my family. One of the last days, it was one of those days where the water was kind of rough—although, I feel that there’s always a current in the ocean—but it was extra rough this day. Our kids love to boogie board. They’ll get out there—and they’re riding wave after wave after wave—and before they know it, they’re way down the beach. The water has taken them down; and we’re running down there, yelling out in the ocean, “You’ve got to get back over here, where umbrellas are!”
But they can’t just walk back over in the water; they really can’t get back over. So we’re motioning and yelling at them, “Come on in and get on the sand. Walk back over here, where we are; and then you can go back in again.” But on your own, you’re drifting way too far; you’ve got to get out, and you’ve got to get on dry sand.
Ann: And we’ve all done that—we’ve all been in the water—and you don’t realize, like, “Well, how did I get over here?”
Meg: Exactly; they’re like, “Oh my goodness!”
Dave: Guys, I’ve never been able to do a boogie board.
David: Wait; why is that, Dave? Now, this is riveting.
Meg: Okay; now, you have to come to the beach with us sometime.
Dave: I mean, I’ve gotten on them; I just can’t control it. I just—
David: You may be one of the most coordinated people I know.
Dave: —not on boogie board. Ask my wife; I’m bad.
Ann: Just a little problem with balance; everything else is on point.
Dave: I’m not a gymnast; I can’t stay on a balance beam.
David: Keeping you humble over there; that’s good.
Meg: Good to know.
Ann: There’s one thing of all the things.
Dave: —whatever. [Laughter]
All I know is I have drifted—whether you are on a boogie board or not—you drift. As you said—life, if you don’t stop the drift—and we talk about this at the Weekend to Remember® on Friday night that: “Every marriage is headed toward oneness or isolation. You don’t head toward oneness unless you work toward oneness.” That’s what you’re saying; right?
Meg: Right! We have experienced that. We literally, in our marriage, we have had to get out of the water and walk on sand back toward each other; because—
David: You mentioned Weekend to Remember. I just want to say it bluntly—that’s what we love about them—and that’s what we see, time and time again, is that you get out on the sand for three days; it’s a rhythm break. There’s something that happens that second night. There’s’ something about being in a room with other couples, at all different places in their marriage, but you’re being guided with timeless truth to move toward one another and work as a team. It’s why we love Weekends to Remember so much.
I do just want to say that right now is our half-price sale; it happens two times a year. Now is the time—if you want to take advantage of getting on the sand, marking it out and planning for it—now is a great time to take advantage of it.
Dave: So go to FamilyLifeToday.com—somebody’s saying, “How do I sign up?”—or you can call us: 1-800-FL-TODAY, and sign up for a Weekend to Remember near you. Go to the beach, basically. [Laughter]
David: That’s right; that’s right.
Dave: “Go stand on the sand.”
David: Some are on the literal beach, but you’ll be on the sand no matter what.
Dave: Talk about/you know, you shared at the staff conference this drift that took place, even in your life and family and marriage in this last year.
Meg: I think, ultimately, it’s not a matter of “if”; but “What are we going to do when the drift happens?”
I think, for us, we realized that some significant things were happening that were hard in our life/in our marriage and just the total current of life. What was happening is it kind of created this little wedge between us, and every new thing that happened seemed like a hammer. It really felt like the enemy was just hammering that wedge in, and everything that happened seemed to push us just a little bit further apart.
David: Yes, and the first one: you know, the pandemic starts. We have a kid with a lung disease; so an at-risk kid, especially in those initial months and unknowns. Those first scares of the pandemic, with an at-risk kid, was really consuming.
Ann: Did you feel that, Meg?
Meg: I really did. I mean, I—Ford has been really healthy—he just turned 15, and he has been really healthy most of his life. God has provided some amazing medicine, along the way that has been even new, that has been significant for him. But we knew: “This is so unknown,” and “This is uncharted territory for us, personally, to feel so at risk with his lungs being compromised.” I think we felt that in the beginning. We were extra cautious and wanted to keep him safe, but knowing that we can’t control all things.
I think another one was just unexpectedly homeschooling in the very beginning of the lock down; and suddenly, our kids were home all the time—and trying to manage the teacher’s expectation—and trying to be a good homeschool mom, which I wasn’t doing very well at all.
David: And then unexpectedly working from home, and leading a ministry through an unprecedented time, and doing so from a bonus room on a couch that we bought on Facebook® Market Place; you know? [Laughter] Like: “Okay, this is it; this is my life from nine to five.”
Ann: I thought it was significant when you were doing this talk; because each time you talked about this wedge,—
Dave: You should do this right here in the studio.
David: In the studio, I’ll pick up my microphone here.
Ann: —yes, you took a step apart—so another thing happened, and you took a step apart. It’s a great visual to think that, as we go through hardships or just the daily grind of life, that drift takes us a step apart from one another.
What else happened?
Meg: Well, in the middle of the pandemic—before it started, actually—we were moving the FamilyLife headquarters from Little Rock to Orlando to join the rest of Cru; so in the middle of the pandemic, we moved our family. Just navigating moving our kids to a new school, and helping them make new friends—and all the things that came with that—that was another step apart, driving in the wedge.
David: Then finding a home, and having the values—and being on the same page in this market, where—“Wait, we can’t afford as much as we thought we could afford,” and trusting God for that magic home.
Meg: And then my parents came to visit for ten days, which actually turned into two months because my dad got COVID while they were here.
David: Yes; and my in-laws came to visit, and ten days turned into two months. [Laughter]
Meg: You love my parents!
David: I do love your parents.
Ann: What did you do with Ford in that circumstance?
Meg: You know, what the crazy thing is—he was away on a school trip—the Lord really put a bubble around him several times this year, and this was one of them. He was away on a school trip. He came home, and for two more weeks, he bounced around to all of his friends’ houses, spending the night. Sweet friends came alongside and just said, “He’s welcome to stay here as long as he needs to.” He did not get it, but our other three kids all got it.
The bad thing is it was just one thing after another, without us realizing it, pushing that gap a little bigger. My dad/he’s 85, and he had COVID; and that was super scary. We’re so thankful that he is okay—he made it—and I know that’s not everybody’s story.
Ann: Let me ask you, in the midst of this, you’re—as we said, you can drift apart—were you resentful or had any expectations of one another during that time? Because I know that can happen.
Dave: She’s asking because we would have. [Laughter] We’ve been there.
Meg: I think, for sure; there were times when leading FamilyLife was demanding a lot of time and energy from David. I was/I mean, you were amazing when my parents were there—and my dad was really sick—and very available. But you know, that was a lot—and my mom and I were trying to care for my dad—and yet, keep the other kids quarantined from us; because we didn’t have it.
David: The currents got so strong. I remember the day I watched my bride check in her dad into the hospital, here in Orlando, not his hometown. And her coming home, wondering, “Is them coming to visit us, and watch some kids’ sports, the thing that/am I going to live with this?” and “It might take his life.”
The weight of that—certainly, you just start functioning—and you go into a little bit of survival mode. But then, when you have those moments, where you go, “Okay, now how are we really doing? We’re surviving; how are we really doing in this?” We really did have to come to terms with: “This is strongly affecting the way we’re disclosing or not disclosing things to one another.”
We were starting to make some choices of: “We’ve just go to keep it going. We don’t have time to go to the places that usually cultivate intimacy,” which is a scary decision to make/that risk in time of: “How long do you let that go?” I feel like the Lord, in His kindness to all of us; it’s like: “You don’t let that go long. The longer you let it go, the harder it gets.”
We had to kind of get up on the sand and take several days away to go, “Okay, we let it go too long.” That’s what happened to us—is that we really did/that resentment or just kind of: “We don’t have time for that,”—so the distance grows. We had to get away for multiple nights to go, “Let’s really talk about this; let’s dig into what’s keeping us from moving toward one another.”
Dave: How did you know that you needed to get away? What was it that said, “Okay, it’s time. We can’t keep going; we’ve got to get away”?
David: One would be: “We’re just functioning.” I felt like “Okay, we’re spending time with the Lord, and we’re kind of spending time with each other, but it’s just a functioning, keep the plates spinning.” Sometimes, you’ve got to get away and let the plates fall for three days—God’s got them—and get reconnected to one another. We needed that. I just saw, “We’re just keeping plates spinning, and we’re not getting life outside of ourselves.”
Ann: It’s that intentional conversation of looking at one another, and saying, “Tell me how you’re really doing.” I think that we can just go through the grind of life without really touching base of saying: “Tell me how you are.”
Dave: I would add some people are probably wired like me; which is, “I don’t want to have that conversation.” I know she wants to have it, and I just sort of want to avoid it; because I know we’re not doing well. Again, I don’t know if anybody’s like that; I’m better now; right?
Ann: Yes, you’re a lot better.
Dave: But for decades of my marriage, it’s like, “No, I don’t want to.” She’d start that conversation: “Hey, let’s talk about us”; and I’d be like, “No, because I know we’re not doing good; and I know you think we’re doing worse than I think we’re doing.”
Ann: And you thought you’d be in trouble.
Dave: “Let’s pretend.” Yes, I just thought, “If we just pretend we’re great [then] we’re great.” What a stupid, naïve perspective. [Laughter] We need to talk about this, and you can’t do it in the middle of the chaos.
Ann: I think a lot of couples are in the water; and they’re thinking, “Yes, we’ve drifted; but maybe we’ll just float back”; right? [Laughter] You guys, it doesn’t happen; does it?
Meg: It doesn’t.
David: Nothing in life is going to naturally float you back together.
Dave: The drifts are too strong.
Meg: I think what’s interesting is that I’m typically like Ann, and want to talk things out, and I found myself feeling—I think that was a huge red flag for me—is that I was not wanting to open up like I normally would.
Dave: Why’s that?
Meg: I don’t know; I mean, I didn’t know at the time. I think what I realized, as we got away, and we spent some time going there and talking—and really focusing on: “What is this wedge?”—I think I had become careful/too careful. I knew that David was caring a lot, and we both had a lot on us—things with the family, things with FamilyLife, work—and I didn’t want to put one more thing on him.
I had kind of started that trend, and then it—you know, when you go for a while, and you’re not letting someone in—it’s hard to take that step over that gap. I think—
David: —trying to bust open through the door and just see what happens a little bit; you know?
David: I remember, in the same way, the times you would share—I needed to hear this strongly from you—I remember one night you go, “I feel like I’m giving you a flower of my heart, and you listen to it, and then you put it on the bedside table and don’t ever revisit it.” It was an important thing for you to share with me of: “Okay, when I even try to bring it to you, we talk about it. You’re tending to this flower when we’re having this eye-to-eye moment; but then, you put it on the bedside table for it to wither over there.”
I needed to hear it. That is one of those things that made us plan four months out—like we were looking at the calendar: “When could we ever get away?”—and “In the meantime, how do we chip away, addressing what’s here?” We didn’t do it perfectly. We needed some outside help; we sought it out from some mentors. We invited people in.
I thing that’s the thing I would encourage is: “Invite others in.” When you’re going off by yourself/when there is kind of this strong wedge—sometimes, it actually won’t help at all; and the wedge could grow stronger—invite some mentors in, or counselors, or go to a getaway. Get some outside input in that space.
Ann: Talk to the couple—that the one spouse is saying, “Yes, yes; we’ve drifted. I want this, but my spouse doesn’t see it. They think that we’re fine,”—how would you encourage them? What would you say?
Meg: The first thing that comes to my mind is: “Pray a lot. Pray that God would soften your spouse’s heart.”
I think the other thing is just to be willing to be honest and try to have that conversation, just like, “Would you be willing to do this? Because this is something I feel like I need,” rather than saying, “Hey, I feel like you’re distant from me; you need this.”
Because I think that’s probably how a lot of our conversations started is just being honest and saying, “Okay, we can’t wait until we can get away. What does this look like between now and then? Let’s have some conversations.”
I think that there are a lot of people that probably feel that way, Ann. I think that’s a great question.
David: And you just/I think the key would be: “Own what you can own.” I think, so often, we look at the other person and go, “We need to do this; because you blank, blank, blank.”
David: Meg said it—it’s worth reiterating of: “What do you need?”—if you can express this is what you need and not saying, “I’m bringing you so you can hear it.” At Weekends to Remember, that’s what we say every Friday night, like, “When something’s shared from onstage or in the workbook, that you think is great for someone else, don’t nudge the elbow. It’s for you, and you focus on you. And see what God wants you do to draw you together.”
I think that’s where you start also; it’s a hard place: “So pray/intercede; but then, also go, “I need this; would you join me?”
Dave: When you got away, what happened?
David: I would say God met us significantly, and we needed Him to. He’s so faithful. I think, whether it’s—Meg’s already referred to: “Let’s be less careful,”—I think that was a big takeaway for us: “Let’s be a little less careful.”
Meg: Because if we’re honest, I was being too careful; I was trying to make the decision whether David could handle where I was emotionally or what I was needing.
Dave: “He’s got enough on his mind”; yes.
Meg: Right; thinking—
David: You were holding it all in.
Meg: —“He’s got too much on him,” so I was trying to deal with it myself and with the Lord. Certainly, God was meeting me in those places; but I realized: “We’re missing a lot; because he doesn’t know necessarily how I am, or what I’m dealing with, or how sad or scared I really was when my dad was in the hospital.”
David: I also feel like God met us. Each one of us kind of have these moments of: “Here’s who we are when we are depending upon Jesus, and living out how He’s wired us, day to day. Wow, we’re not there: individually, we’re not there; and together.”
He kind of just lifted our eyes to go: “Almost draw a picture of what you currently are, day to day.” And I drew this picture of this guy, carrying the world on [his] back. I’m like, “I’m not thinking that every day; I’m not feeling like that’s what I’m living out; but instead, I’m a joyful person. I love bringing life.” That’s not what the visual of what my, day to day, was.
To be able to call out in one another: “This is who you are. This is who God’s made you to be. This is who you are in Jesus and when you’re depending upon Him”; and “Whoa; that’s not what we’re living out day to day.” You can’t manufacture it back; but you can lift your eyes to what attracted you initially/what God is shaping in each one of our lives. It gave us that moment of: “Let’s trust the Lord, together, to call each other up and back to who we really are when we’re experiencing life in Jesus.”
Dave: As I listen to you, I think it’s really important to make this point: I think a lot of couples do what you did during that isolation and they never come back. They end up: that becomes their life—she pours herself into the kids, or her friends, or whatever; he does…—because you don’t check in three months, six months, ever—you get to a place, where, “This is just our life”; you survive. You feel like, “This is our marriage; it’s okay.”
Ann: You feel like you’re on different beaches—
Ann: —after a while.
Dave: And when the kids leave, you often see that couple [say], “We don’t have anything.” They never—I mean, what you’re modeling—I’m saying to a couple, listening, “You’ve got to mark it on your calendar.” Even when you said, “Four months from now,” I’m thinking, “You put it four months out? That’s ridiculous.” But you had to, because that’s the world you were living in; and you did it, even four months.
A couple could be listening, saying, “We can’t do this for six months.” Okay, then get it on the calendar and do it: if it’s Weekend to Remember or going to a hotel and just getting away and having this conversation. You’re going to drift to a place you never wanted to get to unless you intentionally say, “This stops now.” Maybe you can get together next weekend—I don’t know—but you can do it. It’s changed our marriage.
Ann: Yes; I’m thinking, even a weekly check-in, of just saying, “How are you this week?” I think that’s really important. We have survived some really tough times because, first, we’re checking in with Jesus—like, “Lord, I’m speaking the truth: here’s where I am, Lord”; but He’s always there. But then checking in with one another. Those are the things that bring oneness and intimacy.
Dave: It’s one of those conversations I don’t want to have; it’s the most important conversation I have to have. And here we are today, because of it.
Bob: For so many of us, marriage maintenance is one of those things that gets moved to the back burner regularly. It’s one of those important but not urgent things. As a result, we just kind of keep putting if off, whether it’s the weekly check-in that Dave and Ann were just talking about or whether it’s something big, like a weekend getaway/going to one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
I’ve talked to so many couples through the years, who have said, “Oh, yes; we’ve talked about going to those; we’ve just never done it.” That’s because, as I said, it’s easy to put that on the back burner and go, “Well, it’s not critical.” The problem is, by the time it becomes critical, there are bigger issues at work. Taking care of your marriage is one of those things that needs to be a priority. One of the ways you make it a priority is by deciding now that you’re going to take a weekend this spring and go to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
We’ve got about three or four dozen of these events happening in cities across the country this spring. If you sign up today, or anytime over the next two weeks, you and your spouse can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. This is our early bird special that we make to FamilyLife Today listeners. You be intentional about planning a weekend away, and you can save 50 percent off the registration fee.
By the way, the Weekend to Remember comes with a complete money-back guarantee. If you do not feel like the weekend met your expectations, you can call when it’s over and ask for your money back; and we’ll give it back to you with no questions asked. You really can’t lose. The only way you can lose is by not taking good care of your marriage.
Find out more about the Weekend to Remember; go to our website—FamilyLifeToday.com—there’s a link there that will give you all of the information about when and where getaways are being held in cities all across the country. You can register online, or you can register by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; look for the information about the Weekend to Remember getaway, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.” Just be intentional: plan; get away together as a couple; and invest in your most important human relationship, your relationship with one another in your marriage.
We hope you have a great weekend; hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about what you do when it feels like all of the love, the passion, the joy of a relationship has faded; and you’re just kind of roommates; and it’s blah, and you’re not really happy. What do you do to bring new life and new joy to a relationship that has gone flat? Kevin and Marcia Myers join us to talk about that Monday. I hope you can be with us for that as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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