This is the first of a two-part series; here is the link to part 2.
Many of the authors and bloggers I read make it a point to emphasize generosity and good-will. Two of my favorite bloggers are Paul and Lori Byerly, authors the Generous Husband and Generous Wife blogs (I read them every morning, without fail.) Another example would be Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect, who peppers his writings with statements on how most spouses are not evil jerks and witches, but truly do have good-will for their mates (a statement with which I agree, by the way).
In the second chapter of L&R, Eggerichs sets up the premise for his book (the problem of gender-based miscommunication) by telling the story of one couple’s disastrous anniversary dinner. He tells us that the couple in this parable are “good-willed”, and then proceeded to explain what this means.
What do I mean by “good-willed people”? Simply that both of these people love each other a great deal. They do not mean real harm; they do not intend real evil toward one another. They are hurt and angry, but they still care deeply for one another. That is why they spent their anniversary evening in separate rooms, miserable, wondering how this whole stupid thing could have happened. (And the reason neither will never figure it out is that each blames the other for the whole sordid affair.)
As I said, I was very impressed by the insights of L&R and by the writing ministry of the Byerlys, but as regular readers of this blog know, I am more than adept at winkling at the edges of topics, and wondering about contrary questions. And in this case, I’m wondering if there isn’t a fly in the ointment; what point do we have to reach before good-will or generosity can no longer be assumed? It seems to me that automatic assumption of generosity and good-will can be problematic.
I think that it is safe to assume that there are marriages out there in which one might find that either one or both partners no longer have good-will, but instead harbor true bad-will for the other. It might be anger, contempt, disappointment, or a whole slew of other reasons. And given that the topic of toxic marriage is a ‘thing’ (over 70 million hits on Bing), I don’t think that there can be any gainsaying that statement.
In The Arms of Sweet Indifference
Given that I don’t believe that anyone stands at the altar and says in their heart, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”, I have to assume that there is a progression from generosity and good-will to selfishness and bad-will. And I think that there is a space, a wide space, in between the two where many marriage go. Now, I don’t believe that all marriages make the whole journey to toxic, but I think it quite likely that many make it to this halfway station, becoming bogged down in what I call the Indifferent Muddle.
There was a popular song when I was a new Christian that had a catchy chorus, and like any self-respecting music lover, I will catch an earworm and start singing tunes that I can’t get out of my head. And so it was one day that I was shelving books in my library and was humming In The Arms Of Sweet Deliverance. ** I have an unfortunate propensity for wordplay that can kick in unbidden, at a moment’s notice, and so I surprised myself by singing “In the arms of sweet indifference….” Sweet Indifference???
And this mental skipping of a groove that I experienced created the perfect description of the climate of a marriage bogged down in the Indifferent Muddle. Does any of this sound familiar?
“We’re good friends.”
“We never talk about anything other than work, kids or finance.”
“Sex? Infrequent (Never?) and meh when we do.”
“He/She/We never have energy to do anything anymore.”
“We get along fine.”
“We don’t have time for each other because the kids’ activities keep us busy.”
If you can find yourself agreeing with these and/or many more tepid statements about your marriage, I’ve got a newsflash for you—you’re in the middle of a marriage muddle. There’s a saying that familiarity breeds contempt, but I’m pretty sure that before contempt is reached, familiarity breeds indifference.
To go from generous to contempt, I think you have to pass through the arms of sweet indifference.
(In part 2, I hope to present help for climbing out of the Muddle.)
** For those of you who are curious, here is a link to one version of In The Arms of Sweet Deliverance, sung by a quartet I’ve never heard of before. The song is a product of that great gospel songwriter, Mosie Lister, and is a bouncy little ditty that is a good example of his oeuvre.