Do You Have a Bradford Pear Tree Marriage?

If your marriage survives its first few years, when do you think the next greatest threat will come? Year seven? Ten? Fifteen? Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted, tells us the second highest rate of divorce occurs not in the challenging years of early parenting, or even during the time when you’re raising teens. The second highest rate of divorce happens in the empty nest years. 

Today, as I walked my neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours, I saw a powerful illustration of why. In the ‘80s, a “new” tree came on the scene – the Bradford pear. Cultivated for its beautiful, flame-shaped branches and rapid growth, it quickly became the landscapers’ favorite. Developers lined entrances to subdivisions with long rows of them, and every yard had at least one. When they flowered in early spring, their white blooms were breathtaking. 

Unfortunately, after about 20 years, the trees began showing signs of serious structural problems. The long branches that created such a beautiful shape grew too heavy for the truck to support them. Wind, rain, or simply the weight of its leaves caused the trees to split in half, destroying the tree. 

Something similar often happens in our marriages. 

Like the Bradford Pear trees that so charmed the landscapers, our marriages start out beautiful. Their branches begin to grow and bear fruit. We mature. But in some marriages, the longer we’re together, the further we grow from each other. Before long, we begin to separate. Each year brings us futher and further from each other. By the time the empty nest years roll around, we’re so far apart we have nothing in common. A storm, a crisis, or the weight of day-to-day life takes its toll, and the marriage splits. 

If you don’t want to have a Bradford Pear marriage, here are ten steps you can take now to ensure you and your spouse grow together, not apart. 

1. Cultivate at least one shared experience without the kids. Even if it’s only once a month, do something fun you both enjoy. 

2. Attend church together. Studies still show committed Christians have a lower than average divorce rate. 

3. Put your marriage ahead of your kids. Studies also show the best thing you can do to help your children grow up happy, healthy, and well-adjusted is to stay married. 

4. Invest in your marriage. We don’t think twice about paying for summer camps, music lessons, and a myriad of other “necessities” for our children, but we balk at the cost of a weekend marriage retreat or getaway. When your child is 25, he’s not going to thank you for the archery lessons in fifth grade. He’s going to thank you for staying married when all his friends’ parents divorced. 

5. Be the first to say “I’m sorry.” No disagreement is all one person’s fault. Be the bigger person. Apologize for your part, and tell your spouse you love them. 

6. Participate in a marriage Bible study. Another way to invest in your marriage, learning from wise teachers alongside other people committed to growing their marriages will help you not be lazy in your most important human relationship. 

7. Say please and thank you. Treat your spouse with the same respect you’d treat a stranger. Don’t forget the common courtesies. 

8. Tell him what you like about him. When you were dating, you told him all the time how handsome, smart, and funny he was. Why stop now that you’re married? We all enjoy a sincere compliment every now and then. 

9. Pray together. When you and your spouse pray together, you don’t just join hands, or even hearts. When you pray, your souls touch. There’s not a stronger bond for cementing your marriage than inviting God into the center of it. 

10. Recognize what Emerson Eggerichs calls “The 80/20 Ratio.” His book, Love and Respect, explains it this way. “According to this concept, around 80 percent of the time, your marriage can be categorized as good or even great while around 20 percent of the time, you may have troubles of one kind or another. . . . If we do not accept the inevitability of some trouble as part of God’s design (that we will have moments when we feel unloved or disrespected), we may fall for the idea that a marriage should always be the perfect Hollywood romance. And then, when troubles do come, we may conclude that we are not receiving what we deserve.” 

A few months ago tropical-storm-force gusts blew through our neighborhood as Hurricane Irma roared by. Four trees went down. Three of them were Bradford Pears. 

I don’t have to share recent divorce statistics to warn you – the danger is real. So whether you’ve been married three weeks or three decades, investing in your relationship now will ensure you and your spouse grow stronger, closer, and more together as time passes. Be an oak, not a Bradford Pear.

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