"We've grown apart. We have nothing in common anymore." "We can't seem to find anything to talk about," "We live in the same house, but actually, we're like strangers." Sad statements of a dying marriage, Such complaints, heard far too often by God's ministers, express a hidden heartache in many homes today. Mates either grow apart or together as years pass. Every happy marriage is the result of maximum effort — such marriages are not accidental. How can we avoid division or breakdown in our marriages and keep them in good repair? One way to avoid marital breakdown is to recognize the danger signals, Be alert to symptoms that may indicate a barrier is forming between you and your mate. Then, with an extra measure of understanding, talk it out. Get your values straight. Let each other know how truly important his or her love is to you. What are the danger signals? First. When you realize that you are retreating from your problems instead of resolving them. You will always face difficulties in living together. Any marriage will have problems, because we humans are problems. That "old sickness, self-centeredness, infects us all to one extent or the other. So, of course, conflicts arise. Misunderstanding is inevitable. Disagreements are unavoidable. Anger is always possible. A marriage — like every living thing — is in constant danger of deterioration. It must be kept in repair daily. And that's a task for both partners. A mutual involvement in resolving tensions and inevitable conflicts must be evident. Second danger signal. When you both freeze into uncomfortable and unyielding silences, broken only by a few hostile words or cynical innuendos! How can you open up communications? Learn to listen. Listening is not just "the other half of talking; it's 90 percent of good communication." It's a skill. A skill that must be learned and practiced. Daily. All the time. Actually, to listen is the queen of compliments; to ignore the chief of insults. Do you know how to listen? Or do your eyes stray, and betray your wandering interests? A good listener listens (with his eyes too). Do you let your mate's words and ideas fly by while you plan your next comment, cooking up some sage word with which to stun at the first opportunity? Do you interrupt, or even worse, second guess, trying to finish the line for your spouse when he or she stumbles for a word? Do you probe, question, interrogate, cross-examine, suggesting impatience or superiority? Or can you go beyond merely hearing words and phrases to catch the idea expressed and beyond the idea to the feeling behind it? Beyond the expressions to the true intent? That's listening. With love for your mate. Love is a warm listener! Loving is listening. Caring is hearing. Communication begins with listening and grows with genuine understanding. For husband or wife, understanding is a decisive step toward being a good mate. The crucial key is your willingness to take that step — to try to be a good mate to your partner. Third. When you let the attitudes or actions of the other irritate, alienate and fester within you, You begin letting them accumulate from day to day. You take them to bed at night, refusing to make up, and you let the sun go down upon your wrath, which God's Word forbids (Ephesians 4:26). This calls for a real change of tactics. Begin dissolving frustrations with love. Start with open honesty with each other. Talk over problems and successes. Don't rely on the other to read your feelings. Don't say, "He knows I'm angry, why doesn't he (or she) apologize?" After a few years of marriage, non verbal communication may become common, but it's powerless in problem solving, You've got to discuss problems; talk them out. Talk it over with God, Both of you, Together! Before it's too late. If all this fails? Then get help. Mutually agree to see your pastor. Let him help. Most of us quickly see a dentist when a tooth aches, a mechanic when the car breaks down, or a doctor when we break a bone. Why not get help when a marriage gets stormy? Openness is the channel of love. Love is the opening of your life to another. The trust that lays life bare to another. The Bible describes the love of man and wife like this: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the lord the church... Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it... Nevertheless let everyone of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:28, 29, 25, 33). Such love is based on a deep unity. A unity sealed and cemented. I believe that in hundreds of homes, the seeds of marital discord exist in the form of small irritations, little maladjustments, insignificant areas of disagreement that can — unless something is done about them as soon as they are recognized — grow into a tangle of weeds that can choke the marriage. I realize that many of the points I've been trying to make are simple and have been made before, but I think they're worth repeating to anyone who wants a marriage to work. • Remember to show appreciation; it's the best way to light a glow in your mate's heart. • Watch for small areas of friction and try to eliminate them before they erupt into major destructive conflagrations. • Don't expect perfection from the person you married, because you can't offer it yourself. • Try to control your own ego at least to the point of seeing both sides of any controversy or disagreement. • Study your mate and try to supply his or her basic emotional needs. • Confirm your intimacy. A good-bye kiss, a back rub or a hug no matter how rushed you are brings you close to each other and makes you both feel good. Frequent contact may be the best barometer of a good marriage. (My wife insists I hug her daily or she becomes mean and irritable, and she has me convinced, so I do it.) • Give more than you get! Forgive and forget! Forsake all others and cleave to your wife or husband alone. Are you working at your marriage? Keeping it in repair? Keeping it open to each other? And open to God? If so, your marriage can add up to only one word — happiness.