Marital Détente

While we may never actually say it out loud, inside I think we can sometimes feel like our little foibles and less-than-perfections are certainly not ideal but are really pretty understandable, given the circumstances. Marriage, however, puts you in the crosshairs of someone else’s “foibles and less-than-perfections” and they suddenly feel more like ugly sins that are not very understandable at all given your circumstances. Nothing can teach you about the ugliness of “foibles and less-than-perfections” like being irrevocably bound to a person who exhibits them. Then, the Holy Spirit (like a ghost of Nathan) will haunt your marriage whispering, “You are the man! You are the man!” And, like David, you can wind up broken and contrite, humbled and at peace.

We often quote Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. I think we like that verse when we think about the outcome—sharpness! We all want to be strong and sharp!   I wonder, though, if the proverb is really more about the process than the outcome. The image clearly suggests that sparks, heat and pain are plentiful as two heavy, iron-strong dull things bang against each other so hard that one’s out-of-line rough parts get violently knocked off by the an other’s out-of-line rough parts. Why are we surprised when this hurts and offends?

Do you want to be sharp? Then God tells you in Proverbs that you must submit yourself to the spiritual discipline of rubbing against other big, heavy dull, out-of-line, rough people who will scrape against you so hard that parts of you are knocked off. Without anesthesia.

I think the reason that most marriages fail is because ever since Genesis 3 we all want to be sharp but we don’t want to be sharpened. When I say most marriages fail, I’m not just referring to those that end in divorce. While those obviously fail, there is a very comparable failure that exists in many marriages that endure. I call it marital détente.

“Détente” is a French word that literally means “loosening”. It was applied to the state of loosened international relations that allowed relatively peaceful co-existence during the cold war. In marital détente, a couple stays married, but loosens their community so they don’t rub against each other. No pain, no heat, no sparks, no sharpening. The spouses silently agree to turn a blind eye to each other’s dullness and out-of-line-ness and leave the relational space for it to continue unhindered. As long as they both exist in a comparable degree of dullness, they are content to live and let live (which is, more accurately, die and let die).

What will you endure to be sharp?  Will you submit to the discipline of sharpening?

Marriage is many things–not the least of which is a spiritual discipline.


One thought on “Marital Détente

  1. This is a good article! I found when looking up the definition for “marital detente” I heard multiple times in the audio book “What Did You Expect?”. It’s a book about expectations we take with us into the marriage without focusing on God’s expectations in a marriage. Thank you for clarifying and I hope you get many more reads because more people need to read this!


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