Why Some Spouses Give Up

Pixabay ball-841176_640The following story is a parable meant to be used as an imaging tool. It’s not meant to give a spouse, who is ready to give up on a marriage. It is not an excuse to do so. It can however, give the abandoned spouse a better understanding as to why their spouse may have decided to leave their marriage when they did.

More importantly however, this parable is meant to be used as a “wake-up call” to those spouses who are asleep to the fact that they’ve been neglecting their family. And if they don’t come to that realization and do something to drastically reverse their neglectful behavior immediately —they may wake up one morning to find themselves alone without a family to care for and spend time with.

Read the following edited story with an open mind and heart as to what the author Andy Stanley is trying to tell those who think their family should keep understanding why they spend so much time away from them.

Pastor Stanley writes:

Use your imagination for just a moment. Imagine that your best friend walks up to you in your front yard one Saturday and asks you to do him a favor. You have some free time, and so you agree to do it. He walks over to his car, opens the trunk, and produces a thirty-pound rock.

Now here’s where you’re really going to have to use your imagination. At this point he hands you the rock and says, “I really need you to stand here with this rock until I return.” He explains why it’s important that you stand in that one spot with the rock and promises to return shortly to retrieve it. It’s a strange request, and his explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this is someone you trust, so you agree. At this point he thanks you with extreme gratitude and then gets into his car and drives away.

Time Passes

An hour goes by. And what started out as a reasonable favor is beginning to get a little hard. But after all, this is your best friend, so you resign yourself to continue on and stand there. Another hour goes by and your arms are starting to ache. Everything in you wants to sit down, but you made a promise. Then suddenly, to your relief, your friend pulls in the driveway, jumps out of the car, and runs in your direction. You’re so relieved. If you weren’t holding the rock, you’d hug him.

But your joy is quickly crushed. Instead of relieving you of your burden he says, “I told you I was coming right back. But I need to run one more quick errand. If you’ll keep holding the rock, I’ll make it up to you when I return.” Once again, you trust that what you’re told is true. If your friend needs to run one more errand before relieving you that is just the way it is. So you agree. As he turns to go you can’t help but yell out, “Please hurry.” Off your friend goes and there you stand.

More Time Passes

Another hour goes by. The sun begins to set. Your muscles are aching to be able to drop the rock. But you refuse to give in. You’re committed to holding up your part of what you promised. Besides, your friend said he’d make it up to you. You aren’t sure what that means, but it must be something good. Thirty minutes later a car pulls up in the driveway. Someone you don’t know is driving. This person walks over and informs you that your friend has been delayed. “Would you mind holding the rock for just a little while longer?” he asks.

You experience a mixture of pain and anger. You manage to mutter, “Just tell him to hurry.”

Away the person goes and there you stand. It’s dark now. The streets are empty. The neighbors are at their windows watching you stand there, wondering why you’d put up with being treated like that by a “friend.”

Another hour goes by. You begin to lose your grip. Your arms begin to fall. You tell yourself to hold on, but your body just won’t respond. Down goes the rock. And just as it hits the pavement and breaks into a hundred pieces, your friend pulls up in the driveway. He jumps out of the car, runs over with a look of panic on his face, and says, “What happened? Did it slip? Did somebody knock it out of your hands? Or did you change your mind?” And as he looks for an explanation as to why you suddenly dropped the rock, you know that it was a long time coming.


Now let me explain what happened in terms that will help us later on. Your mental willingness was overcome by your physical exhaustion. You wanted to do what you were asked to do, but after awhile you just couldn’t do it anymore. Add to that the frustration of being misled about how long you’d have to stand there. But even if the aggravation is put aside, at some point you just weren’t going to be able to keep holding on. No amount of love, dedication, commitment, or selflessness was going to be able to make up for the fact that your arms were worn out.

Now, let’s add another element to that story: You’re about to pass out from exhaustion. And finally a car pulls up in the driveway. You’re so angry and in so much pain you know you’ll have to choose your words carefully. Sure enough, it’s your friend. He walks over slowly with one hand behind his back. He forces a smile and says, “I brought you something.”

Suddenly he brings out from behind his back a bouquet of flowers. At that point you don’t just drop the rock. You find within yourself just enough strength to throw it at him! As he ducks, he exclaims, “What was that all about? I bought you flowers, didn’t I?”

Specific Explanation

Now, I probably don’t need to apply my little parable. The meaning is pretty obvious. So at the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me be painfully specific:

• When we ask our husbands and wives to carry their load as well as ours, it’s like handing them a rock.

• When we’re absent at critical junctures in family life, they’re left holding the rock.

– When we find ourselves pointing to the future to somehow make up for the past and the present, they’re holding the rock.

• When we assure our families that things are going to change and they don’t, they’re holding the rock.

Love That Trusts

The interesting thing is that they always accept it. And why not? They love us. They trust us. Besides, we always reassure them that they’ll only have to hold it for a short time.

Everybody is willing to be “understanding” when a loved one needs to neglect the family as a top priority for a reasonable period of time. And in real life, taking time away from the family because of job responsibilities is sometimes unavoidable. But when they’re left to carry a load of neglect they were never created to carry in the first place—it’s just a matter of time before things will begin to unravel.

When It Takes Too Long

There’s a point at which that mental willingness isn’t enough to hang on. With a literal rock, mental willingness is eventually overcome by physical exhaustion. With an imaginary rock, mental willingness is eventually overtaken by emotional exhaustion. And when that happens, the rocks come tumbling down.

There’s always a final straw: a comment, a phone call, a tired explanation, a no-show, a forgotten birthday, or a missed game. Some little thing that pushes those we love past their ability to hold on. And to the uniformed, unsuspecting spouse —to the husband or wife who has lived with the fantasy that everything is just fine —it seems like a huge overreaction. They think: “All I said was.” “All I did was.”

But it wasn’t the moment, nor was it the phone call. It wasn’t the fact that the big hand on the clock was on the six instead of the twelve. It was weeks, months, or possibly years of waiting for things to change. The rock finally slipped out of their calloused hands.

It All Breaks Apart

When the rock drops, you’ll do everything in your power to pick it up and piece it back together. You’ll find the time to devote to fixing the problem. But in my experience, when the rock drops, there is always some permanent damage. Most rocks can’t be put back together again.

Do you know what your family wants from you more than anything else? They want to feel accepted. In practical terms, they want to feel like they are your priority.

“But they are my priority,” you might argue. That may be true. They may be your priority in your heart, but that’s not the point. They want to feel like your priority. It’s not enough for them to be your priority. They must feel like it.

I’ll never forget discussing this point with a very busy corporate vice president. He kept assuring me of how much he loved his wife and kids. Finally I interrupted him and said, “The problem is, you love your family in your heart, but you don’t love them in your schedule. They can’t see your heart —they only know your schedule.”

Too Much Time

Keep in mind that the chief indicator to your family of where you place your loyalty is time. It’s what you put on our calendar. Where you spend your time is an indication of where your loyalties lie. In effect, you pledge your allegiance to the person or thing that receives your time.

Are there time-consuming bridges you need to burn? Are there accounts at work you need to hand off? And are there some out-of-town meetings that need to be handled on the phone? Is there an offer you need to refuse? A promotion you need to give back? Once you’ve made up your mind to make your family more of a priority, it will become all too clear what stands in the way of your being able to focus on your commitment to re-prioritize.

Needed Changes

So what is your non-negotiable? What does it look like? Does it mean leaving the office everyday at 5:30, regardless? Does it mean never missing one of your children’s performances or ball games? What does the commitment look like in your world?

Again promising to do “better” won’t get it. You’ve already done that. That terminology doesn’t even register with your family. They’ve heard that before.

This article came from the book, When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family written by Andy Stanley, published by Multnomah Publishers. As Dr John Maxwell says about this book (which we agree): “This is a life-changing book and extremely relevant to our modern way of life. Author Andy Stanley confronts us with truth and transparency. Just as he had made a commitment in his own life to balance his family time with his work, he encourages us to make similar commitments. One of the main reasons it is life changing is because a godly man who makes choices in his own life to never sacrifice his family for success has written it. If he wins the world but loses his family, what has he gained?

Every couple, every parent, and every leader needs to read this book and consider the question: Who wins when my family and work collide?” This book presents a strategic plan for resolving the tension between work and home. You’ll find ways to deal with the busyness that wreaks havoc with the relationships you consider most important.”

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Filed under: Save My Marriage Separation and Divorce

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74 responses to “Why Some Spouses Give Up

  1. I have been married for about 6 years now. I am pregnant with our first child. I left my friends and career to marry my husband. Initially we had jobs in different states. We keep moving for his job. Luckily I can work from home but I feel like I am losing so much visibility by not being in the office. It has been 6 years and he is still in settling in” phase. I earn decent money but feel like I cannot even buy a vase because he is not interested in home decoration. I know he loves me and would do anything for me, but he does not express it. He is always worried about something. He does not have a lot of confidence. He is never in the moment and is always thinking about something else.

    I feel like he is never with me. I also feel like that I have no control over finances. His family obviously expects me to work from home so I can cook and take care of our new baby. I feel so used. I expected a better pregnancy – relaxed. I’m educated with an engineering degree. I have good experience, earn well and like sports. At times I feel like my life quality just suffers because of him. He has a job where he works 14+ hours. His job does not even pay him well. Now he has started an online degree. He has no time for me. Yet, I keep moving from one state to another to support him. But I feel like he just takes me for granted and does not appreciate what I do for him.

    He is always busy thinking about him, his job, his problems and make it sound like that whatever he does, it is because of me. Once he even said that he never asked to be married and would have been happy if we were staying alone. We would not be able to pay our bills if it wasn’t for me. I feel so unappreciative and used. Now we have a baby on its way. I feel like I am a full-time maid, who brings a lot of money and has to work twice as hard and does not get the quality of life that I studied and worked for. These days we are in an apartment with one air bed and bar stool. I have no one to talk to because every time I say anything to my husband, he just turns it all around me. I also feel like that he never stands up for me in front of his family. I feel used. Just wanted vent away so writing on this blog :) …

    1. Dear Nancy, your words express the fight within your heart and mind. On one side you wrote “he loves me and would do anything for me…”. And on the other side you said for three times “I feel used.” This seems to be your predominant feeling. But feelings direct your words, your actions. How can you be able to create a conversation with a positive attitude?

      I understand that you’re facing an overwhelming tobuwhabohu in your life that makes you feel out of control. I’m with you in my heart, believe me. But it’s the small things that start shifting circumstances. Instead ask yourself what you’re IN CONTROL OF. Focus on one thing instead of everything. Set small goals that you can achieve easily. Don’t make yourself dependent of other’s recognition. Honor your achievements yourself! Also keep in mind your husband’s situation: “He does not have a lot of confidence. He has a job where he works 14+ hours. His job does not even pay him well.” How frustrated must he feel to not be able to assure his family’s living.

  2. That is such a lame story. Perhaps the person holding the rock should have COMMUNICATED with the friend the first time he came back and come to an understanding that the friend wouldn’t behave in such an inconsiderate way. The story assumes there is no chance for communication or improvement in how we treat or consider our spouse’s feelings. In my opinion the biggest sin in the parable is by the person holding the rock who did nothing but let the anger and hurt feelings build to the point of striking back and wanting to hurt the other person. And finally there is no mention of forgiveness or grace in the story. That is why it really carries no value at all.

    1. Steve, I think you’re reading too much into the parable and missing the point. Often times we voice what we feel expecting our spouses to understand. In situations like these, they rarely make any changes until it’s too late. The sad part is, they know exactly what they’ve been doing the whole time. It’s just that they figure that because you love them you won’t give up.

      I got into a heated argument with my husband last night after months of nicely telling my husband how I feel. Let him tell it, I’m the crazy one or I never said anything, but I’m not crazy. I’ve decided that I can’t have compassion for someone knowingly hurting me nor grace. Men, especially, refuse to admit that women often give months on top of years of compassion and grace before they lose all hope. I hope that if the world comes to an end and God decides to start again that he make women more like men, maybe then relationships will actually last. This whole women and men balance each other out thing is false. It isn’t working. Never have, never will.

    2. A parable isn’t meant to be taken so literally but a story to reveal deeper meaning. As someone who is “done” and held the rock, I can tell you I did speak up. However, it’s often easy to recognize “faithful rock holders” and use them up until they are DONE. 22 years of marriage and 14 years of on and off again counseling… stick a a fork in it, I’m done. I thought this story was a great way to illustrate how you can push kind, supportive and Christian spouses past their breaking point.

  3. I was asked to leave, and separated from my loving wife just over three months ago. I have come face to face with the demons, that led to my less than acceptable behavior, which caused our break up. All the same she is not letting me see her, and she does not want to talk. Any suggestions on how I might get her to see me, so that she can experience the changes that I have made?

    P.S. Ignore the name of my email address, it was done that way as it is for my personal material, not work related, hence; the fun part. ;)

  4. I have been married for a long time. I am a community volunteer and out of that and volunteering for years I receive awards for all the work. My husband never wanted to help grumbling around not to help. But when it comes to my awards he gets in front of me and tries to receive them, pushing me back. Once we got hit by a car and because his license was expired he crawled over me falling out of the door and said you tell them you were driving. This one act pretty much painted a picture of how to me I was not valued. I am thinking about divorce now. My kids are all grown up now also. Help! What do I do?

  5. Look, we have tried everything from going to church, me praying for my wife daily – everything, counselors. I am very tried of this relationship; we have three girls and I am concerned about their mental well being if a separation or divorce occurs. We are both miserable. At the moment we have been Married 16 years and moved alot because of the military. I am tired of arguing over the same things all of the time – children finances, intimacy. We could both say we are not each other’s priority. She would blame my work or something else I am doing. I can point to her being on the phone or just watching t.v. (mindless). We share the household duties; but she does not work being a homemaker.

    Look, I have talked to the pastor, I have romantic dinners or quiet time arranged. We lost a child to cancer about 6 years ago and that has greatly affected the family dynamic. I read these countless websites about families and divorce and praying to God blah, blah. We are currently seeing a military counselor, we have several spiritual counselors. Currently it is 1238 a.m EST and she has already gone to bed without saying good night. I always say good night by leaving kiss or something but she gets to do the same thing and I will be screamed at not returning the favor. I actually think she is becoming more selfish as she gets older.

    I hate the blame, blame me for this or that or that. I could do the same thing to her but does not get anywhere I am completely fed up at this point. But it seems like we go through this same drill every six months or less with no future resolution in sight. We have been sexless at least 12 months. She says there is no intimacy. How can you be intimate with someone who tries to belittle you in front of your children or become disrespectful. What about all the hateful things she has said to me over the years and expect me to like yes, I respect you also. The only time my wife is respectful is during a counseling session, otherwise we will get into some argument or fight. The situation is walking on eggshells each time, when is the next time she is going to snap. I can’t really be in the same room without being uncomfortable and just enjoying her company.

    I know forgiveness is powerful thing but this has been happening more frequent since our daughter’s death. I could go on and on but you see my point. She is also very ungrateful for what I have helped her with going to school and actually doing her work so she could graduate. What did I receive a thank you that is it. That is not speaking my love language or trying to meet my emotional needs. She is very caring and loving with everyone else. I have my doubt about her faithfulness since twice she went to Missouri by herself but I can’t know for sure. I check her phone for texts or other indications she is having an affair but I can see nothing. Anyway, I just ranted and ranted. Thanks for your time.

    1. JC, First, I’m glad you decided to come to our web site to “rant.” We’re a safe place to do that. I can sense the tone from your post the extreme level of frustration and almost hopelessness that your are experiencing. I am glad that you have been so pro-active in trying to find answers to the relationship problems you and your wife have been going through. We’re not counselors so please don’t take what I suggest as counseling. What I’ll share comes from years of observing many marriage relationships and what I’ve seen help so many others.

      The most obvious question I have is from you mentioning that you, your wife, and family have gone through the very traumatic death of your daughter 6 years ago. Not only did you experience her death but you also went through the trauma of her cancer. So, my question is, have you and your wife gone through grief counseling? A lot of the relationship issues you mentioned jumped out to me as interpersonal tension due to unresolved grief and anger over the death of your daughter. Everyone experiences and expresses grief differently and there can be a lot of misunderstanding if it’s not dealt with properly. You are probably aware that the divorce rate for couples who have gone through the death of a child is extremely high. We have an article on our web site that talks about this: A Child’s Death Changes Everything that may be helpful to you. Now, your marital issues may not be related to the loss of your child, but I encourage you to pursue grief counseling IF either of you feel there are things still unresolved.

      The next “flag” that came up to me was when you said you were military. (By the way, Cindy and I thank you for your service.) I know there are thousands of positions in the military where you would never see any combat or traumatic events, but if you have, then there is a very good chance that some of your problems could be related to any unresolved PTSD you may have experienced. I’m hoping that your counselors would have picked up on that and addressed it if needed.

      JC, I’m proud of you for the “extra-miles” you have gone to try and reach your wife’s heart. I’m guessing she is so wounded from past hurts that she has shut down. You mentioned your concern that she may be cheating. The fact that you have no hard evidence makes me think that she went to Missouri just to try to escape some of her pain. When she realized the pain just followed her there, she decided to come back – maybe because of your daughters.

      I would also like to suggest you consider looking into a Retrouvaille (pronounced RETRO-VY) weekend retreat. I know there’s one coming up in October in your area. If you go to http://www.retrouvaille.org and put in your state you’ll see what I’m talking about. A Retrouvaille weekend is led by lay couples who, like you, have had really bad marriage problems – even been close to divorce; but through the process of the weekend found healing in their marriages. They have an 80%+ success rate. It’s not counseling. You can read more about them on their web site. Cindy and I endorse them and have personally seen what they can do for a couple like you guys.

      Something else I feel compelled to tell you is that God can…and does…want to help you. You said you “tried” church and praying but didn’t see any results. Please understand God is not a genie in a bottle where if you pray three times or go to church three times He will grant you your wish. But if you are broken and tired of trying on your own to “fix” your marriage God can help you…your wife…and your daughters. 99% of the time it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process of surrender and trust. I encourage you to seek out either a chaplain or a pastor close by who can walk you through what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or you can call 1-800-NEED-HIM to talk with someone.

      JC, believe me, I wish more than anything I could reach into your lives and take the pain away and bring restoration and love back into your marriage – not only for your sake, but the sake of your daughters. They have been traumatized so much and for them to watch what’s happening to the two of you has to be tearing them apart. And don’t think a divorce would bring relief to them; it would be just the opposite.

      If you and your wife are going to fight, then fight FOR your marriage. Get on your faces before God and ask for His forgiveness and then ask each other for forgiveness and be resolved that YOU WILL find the path of healing so you can be an example to your girls – and to the world around you…no matter what it takes.

  6. This so speaks to me! No job or schedule has kept me from my family. I am disabled… was near death about 3 yrs. ago. I got better physically, although I’ll never be quite the same, but I’ve been using my disability as an excuse to rely too much on family and not even try to do the things that I’m able to do. Well, that has to stop. It’s one thing to be slower than I used to be and quite another to be a lazy bump on a log! Time to get up and act like a human again. I pray my husband can forgive me and rekindle the love we once had!

  7. Seems like no matter where I go with my husband for counseling, he or she will take sides with my husband or simply give flip comments. For example, my husband was checking out a beautiful young lady one day and denied every ounce of it. We went to a counselor (female) only for her to say “I have known your husband for only ten minutes and he seems crazy about you.” My complaint was totally not taken seriously. On another occasion, we went to a male counselor. After hearing about our issues, he said the usual stuff, then added “There’s bigger problems in Washington.” A Christian Minister stated “Men Look at Women”. So true, so true. Perhaps this is his way to justify his moments of wandering eye syndrome.

    1. Sorry Maria, men are visual creatures. They look at things, cars, motorcycles, guitars, and an occasional woman. This does not mean he wants it, just looks at it. Denies it? He may do it without thinking. If that is all he does wrong & is faithful to you, cut him some slack. Remember the old song, “I am a girl watcher… watching girls go by.” The key word is WATCHER not toucher or luster.