In 1944 Frank Capra, the celebrated director, produced a comedy film called Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s about two sweet but murderous aunts who put poison in the elderberry tea that was served to a succession of male residents in their boarding house and then stored their corpses in the basement. The film climaxes when the aunts’ newly wedded nephew and his bride come to visit. Elaine, the bride, can handle the chaos no longer and finally storms out of the house, hysterically crying, “You can take your honeymoon, your wedding ring, your taxi, your window seat, and put ‘em in a barrel and push ‘em all over Niagara Falls.” Obviously, something has gone tragically wrong. She’s out of there, too.
Capra’s movie is a farce, a comedy that we laugh at, but a lot of marriages are toxic today and are in the process of dying. There is nothing humorous about what is happening, either. It’s sad. On the very serious side of the ledger, how do you know if a marriage, one that perhaps was healthy and vibrant, has become toxic?
The term, toxicity has become part of our vocabulary. It refers to the degree to which something has become toxic. So what are the signs of toxicity in a marriage? Look for these. Independence. You are both going in different directions, living like boarders under the same roof. Business has driven a wedge in your intimacy. You’re too tired, indifferent, or bored to share your hearts and lives. Little things have developed, and you stuff grievances. Possibly like the nephew in Arsenic and Old Lace, one of you is sitting on a window seat, striving to conceal something from the other. No longer do you meet each other’s needs, and you are simply bored with your marriage. You are playing the blame game, accusing the other of not pulling his weight, or being more interested in someone else than you. There is something toxic in the “elderberry tea” of your marriage.
Recognizing that your marriage is toxic is one thing. Knowing what to do about it is something else. For years, on the wall of my office behind my desk were a set of spears crafted by a primitive people group in Papua New Guinea. Should you examine these carefully crafted spears that are thrown very accurately by the men who made them, you would notice that a reddish substance, visible only where the spear meets the wooden shaft, has been removed by the tip of the spear itself. What was the red? Poison. Should it prick your flesh, it would produce paralysis, but scraped off and removed there’s no harm whatsoever.
As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble. 1 Samuel 26:24
Can toxic marriages be saved? They can, provided you remove the toxicity. So who is to begin the process? You are the one, and when you start removing the toxicity, the health of your relationship will improve. Most of the time we know far better than what we do. Sit down and say, “Look, I love you and I value my relationship with you. I don’t like the direction it has been going, so let’s do something about it.” Try focusing on what you like about your mate, not what you dislike.
You are a composite of the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual, and when a marriage is toxic, all three begin to wither and die. Perhaps at one time you read God’s Word together and prayed. You were a part of a community group at church. But you got away from all of that.
Start doing what you know is right. Start loving as you want to be loved. Start refusing to catalog grievances and treat the other as you want to be treated. Toxic marriages can be saved if you are willing to work at it.
Resource reading: Hosea 1:1-11