As a kid, I (Dennis) loved birthday parties. The cake. The candy. The sugar high. The presents. The games—like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
And then there were the balloons—in every shape and color. The balloons were a blast. We’d sit on them. Hammer each other with them. My friends and I would even rub them against our hair to create static electricity and then stick them to the walls.
Balloons were great fun. Still are.
These days, of course, you can buy those fancy foil helium-filled balloons from just about any grocery store. Have you ever watched them fill up those babies? If the worker puts too much air pressure into a balloon, it bursts every time. Balloons are a thing of beauty … as long as you maintain the right amount of pressure.
In the same way, marriage is a beautiful gift from God. But the pressure principle at work with balloons also applies to marriage. All of us experience some level of pressure. That’s life. That’s normal. That’s expected. The key is to make sure you and I are not so over inflating our calendars, finances, and commitments that we find ourselves at the breaking point.
Make no mistake. Pressure in your marriage, unless courageously addressed, always leads to problems—and perhaps to tragedy.
Take Charles, for instance. A thirty-year-old husband and father described what happened when the pressure exceeded his capacity: “One day I just hit a brick wall, Dennis. I turned my back on everyone and everything I held dear. I felt overwhelmed by life, the demands of my job, family, and finances. Instead of turning to God, I totally freaked out.”
He described an affair he had with a coworker—while his wife was home nursing their twelve-week-old daughter and caring for their three-year-old son. If only Charles and his wife had taken the time to identify the level of pressure building in their marriage. I’m convinced that—had they known how close to the edge they were—they could have taken steps to release some of that destructive pressure.
How about you? Is your marriage, like a balloon, sailing along on a gentle breeze? Or is it about to burst? Let’s find out.
Test Your Pressure
Place a checkmark in front of the answer in each section that best describes your family life on average. Keep in mind no family is perfect. No home is the ideal place to live. No marriage is perfect—as Barbara and I can attest.
Even so, if you are going to get a snapshot of how you and your mate are doing—and how pressure might be endangering your marriage—honest answers will help you identify the problems.
1. At the end of the month, our finances are:
__ 1) Okay, with a little left over.
__ 2) Tight. It’s a challenge every month and I feel pressure to make ends meet.
__ 3) Strained to the breaking point. We’ll be in big trouble soon if something doesn’t change.
__ 4) Melting down. The pressure to stay afloat is about to sink me.
2. Our children’s schedules are:
__ 1) Light.
__ 2) Full. But we’re staying on top of it as a couple.
__ 3) Hectic. At times I feel like their schedules are controlling us.
__ 4) Out of control. Our lives REVOLVE around their schedules. It’s been this way far too long and there’s no end in sight.
3. How is communication in your marriage?
__ 1) It’s not a major problem.
__ 2) We need a little help here and there.
__ 3) We have major communication problems, and it’s causing a lot of pressure.
__ 4) What communication? We stopped meaningful communication a long time ago. Why try?
4. How do you handle conflict in your marriage?
__ 1) We pretty much resolve our conflicts as they occur.
__ 2) We allow the “sun to go down” on our anger about half the time.
__ 3) We don’t resolve conflict well at all. I’m a peacemaker and my spouse is a prizefighter.
__ 4) We are embittered toward one another.
5. When it comes to our vehicles:
__ 1) Our car is paid for.
__ 2) We owe less than $5,000.
__ 3) Our total monthly car payment(s) is more than $399. I wish we didn’t have the pressure of meeting the payment every month.
__ 4) We lease our cars and are going to get socked with hefty extra mileage charges at the end of the lease. I hate the pressure that’s putting on us.
6. The health of the members of our family is:
__ 1) Generally fine. Just the usual runny noses, scrapes, and bruises.
__ 2) Mostly good with an occasional sick child or parent.
__ 3) Not so good. Chronic pain or illness afflicts one or more of us.
__ 4) Awful. I’ve never known a time when we weren’t dealing with pressure from some health-related issue.
7. When I’m with my spouse:
__ 1) We use words of affirmation or praise with each other. Sometimes we linger over breakfast or dinner and work hard to connect with one another.
__ 2) My spouse tends to read the paper, watch TV, or engage in some distraction like doing the dishes while I’m trying to express myself.
__ 3) Our conversation is abrupt and devoid of genuine love or care. We’re polite, but all business.
__ 4) We lash out at each other more and more. I get steamed over something that has been said at least once a day.
8. When I’m at home with my family:
__ 1) Game playing, laughter, and hugs punctuate the normal ups and downs of life. Our home is a welcoming place.
__ 2) Sometimes I wish my spouse would demonstrate a greater interest in the children and me.
__ 3) Yelling, slamming doors, or cold silence is normal. Our home is becoming more like a motel filled with familiar strangers.
__ 4) Most of the time, I try to be somewhere else.
9. Expectations in our marriage are:
__ 1) Generally met or exceeded. I’m pretty satisfied.
__ 2) Some are met and some are not. I can tell there’s a little pressure because of it.
__ 3) There are many unmet expectations, and I’m feeling the pressure that something must change—and soon.
__ 4) I’ve replaced my expectations with resentment toward my spouse. I feel ripped off in this relationship.
10. When it comes to divorce:
__ 1) We’ve never used the word with each other. I know it’s not an option, nor would I ever agree to one.
__ 2) It’s crossed my mind once or twice.
__ 3) The pressures in our marriage bring divorce to mind more and more of late.
__ 4) I can’t take the pressure in this relationship. I’d get divorced if it weren’t for the kids. My best friend is urging me to walk away from it all.
11. Are aging parents adding stress to your marriage?
__ 1) Our parents are either gone or are doing well on their own. They don’t take much of our time.
__ 2) Our parents are increasing in their dependency upon us. We feel responsible for their well-being at least some of the time.
__ 3) We are caring for one or more parents regularly.
__ 4) One or more parents live with us and we are responsible for their care. Frankly, it’s weighing heavily upon us.
12. Our house:
__ 1) Isn’t perfect, but we like it and can afford it. We have it decorated more or less the way we want.
__ 2) We’re kind of stretched to make the payments. It doesn’t leave much for extras like curtains, paint, or furnishings.
__ 3) Is too small. I’m stressed out all the time because there’s nowhere to put stuff and the kids need their own bedrooms.
__ 4) Is falling apart. We’re in constant repair mode. I hate where we live. The neighborhood isn’t safe anymore. I wish we could move.
13. My in-laws:
__ 1) Are really nice people. They’re helpful and a good influence on our kids. What’s more, they don’t pressure us to visit or do things with them.
__ 2) Are great if we don’t spend too much time together. But we are increasingly feeling the tug and pull to be with them more often.
__ 3) Sometimes make me uncomfortable when they put their noses in our business. They pressure me to do things, like raising our children, their way.
__ 4) Never leave us alone. It’s as if they’re monitoring our lives on video cameras, watching our every move. We’re stifled; I can’t take the pressure from them anymore.
14. Our children:
__ 1) Are a joy to have around. We have lots of laughs together and function well as a helping, encouraging family.
__ 2) Are pretty good kids. They seem to have an upbeat attitude. They’re involved in school activities and have good grades.
__ 3) Tend to be withdrawn, and even secretive. I wish I knew how to connect with their world.
__ 4) Are disturbed. They’ve made it clear they hate us. Sometimes I’m afraid of the hostility I see in their eyes. We’re feeling the pressure of what to do about it.
15. As a couple we:
__ 1) Pray often, even daily, and sometimes work on a Bible study together.
__ 2) Pray at meals, holidays, or when a crisis comes.
__ 3) Don’t talk about the Lord much outside of church. Even then the conversation quickly turns to safer topics. We almost never pray together.
__ 4) Clash. My spouse is not saved, and sometimes disparages my faith.
16. How is your love life?
__ 1) We enjoy a healthy, romantic relationship with a few adjustments along the way.
__ 2) We have to work at this area, but we’re generally meeting one another’s needs.
__ 3) This area isn’t working. The bedroom has become a pressure-filled battleground.
__ 4) We’ve both lost hope that we’ll ever have a normal sex life together.
17. Are either of you moody?
__ 1) My spouse and I are both even tempered and easygoing.
__ 2) There is an occasional mood swing by one or both of us that can result in some uneasy moments.
__ 3) There is a lot of pressure created by different moods in our marriage and family life.
__ 4) Mood swings are a way of life and keep things in a constant state of disruption.
18. Do you share the same parenting values?
__ 1) We’re in synch on most child-raising issues.
__ 2) We occasionally have a sharp disagreement on how to discipline our children.
__ 3) We continually struggle with our differing values on how to raise the children.
__ 4) Values? We’re from different galaxies.
19. The past has:
__ 1) No grip on either of us.
__ 2) Occasionally causes my spouse or me tension.
__ 3) Haunts me and/or my spouse.
__ 4) Paralyzes us with stress and keeps us from moving forward in our marriage.
20. The role of being a spouse is:
__ 1) Not all that difficult. We both had good role models and know what’s expected of each other.
__ 2) Creating tension in me. Both of us have a fuzzy and incomplete picture of what it means to be a wife and husband.
__ 3) Upside down. We’ve flip-flopped our roles and it’s causing an enormous amount of pressure in our lives.
__ 4) Causing major problems. One or both of us is clue-less about the responsibilities that come with being a husband or wife.
Add your score by totaling the numbers adjacent to each checkmark. For example, if you placed a checkmark next to the third response in a given question, add three points for that answer. If the checkmark was next to a one, add one point to your total.
The lowest possible score is 20, the highest is 80.
- Write your total here:
- Write today’s date here:
In general terms, and based upon what we’ve witnessed in the lives of thousands of couples, here’s what your score is telling you about the level of pressure in your marriage and home life:
- If your score is between 20 and 34, Give thanks. This is about as good as it gets.
- If your score is between 35 and 49, Begin tackling the pressure points while there’s time.
- If your score is between 50 and 64, This is your wake-up call. You’re close to the edge.
- If your score is between 65 and 80, Seek professional counseling immediately.
It might be interesting for you and your spouse to take the pressure test separately—and then compare notes. Why? Remember the letter from Charles? While I want to ask, “What kind of man would turn his back on his young wife and infant daughter?” apparently he didn’t see the warning signs that he was about to explode.
Neither did his wife.
Both failed to measure and manage the pressure that had been building in their marriage for several years and reached the point of no return. Tragically, two innocent children will face a lifetime of brokenness because their parents failed to control the pressure.
That’s why, like checking the tire pressure on your car, assessing the stress in your lives and marriage by taking this pressure test together is so important.
Adapted from Pressure Proof Your Marriage © 2003 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Excerpt may not be reproduced without prior written consent.