Zip Lines and Marriage

Last summer we finally got around to putting up a zip line in our back yard. Not surprisingly, the kids were thrilled. It took them a little time to get used to trusting the run, but more importantly to not freaking out about the fear of slamming into the tree at the end of the line. After a few adjustments and the addition of a “brake” (some bolts placed at the end to keep the kids from hitting the tree) they were OK. Without this stop, the brake, disaster would happen in the form of broken bones, busted knees, and perhaps the need for stitches. 

Just as a zip line needs a brake, so too do relationships. So often I meet with couples who cannot get out of their own way. They’ll jump into an argument or discussion with their spouse without any forethought only to find out later that the assumptions really didn’t help matters. 

There are patterns and cycles that we fall into with our spouse, mainly because we have so many different kinds of interactions with them. These cycles can be helpful, but they can also be harmful. Here are a couple of patterns and cycles that could use a brake like what’s needed on a zip line. 

Going on Dates
During the dating years, most couples spend copious amounts of intentional time together because they really like/love each other. This would be a helpful pattern that gets the couple from just being friends to being intimate partners. However, it so often happens that dating stops once marriage happens because, and I put this responsibility on the man, he has already “won his prize.” 

Using the zip line analogy, there needs to be a brake put in to keep the increasingly speedy descent from crashing and burning. Not dating your spouse in marriage will not promote a healthy relationship. 

This is a big one. Conflict happens when we wake up next to someone. Why? Because the way we live life is vastly different, in conflict, with the way someone else lives life. It’s impossible to be in a marriage and for there to be no conflict. Impossible. So, what do you do when conflict arises? Typically arguments happen, and where there is an argument, there are feelings. Both men and women have feelings (contrary to what our culture would suggest), and both have needs regarding these feelings. 

When a conflict is beginning to fly out of control (the tree at the end of the line is nearing), one or both parties needs to stop the escalating fight. This can be as easy as calling for a time out, or it can be putting your hand up akin to waving a white surrender flag. Regardless of what the “brake” looks like, if there is no brake, the relationship will slam into that tree and one or both will look to blame the other person. 

Similar to conflict, communication happens every day from the moment you and your spouse wake up. Researchers say that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. If you and your spouse are not checking in with each other on a regular basis (see also my post on the magic 5 hours), you’ll drift apart and wake up one day wondering what happened. 

Using our zip line metaphor, this would be a proactive brake to prevent distance from occurring (which I suppose is a different form of disaster). 

There have been a few injuries on the zip line, but overall the kids and their friends love it. It’s an exhilarating ride much like the ride we all take by getting married. Just like installing a zip line, our relationships need proactive measures installed to prevent unnecessary injuries from occurring.


Samuel Rainey is a professional counselor primarily working with couples, men, and women addressing issues of sexuality, emotional health, relationships, and spirituality. He is the co-Author of So You Want to be a Teenager with Thomas Nelson. He earned his Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, Washington. When he is not roasting coffee, tending to his garden, or playing golf, he blogs about life process, parenting, and relationships at He can also be found on twitter @SamuelRainey. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee with their four children.

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