God’s arithmetic is simple but intriguing: "Two shall become one" (Genesis 2:24). Modern culture doesn’t get it – being so focused on division. Just look at the marriage and divorce statistics. Where God intends to make two into one, we split and divide.

One primary cause of marital splits is what I call the Imposed Ideal Syndrome. Early in our youth, we begin to create a mental image of the ideal person we want to marry someday. What we see (or don’t see) in our parents’ relationship, soak up from movies and TV, or read in romance novels and magazines contributes to that ideal stored in the recesses of our brain.

This subconscious process surfaces when we playfully declare we are going to marry "a slim, sexy blonde" or "a six-foot hunk." For men, the ideal usually has to do with body shape, beauty and sexuality. With women, the idealized man is often strong, supportive and understanding.

A superimposed problem

Then one day, boy meets girl. For some reason, that guy or gal seems to fit the ideal – the right shape, height and charm. Could this be "the one"?

Through some little-understood dynamic, these lovebirds tend to over interpret actions, words and gestures – things that cause them to superimpose their ideal images onto one another.

Even when their significant other shows some glitch of character or annoying habit, they tell themselves that it’s not as bad as it looks or that it will change once they get married.

Here’s where the strange mathematics kick in. The groom comes to the marriage altar with that ideal image of his fiancée moored in his mind. The bride does the same. It looks like two getting ready to become one. In reality, it is the forming of a disharmonized quartet – the man and his idealized wife combine with his real wife and her idealized husband. Two become four, and that is two too many.

Conflicting actions and emotional disappointments are built into marriage this way. Both spouses are constantly falling off the pedestal of ideals. This flopping around the pedestal’s base produces emotional confusion and profound disappointment.

Getting a divorce

After lecturing on this subject at a conference, I gave out a Document of Divorce From the Imposed Ideal and asked everyone in the audience to read and sign it. The document said:

I, _______________________________, IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD, DIVORCE MYSELF FROM THAT DREAMED-UP AND IMPOSED IDEAL UPON _____________________, MY SPOUSE, AND RENEW MY VOWS AND COMMITMENT TO THE REAL PERSON I MARRIED.

SIGNED, __________________________________________

DATE ___/___/___

In the discussion that followed, some people cautiously shared the ideals they had subconsciously imposed on their spouse and how these had formed an invisible barrier to a deeper union.

Weeks after that lecture, a missionary friend told me he had shared this concept with his wife and they were now able to save their crumbling marriage. He confessed that two real people, warts and all, were finally becoming one.

Later, a pastor who had been a seminary student of mine stopped by my office and expressed his deep disappointment in his wife of just a year. After he vented a mountain of idealistic, unrealized expectations, I looked him in the eye and quietly said, "I think you should get an immediate divorce."

His fallen face told me he did not know what I meant. When I proceeded to teach him about the Imposed Ideal Syndrome, he began to understand what was going on in his rocky relationship. He got that "divorce," and his now-25-year marriage continues the dynamic process of two becoming one – an equation that’s just right.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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