Many couples today are living in bitterness and resentment, or worse – total isolation. They didn’t start here. All married couples (or most) start off with love and commitment in their heart. They fully intend to keep their promise to love, honor and cherish. So how do marriages become unhealthy?
What to do if you find yourself Living in an unhappy marriage
Many couples never talk about what their daily marriage life will be like, only the wedding day. They have been existing on feelings, emotions, energy, and that unsustainable love known as Eros. Eros love is completely self-centered and self-absorbed. It accentuates the emotional and physical with sexual attraction as the primary focus. All love starts out this way with a “Me First, I will love you to get what I want” phase. Many people get married in this phase, then when the Eros love fades – and it will, as this is not sustainable – they find themselves in loveless and unhappy marriages wondering what happened to their soul mate.
All couples have a mental list of expectations when entering marriage; it’s only human nature. Here are just a few examples:
- My husband will be the main provider
- My wife will stay home with our young children
- We will live in X number square foot house
- I have to watch football every Sunday
- We have to spend every holiday with my family
- The home has to be kept exactly the way my family did it
- The vacation starts when you arrive at the destination, not when you leave for the destination
- We have to have intercourse at least x times per week
- I need dinner on the table when I walk in the door
- I don’t do housework
I think you get the point. The first few expectation start off pretty innocent; as we move further down the list, newly married couples try to compromise their way through the various challenges that come up in life. If you don’t have open and honest communication and clear boundaries on who you are, one person in the relationship starts to give too much, as the other takes too much. Bitterness and resentment often follow. Your “Days of Romance” are now replaced with “Days of Reality.” Here comes unhappy marriage.
The Unhappy Marriage
If a course correction is not made, the marriage quickly moves into Days of Resentment. This is where the blame game starts. One or both parties may feel trapped in the relationship. The NEVER and ALWAYS statements start flying around. This is where anger and contempt can settle in. This feels hopeless and isolating. You wonder how the person you loved so much can think or say such horrible things.
Intimacy cannot exist without trust and safety; it will all but disappear. Many marriages will head for divorce, while others will stay together for the sake of the children or for convenience. They will live in this unhealthy situation, coexisting. They are no longer able to see any of the good qualities in their spouse, they only see the anger and resentment of unmet expectations. It becomes easy to see what your spouse is doing wrong in the relationship. You see it so clearly, in fact and are so focused on this, you miss all the things you are also doing wrong.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
Dr. Gottman says the last stop is The Days of Rebellion. When hearts harden to the disappointments, unmet needs and expectations, and anger, they begin to outwardly rebel against their spouse. You no longer see your spouse as your partner; instead you look at them as your enemy.
Let this sink in for a minute…think back to the last time you argued? What set it off? If you’re being honest, were you already angry or irritated about something from a previous event?
What would happen if you only thought about times when your spouse was loved, cherished, needed? What if you cultivated this attitude instead of the contempt that had been building? When you speak to your spouse, they would not only hear the difference, they would feel it.
This new attitude would be cultivated every day. What a blessing for your children. You would be giving kindness, mercy, and grace.
In order to get your marriage back on track, here are some suggestions:
- Stop buying into the fantasy version of love and marriage. Don’t go into marriage believing you will never be lonely, sad, afraid, unhappy, dateless (fill in the blank) again. Your spouse can never fill all the voids you are missing. That’s not what marriage is about. Throw the word UNHAPPY out of your vocabulary. Unhappy is a state of mind. It is a choice to be happy or unhappy. Your spouse is NOT responsible for your personal happiness; only you are responsible for this. Please don’t teach your children to live this way. They will always be a slave to external forces. If you cannot live with joy in all circumstances as it states so often in the bible, you will have difficulty getting through life.
- Take full responsibility for your marriage being in trouble. I’m not saying here that everything is your fault. Marriages take two people and sometimes people (knowingly or unknowingly) actively or passively dismantle their marriage. Do some soul-searching, find out where you fail, and what you could have done differently. Make a list if you need to of all the ways you have failed to live up to your marriage vows. This is you being accountable. Now come up with an action plan of how you plan to keep this from happening again.
- Do not come up with an action plan or get well plan for your spouse. This will just be received as one more layer of expectations they will need to meet or a reason for them to feel judged. You never want to be your spouse’s mother or father in the relationship – this is a sure way to kill intimacy. You also don’t want to be their accountability partner.
- Make a list of all the reasons you fell in love with your spouse. Be specific. Share it with them. Don’t have any expectations they will do the same.
- Start to build trust. Your spouse needs to know they can trust you again. This will be the first step in restoring your relationship. Talk about your responsibility for the problems in the relationship and apologize. Do this face to face. If your spouse also apologizes, great. But if not, remember not to get upset. They are not yet in the same place you are.
- Mind your communication. I talk about this all the time. Our words, our facial expressions, our body language, whether we look at someone as they speak to us, how much time we give a person before we space out or move off to something else all speaks volumes about how important someone is to us.
- Put God first in your life and in your marriage. We are all selfish human beings. A relationship will not work if you take turns putting each other first, or if you just put yourself first over your spouse. Christian marriages build on the foundation that God is first, your spouse is second, you are third. Learn it, know it, live it. It works – and it is a beautiful thing when you practice it.
Love grows one moment at a time. It starts with a glance, then slowly builds until the sparks fan into flames of passion, and finally – if we work hard – a smoldering lifetime of Agape love. It takes a choice – every day – to keep this fire burning. With each hurtful word, each missed event, lost opportunity for intimacy, you starve love. The fire slowly dies. Don’t let this happen to your marriage. Don’t lose hope. Your marriage isn’t dead, it is just smothering under the unmet expectations, anger, and resentment.
Give the above a try. You will be amazed how fast things can turn around from unhappy marriage to fulfilling marriage.
This video(Andy Stanley’s iMarriage) is a little long, but worth the time. It is so funny, but also a great example of how expectations in marriage can quickly become a problem. Have a look and see if you can see yourself here. I know I can!
Where do you think you have let expectations break down trust and intimacy in your marriage?
If you could offer any advice to couples just starting out, what would it be?
This information is based on the book, Two Becoming One by Don and Sally Meredith, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, by Dr. John Gottman and on the video iMarriage by Andy Stanley. Photo credit, Lovespells.me
Do you have questions about whether to stay in an unhappy marriage?
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