Category Archives: marriage

I’m Not Happy

sad-couple

The couple in front of me was having a hard time of it. Their body language was very tentative, alternating between open and closed, but never resting in one posture. There were no crises and no hard decisions that had to be made. I asked the woman what she wanted to change in the relationship. Her reply was “I don’t know.” His was “I just want her to be happy.”

I have heard this many times while counseling couples. One of the spouses just seems to be dissatisfied but there is no apparent reason. Maybe you have been there, or are currently experiencing discontentment. I know I have been there in the past. What is happening? I can tell you that there is no “one size fits all” with this one. There could be many reasons why a spouse becomes despondent within a relationship:

  • The reality of the relationship doesn’t measure up to expectations
  • A partner loses their attractiveness over time (significant weight gain or loss, etc)
  • There is a chemical or hormonal change resulting in depression
  • Life stressors have become overwhelming and they feel powerless
  • Dreams have been put off for too long, or promises not kept
  • Their personal goals of achievement have not been met and they feel inadequate
  • Boredom has set in because of a repetitive schedule
  • What felt like love turns out to be infatuation.

This last one is very interesting. In an excerpt from Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships by Chip Ingram he describes 12 Tests of Love that separate it from infatuation. I have linked it from a repost at FamilyLife. He implies that we may be under the spell of too many TV and movie scripts that have shaped our ideas about what love really is.

Regardless of the reason, being with an unhappy spouse is very discouraging. And being an unhappy spouse is even worse. It may take some time to discover the root of the problem, especially if it is not situational. Sometimes it’s helpful to let the person talk until they become aware of what is bothering them. Empathy goes a long way to repair distressed feelings and draw them closer to you. Other times is may be necessary to seek outside help. A counselor or doctor visit may be in order.

If you are the one who is joy challenged I suggest activating a support system. Isolation makes things worse, so hang with your friends. Change up your routine. Exercise. Journal your feelings. Pray, meditate, and focus on the positive. Turn off the daily news. Spend time with pets. Listen to uplifting worship music. Hug safe people. Go to church. Seek God.

You Can’t Hurry Love

lovehearts-big

Slowing down the wedding can be painful. We’ve been there with quite a few couples. Once they have made up their minds that they want to be married, it can be full speed ahead. But is that always wise?

Yes, there are couples that have waited overly long, who have been dating or engaged for years and years. Sometimes this is because the relationship is wrong but neither person is willing to pull the plug. Other times it is because the anxiety of being sure keeps them from pulling the trigger. I am not talking about these relationships. I am concerned with the couples who are willing and able, but not ready.

What makes a couple ready to exchange rings?

  • They have been honest with their expectations. We tell pre-married couples that they must assume that “what you see is what you get”. That requires that both people are accurately representing who they are and what they want. There is no bait and switch within a successful marriage.
  • They are adept at managing their emotions. Emotional regulation is a key skill for a secure relationship. When conflict hits, coloring within the lines is necessary. No one wants to be in a relationship with a rageful or hysteria-driven mate.   
  • They are able to forgive easily. Stewing for  days or even hours is corrosive in a marriage. Holding grudges or keeping score weakens the bond. The answer is to be quick to reconcile, especially the little missteps we all take.
  • They are open and realistic about their challenges. It is essential to talk courageously about any concerns you have about doing life together. Avoiding painful topics doesn’t make them go away, it just delays their appearance. With good preparation you may be able to lessen the impact of the negative elements you face.
  • They have talked extensively about their family systems. Our families have a huge influence on our development into adults. This is not news. We cannot separate ourselves from where we came from, although we can differentiate and leave behind some of the unwanted elements we collected along the way. Be sure you let your partner have a deep and wide view into your upbringing.
  • They pursue growth and maturity in their personal lives. Couples that are not satisfied with the status quo are much more likely to succeed in marriage. They don’t want to be a twenty-year-old in a forty-year-olds’ body.
  • They manage the practical side of life well. They are responsible with money and commitments and time management. They rein in their desires and provide for the future. They take their employment seriously.
  • They have great attitudes. Their demeanor attracts people and they have good friends. They are trustworthy and kind. They smile a lot. They compromise.
  • They treat everyone with respect. It is not only the people they like, admire or agree with that they treat well. Humility is a value they embrace.
  • They follow God. He is the source from which they draw their strength in both the good times and the difficult times. As a result they love well.

Listening Is Not Agreement

disagreement

I want to admit a character defect I have fought for most of my life. I am not proud of it, but I have grown because of it. Maybe you can relate to it as well. Here it is:

In my marriage (especially) I had an expectation that Nan not only had to hear me out, but also had to agree with me.

In other words, she had to think like me or she wasn’t being a good or loyal wife. Pretty narcissistic, huh? Pretty arrogant, too. It led to some uncomfortable conflicts and to some misunderstandings as well.

I think this is one of the blocks to good communication, not only in marriage but in other relationships as well. If my belief is that by listening to someone that means that I tacitly agree, I probably will be reluctant to listen. In our case that was the unspoken message I was sending to Nan: I want you listen to me, but I also insist that you agree. But the problem was that she didn’t always agree. And I made it hard for her to listen.

It’s usually not so destructive when the stakes are small – where to eat, what color to choose, etc. But it gets very tense when the big issues are on the table. Where do we live and which house do we buy? How do we raise our children? How do we interpret the Bible and our faith? For example, Nan was raised Catholic for a time and as a result is more contemplative in her spiritual practices than I am.

I am a dreamer (I prefer the word visionary) Whatever. Here’s the rub. In our conversations Nan didn’t always know the difference when I was just dreaming or if I was actually planning. So she didn’t know how to fully engage with me when I was dreaming because my dreams were often scary to her, involving writing big checks or making long distance moves. And she didn’t want me to assume she was in agreement with them. So she didn’t always want to listen to me. I felt alone.

Since those days a few things have changed. I have repented of my need to have her agree. I still want her to agree with me (who wouldn’t), but I have given up my need for her to do so for me to be to be OK with her.

Second, I now let her know when I am just dreaming out loud so she can relax and even join in the fun. And I keep the checkbook out of reach, safely locked in a drawer.

For those of us who are Christians, it can become tempting to use scripture to try to control or manipulate others, and we must guard against misuse of the Bible. That’s just another way to try to force agreement. Even when it’s not intentional, we can come off as legalistic or unloving. When I quote scripture I try to be extra humble and remember that context is everything. I try to let the scriptures be the authority, not me.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27