Many of the couples who ask me to meet with them have been married 10, 15 or even 25+ years. Their kids are out of the house, and the “empty nester” years that they so anticipated are now here.
But it not what they expected. With kids, homework, careers, finances, the yard, the house, etc., there was simply no room for “us.” They can’t pinpoint when their relationship took a “back burner.” They just seemed to drift apart. Now they look at each other and wonder what they are even going to talk about.
They are surprised that the fulfillment and enjoyment of marriage is no longer there. They expected marriage to “be more” than what they are experiencing. But they are not sure what “more” looks like anymore.
Why is this? Our expectations of marriage are often at their peak during the engagement period and for several years after the wedding. We are overwhelmed with what we think is the emotion of love. Even though we are told that the “honeymoon period” will eventually evaporate, we don’t believe it. After all, this is what “true love” is. And we are convinced that “our love” will last forever.
Is Something More Really Possible?
My wife and I will soon celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. These special days are convenient times to reflect on our relationship: where we started, where we are now, and how we got there. When we look back on what our relationship was like after ten years of marriage, we were absolutely convinced that we were one of the “exceptions.” We had developed a “love” that had survived the stresses of “post-honeymoon.”
But then life took over.
As we reflect on each decade of our marriage, we ask ourselves how and why the depth of our relationship sometimes drifted apart and sometimes grew. We have certainly had our share of what I call “intense discussions” – arguments that resulted in hurt and anger. During these verbal “fights,” we certainly don’t like each other. But we are still committed to each other, even when the “feeling” isn’t there.
Several years ago I spoke to an undergraduate class at LSU on “Marriage and Communication” and was asked by one of the students what I thought had made a difference in our marriage. Why is it more than “just” a relationship that has survived? What has allowed it to grow in depth during the years?
Consider These Areas…
Here are a several factors that a couple might consider when they begin to realize that their relationship has reached a “plateau.”
Not a week goes by when I am not only grateful for something that my wife has recently done (and thanked her for it), but I am also grateful for who she is and that she has actually remained married to me! The only way she knows it though, is if I say something!
Proverbs 5:18 tells us “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
Proverbs 10:31 “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
An idea that is not very romantic, but works is the “One pocket to another” approach to practicing gratefulness.
Hundreds of articles have been written on the importance of commitment in marriage. Let’s face it: life gets tough and we find ourselves arguing, taking sides, and beginning to “keep score.” We might even begin to entertain the idea that this is “not what I signed up for” and maybe I should try something else. Or perhaps I married the wrong person. We need to read again the vows that we made on our wedding day. Even though the emotional feeling of “love” may not exist every day, the commitment should remain. Studies show that even if couples are on the brink of divorce, they have a great chance of their marriage surviving and flourishing in the future — IF they jointly make a decision to honor their commitment now, no matter what.
Purposefully share experiences:
Sometimes couples begin to drift apart unintentionally. After all, we are two different individuals. (Remember, our differences initially attracted us to each other!) But too often the partners will pursue their own interests and passions without considering the other. To prevent this, the couple should purposely plan activities in which both are interested. Or each partner should purposely decide to learn to enjoy (or at least participate in) what the other partner enjoys. This shared experience will enhance the relationship and broaden their own interests as individuals.
Shared vision of “life”:
What are our dreams, our fears, our passions ? Are they similar ? Once the “honeymoon” period wears off, couples tend to be completely consumed with living life to the point that they no longer dream. Dream together!
When a priority must be made, choose “us.”
Our spouse must be more important than the kids, than the careers, than other interests and other relationships. Too often we are controlled by “the urgent” – which in many instances includes the demands of our children. Although the physical and time demands are the greatest during the pre-school and early childhood years, the emotional demands become greater during the teenage years of our children. We know that we need to have a frequent “date” with our spouse, but there never seems to be enough time. We need to “schedule” a date much like we do our daily and weekly schedules for other activities.
Often one’s faith is considered private and to identify it as an important topic can be considered threatening — especially if the faith of one partner is very important and the other considers it unimportant. But understanding the spiritual perspective of each partner is critical for them to truly “connect.” We are physical, emotional, and spiritual beings. To ignore this important aspect of who we are causes the marital relationship to remain shallow. But discussing faith can be risky – even between those in a committed relationship. The first conversations are usually the scariest. But if we are willing to take that risk, it usually moves the relationship into uncharted waters that can be both dangerous and exciting. And the long-term result is truly “knowing” who we married on a deeper level.
Understanding the different needs of women and men:
This topic is SO IMPORTANT, but will have to wait until a later article. The danger is that we as men can tend to discount the emotional needs of our wives. And our wives often view our need to be honored and respected as secondary to the emotional connection that they often call “love.”
Try going on a date to somewhere new, and take this list and discover your spouse in a new way.
Thank you for this post. I love the “lessons learned” from your 40 years of marriage. I really like the Purposefully Sharing Experiences. In this empty nest, retirement stage of life, we are so enjoying be able to see each other during the day frequently as we come and go in our individual schedules. Several times during the day, we are both home at the same time and we get to catch up on several segments of our day. I feel so much more connected because we are able to share the day more in real time.