We have more options for marriage than ever before. More opportunity to define what marriage means to individual couples. More freedom from religious or cultural authority. More opportunity to live outside the box. Yet, one thing comes through. Couple happiness is declining. Half of marriages end in divorce. Even worse–of those still married, 40% are unhappy in their marriage. They don’t leave the marriage for a variety of reasons. But, willing to stay doesn’t translate to happy.
What can couples do to move from unhappy to fulfilling? Try something different.
People get stuck in patterns that don’t work. They stay stuck because those patterns are familiar. Though the outcome hurts, it’s a predictable hurt. For example, Joe refuses to ask his wife out on dates any more. Every time he tried, she complained about the restaurant, the movie, the long drive. The more she complained, the more hesitant he became to even try. So, he quit. Now they follow the pattern of burgers on Friday followed by a movie on the couch with one or both falling asleep. Not much fun. But, safe.
Many couples fall into similar mindsets. They keep going with what they know won’t work–but won’t hurt either. “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know,” they think. Actually, no. It’s not.
The devil you know is killing your relationship and your opportunity for happiness. Do something different.
Use your fear to reclaim your relationship.
Michael Hyatt offers a wonderful podcast on the benefits of getting into what he calls the discomfort zone. He explores how embracing discomfort can change your life for the better. Hyatt urges people to embrace discomfort as the place of true growth and fulfillment in their work. His approach offers helpful truths for couples as well.
If what you’re doing doesn’t bring happiness, you need to do something different.
Yet, different brings fear. Fear of failure. Fear of hurt. Fear of being vulnerable in a new way. The key to getting what you want is to lean into that fear. To accept it. To let it work for you.
Fear brings focus, energy, and drive. If your happiness in marriage matters, be willing to move into fearful places. Those places then become the connection points for deeper intimacy with your spouse. Intimacy that brings the happiness you long for.
It helps to think through what might happen and your best response to the possibilities.
Joe wants to bring fun and connection back into his marriage. He wants to enjoy being closer to Laura. Yet, whenever he tries–she complains. He needs to lean into the fear of having a conversation about all this with her. What if she finally admits that it’s not the restaurant–it’s being with him? What if she goes on a tirade, listing every one of his faults? Every. Single. One. What if there’s someone else?
All these possibilities produce fear. Fear that traps Joe into old patterns. But, if Joe can look these possibilities straight in the eye, he can develop an answer to them. He can ask, “What about being with me isn’t fun?” Though hard to hear, Laura’s answer offers an opportunity for him to know and to change.
If she lists his faults, he can ask the tough but needed, “Is there anything you like about me? Is there anything we can use to build something better?”
If she’s seeing someone else–he can face that reality head on and decide whether to fight for her or let her go.
Of course, it might go quite differently. Laura might share that she appreciates Joe taking the initiative. But, his pattern of waiting until the last minute to ask her leaves her scrambling for childcare and adjusting family schedules. Not the best mindset for fun. If he could ask earlier–or, even better, make child care arrangements for her–she could enjoy their dates more.
She might list a few traits she wishes he would change, but offer many more that she appreciates. Ones that she hasn’t focused on for a while.
She might say there’s no one else.
Moving into the fear forces Joe to act. And any action is better than enduring ongoing unhappiness.
Have the conversation.
Just do it. Don’t tiptoe. Don’t sidetrack. Do it. Say to your spouse, “I want to talk about our relationship and how to make it better.” Then, go into the areas you find hard:
- “We don’t seem to talk anymore. Or, when we talk, we fight. How can we get back to safely sharing with each other?”
- “We need to discuss finances. We keep blowing the budget and are deep underwater. We need a plan.”
- “Our children are out of control. They are back-talking to us, struggling in school, and losing friends. How can we work together to help them?”
The goal is to make the problem the enemy–not each other. Focus on the values and goals you share. Then, list all the resources you currently have to reach those goals–your strengths, your physical possessions, your friendships, experts you can consult. As you list resources, hope grows. Pool these resources into a plan.
Work the plan.
Set specific steps on a timeline. For example, to address finances:
- We will collect all bills, bank statements, loan documents this week.
- Next Tuesday, we will fill out a budget. We will use–Excel spreadsheet, online budget from Financial Peace, or a paper outline.
- In three weeks, we will meet with a financial planner to get expert advice on a plan for what expenses to cut, how to stay within budget, and paying off debt.
- We will meet monthly to measure progress and to set the next month’s goals.
A plan gets couples on the same page and working together. The greatest benefit? Studies show that the prime means for moving conflicted parties (whether individuals, gangs, or nations) to more fruitful relationships is to get them to work on a project together. As you and your spouse begin cooperatively addressing the issues, you grow closer.
If you are struggling in marriage, there’s a way out. You can get on the same page and move forward together. It takes leaning into the fear, having the conversation, and working your plan. It takes doing something different.
If you would like guidance for this process, The Resolution Center would love to serve you. Please contact us for a free consultation on how we might help you move forward in marriage.