Are You Dissatisfied With Your Marriage?

If you’ve been married for a while, maybe you’ve had this thought. It’s an unsettling thought that you’ve probably not said out loud, but it’s one you can’t seem to escape. The thought is…

“I’m not satisfied with my marriage.”

In the last Normal Marriage post, we looked at the tendency for spouses to drift apart. This post addresses the next level. Here, we move from looking at marital drifting to marital dissatisfaction.

DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE

The thought that you’re not satisfied in marriage can rock you to your core. We all go into marriage believing things should be happy and easy. And when it’s not, we…

  • Wonder if we married the right person.
  • Feel like there’s something wrong with us.
  • Blame our spouse.
  • Become depressed or resentful.

Now, let’s make something clear from the start. You’re going to be dissatisfied with your marriage from time to time. Despite what you see on social media, no one has the perfect, easy marriage. As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of marriages that look great on the outside, but behind closed doors, the marriage is not as perfect as it looks. So know that there are times when marriage won’t be satisfying.

WHAT CAUSES DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE?

If I asked you, “What’s causing you to be dissatisfied with your marriage?” you may think, “That’s easy. I’m dissatisfied with my marriage because of my spouse!”

Nice try, but it’s not that easy. There can be a lot of reasons for your dissatisfaction, and not all of them are about your spouse. Obviously, issues of abuse, or adultery, or abandonment will cause major dissatisfaction in a marriage. But we’re not talking about anything that drastic. Here are a few of the more “normal” reasons why you might be dissatisfied with your marriage:

The two of you are human.

You married a flawed person. Oh, and by the way…they did too! We make mistakes at times. We’re self-absorbed at times. We get tunnel vision. We are a work in progress. (But don’t go and tell your spouse they’re “a piece of work.” That’s not what I meant!) You’re not perfect and neither is your spouse. This, in itself, can create dissatisfaction in marriage.

The two of you are different.

When people come to me for premarital counseling, I ask them what attracted them to each other. They always say it’s was because they were so much alike. But the truth is, we’re attracted more by our differences than our similarities. It’s our differences that make the relationship exciting and attractive. But here’s the problem…opposites attract before the “I do’s” and they aggravate after the “I do’s.” (Can I get an Amen?!)

But you need those differences because they compliment and shore up your weakness. Those differences that aggravate you are actually a gift to you…if you’re willing to humble yourself and accept it.

Life throws you curves.

We all want to get married and live happily ever after. But life tends to plant land mines all along our road to happily ever after. Job losses, health issues, wayward children, expenses we didn’t expect, and a host of other things can explode without warning. And the stress and strain they put on a marriage can create a lot of dissatisfaction.

Your expectations are unrealistic.

Our expectations for marriage are often unrealistic…especially in the beginning. We expect our spouse to continue to be just as enraptured with us as they were when we were dating. We expect them to always listen to us, always want to have sex with us, continue to bring us cards and flowers, be interested in everything we’re interested in, and in general see life the way we see it. These unrealistic expectations get us in trouble and keep us from being satisfied in marriage.

I’m not saying you should expect the worst. I’m just saying your expectations need to be realistic.

Hallmark movies lie to you.

Ok, maybe this is just my aversion to Hallmark movies, but it goes along with unrealistic expectations. If you compare yourself to what you see in Hallmark movies (or other media,) you will start to base your expectations on that…and you will be dissatisfied.

The point is, no marriage is perfect, and there’s a lot of perfectly normal and natural reasons spouses experience dissatisfaction in their marriage.

Does this mean that you’re just doomed to be dissatisfied in your marriage? Not at all! But it does mean that you (not just your spouse) will have to make some changes.

What changes? We’ll cover that in the next Normal Marriage post…so stay tuned!

If You and Your Spouse Are Drifting…

It comes on slowly. It comes on gradually. But, if you’ve been married for any length of time, I’m guessing you have felt it.

The conversations have begun to fall off. The time you spend together in the car or at a restaurant is starting to feel as awkward as a first date. When you do talk, it’s mostly about the kids, or work, or what needs to be done around the house. There’s not as much joking, not as much affection, not as much sex. You’ve become more like business partners and roommates than life partners and adventurers.

This is marital drift. It’s a slow and gradual fade in the relationship. No one likes it, and we all say the fade won’t happen to us. But like your favorite shirt that has been washed too many times…It just happens.

If you’ve experienced it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you will.

It’s unrealistic to think that you will dodge the bullet of marital drift. So a better use of your time and energy is to prepare for it, so you’ll be ready when it happens.

Here are three steps that you can take when you find your relationship with your spouse drifting…

DON’T PANIC…accept it.

As I said, this is normal for marriage. The more demands and responsibilities a marriage accumulates, the easier it is for spouses to drift.

Marital drift is not a sign that your marriage is bad or over. Even great marriages will experience some drift from time to time. So don’t panic. When you panic over marital drift you begin to try too hard, or blame too much, or compare your marriage to others too often.

These things will make matters worse. So stay calm. Marital drift is normal from time to time.

DON’T IGNORE IT…address it.

Just because it’s normal for a marriage relationship to drift from time to time doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Ignoring it would be like ignoring the check engine light in your car. It may be minor when you see the light, but if you ignore it long enough it could lead to major damage.

First, pay attention to the ways and times in which you find yourself drifting from your spouse. Don’t beat yourself up or blame it on your spouse. Just take note of when and where you feel the drift.

Then, ask your spouse if they have felt any drifting in the relationship. Don’t be accusatory, and don’t get your feelings hurt if they haven’t noticed it…or if they blame it on something other than what you think. This just means their focus is different than yours. Still, asking will plant a seed for them to think about.

DON’T SIT ON IT…act on it.

If you recognize the drift but do nothing, it will continue and possibly get worse. Nothing changes without some effort. So here’s a plan…

Start with your contributions.

We all want to start with what our spouse is doing or not doing, but start with your own contributions. Maybe it’s become a habit for you to focus less on your spouse and more on other things. You could be giving more of your attention to the kids, the house, work, hobbies, or something else. Certainly, there will be times when these things need a little extra attention. But if it’s become a habit to focus more on these things than on your spouse, then start with that.

FYI…you may find that the more you focus on changing your contributions the more your spouse will drift back towards you.

Next, approach your spouse.

If addressing your contributions hasn’t produced sufficient change, then you may need to approach your spouse. But don’t approach them in a blaming or demanding way. This will cause them to drift further from you.

  • Find a good time for this. Don’t approach them when they’re burdened and stressed out about things. Find a time when they’re relaxed and feeling good. It could be when the two of you are out to dinner, but whenever it is, pick your time well.
  • Start by telling your spouse how much you appreciate them. Talk about the things you admire about them. But be sincere, and don’t lay it on too thick. Be genuine.
  • Tell them that you’ve got a problem you can’t seem to fix. DO NOT tell them “we” have a problem and “you” need to do something about it. Keep it focused on you. Let them know you would really love and appreciate their help with your problem. Then tell them one thing you really miss in your relationship. Don’t give them a laundry list. Just give them one thing. And make it a simple and easy thing to accomplish. Then, don’t expect them to hardily agree with you, don’t expect things to change immediately, and don’t keep bringing it up.

Give Them Space and Affirmation.

Give them space and time to think about it and make a move on their own. And when your spouse does something that makes you feel good and draws you closer to them, stop right then and there and tell them how much that means to you…even if it’s not the thing you asked for. You would be surprised at how much our spouses need affirmation, and how much that affirmation will motivate them.

The above steps are not a magical cure to marital drift. They are just a way to begin redirecting the drift. They will take effort and patience…but doesn’t everything in marriage?

A FINAL WORD

Your relationship will never be everything it was when you were dating or first married. Things were different then. You were different then. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to keep drifting further and further apart. There are things you can do to reclaim and refit the marriage you have now.

So if you’re experiencing a drift in your relationship with your spouse, relax. Marital drift is often normal, but it should not be left to itself. To sum it up…

If your marriage is drifting…don’t panic…paddle!

If There’s Been Infidelity…

Few things are more devastating or destructive to a marriage than infidelity.

It’s worse than the death of a spouse, because when a spouse dies, it’s not intentional, it’s not a betrayal, and you don’t keep running into them or dealing with them.

Infidelity…

  • Wrecks a dream.
  • Destroys trust.
  • Fractures a bond.
  • Taints communication.
  • Poisons the relationship.

It’s like a jet plane ramming into the twin towers of marriage, leaving massive destruction in its wake.

THE STATS

A July 2020 post in Psychology Today, titled “Infidelity: Figuring It Out,” gives the followings stats on infidelity:

  • 22% of married men admit to straying at least once.
  • 14% of married women admit to straying at least once.

And the rates are probably higher when you include emotional and sexual involvement apart from intercourse.

THE DEFINITION

When you think of infidelity, you typically think of someone having intercourse with someone other than their spouse/partner. But infidelity encompasses more than just intercourse outside of marriage.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines infidelity as: “The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner.”

Any time a person turns to someone other than their spouse/partner to secretly meet their emotional and/or sexual needs, it can be viewed as infidelity.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

Here are some things you need to know about infidelity…

Infidelity produces deep and excruciating pain.

There is no pain as intense as being betrayed by the person you exclusively trusted with your body and soul. As I said, it’s a pain greater than losing your spouse to death…because death is not an intentional choice against you.

Infidelity puts trust on life-support.

Trust is the lifeblood of any relationship. Without it, the relationship can’t survive. The revelation that your spouse has secretly turned to someone else for emotional and/or sexual satisfaction leaves trust in shambles and the hope of rebuilding trust questionable.

Some marriages cannot survive infidelity.

Though I have helped many couples work through infidelity and go on to build a strong marriage, some marriage cannot survive that kind of betrayal. Sometimes it’s because the spouse that cheated can’t do what it takes to rebuild trust, and sometimes it’s because the spouse that was betrayed can’t get past what happened and trust their spouse again. (More on this below.) Either way, not every couple survives infidelity. Perhaps this is why even the Bible lists infidelity as an acceptable reason for a marriage to end.

Some marriages can survive infidelity.

As I said above, I’ve helped many couples work through the pain of infidelity. It’s a long and difficult process, but if both spouses are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work, the marriage can not only be saved…it can become stronger and better than ever.

Infidelity is a message about the spouses and their marriage.

I’m not excusing the infidelity. (I’ll get to that in a minute) But there was something going on with the individual spouses and the way they were relating to one another that set an environment conducive to infidelity. One of the keys to remaking a better marriage after the infidelity is to understand what was happening to create that environment and to work to change it.

Infidelity is a choice, and cannot be blamed on anything or anyone other than the person who chose to be unfaithful.

As I said above, infidelity cannot be excused. The unfaithful spouse could have chosen other options. They could have expressed their dissatisfaction with their spouse or the marriage. They could have confessed their temptation to stray and asked for help. The unfaithful spouse could have gone to counseling or insisted that the two of them go to marriage counseling. Ultimately, they could have ended the marriage if they were that unhappy. There are always choices other than betraying your spouse. The responsibility for the infidelity lies squarely on the shoulders of the one who chose to be unfaithful.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO

Infidelity does not have to end a marriage. If both spouses are willing to commit to one another, seek counseling, and do the hard work, they can rebuild a new and better marriage.

With the help of a counselor, here’s what spouses need to do to work through infidelity…

Resist/Reject.

From the very outset, the unfaithful spouse must completely resist all impulses to contact the infidelity partner in any way. They must also reject all attempts for the infidelity partner to contact them. All contact between the two must be cut off for rebuilding to work. Realistically, this will not be easy for an unfaithful spouse. They have experienced something exciting and seemingly fulfilling with this other person, and even if they cut off all contact, they will still grieve the loss. This is hard for the betrayed spouse to watch, but it’s a natural part of the process.

Reveal.

Once the infidelity has come out into the open, every detail must be revealed.

When I’m helping couples recover from infidelity, I have one session in which the spouse who was betrayed can ask their spouse any and every question they feel necessary…even down to questions about the times, places, and types of sex they had. Admittedly, this is painful for both spouses, but the greatest pain has already been inflicted with the infidelity. If the trust is ever to be restored, there can be nothing hidden or secret. This type of revealing also helps the betrayed spouse eventually get past asking incessant questions that can eventually damage the recovery process.

Review.

Once every question has been asked and everything has been disclosed, then the couple needs to move on to reviewing their marriage…from the beginning to where things began to run off the rails.

Typically, there’s a subtle drift between spouses. Often, this drift begins with the onset of kids and career focus. Spouses begin to talk less and take each other for granted. Fatigue becomes a bigger factor. The sexual relationship is given less and less attention. Stressors and tensions slowly increase.

Whatever the reasons, spouses need to review the evolution (or devolution) of their marriage to understand what happened to set the stage for infidelity.

Rebuild.

Having done the review, the couple then must change the habits and structures that contributed to the weakening of their marriage. This may include…

  • Working on new communications skills and strategies.
  • Investing more in childcare or other systems so they can spend more time together.
  • Developing better conflict resolution skills.
  • Getting some individual counseling for personal issues that might be causing problems in the marriage.

Working through infidelity is hard, but just working through infidelity without doing the work of rebuilding a better marriage simply sets the stage for future failure.

A WORD OF WARNING

I believe it’s possible for a marriage to survive infidelity with counseling and hard work. But there are some couples who come to counseling to work through infidelity that don’t make it. When this happens, it’s typically for one of two reasons…

  • The spouse who was unfaithful can’t tolerate the scrutiny necessary to rebuild trust. For a while, the unfaithful spouse has to be totally open with their whereabouts, their cell phone, their social media passwords, etc. Their life has to be under a microscope for a while so that their spouse can rebuild trust. If they can’t tolerate this scrutiny, they won’t be able to rebuild.
  • The spouse who was betrayed can’t let go of the offense and move forward. When the unfaithful spouse has done everything they can to prove they’re trustworthy, the responsibility for moving forward then shifts to the spouse who was betrayed. The betrayed spouse then must choose to forgive, let go, and move forward. If the betrayed spouse can’t do that, the marriage probably won’t survive.

These two things can ultimately wreck a couple’s attempts to recover from infidelity.

A FINAL WORD

This is what I want you to understand…

If there’s been infidelity…it doesn’t have to be the end of the marriage.

That’s not to say that every marriage will survive infidelity, but they can, with counseling, hard work, and support. That’s both my goal and my prayer.

If Things Are Getting Heated…

Perhaps you’ve been there. You and your spouse are “discussing” something when suddenly you realize things are getting heated and going south. If it goes much further, you’ll hit a point of no return and it won’t end well.

This is normal in marriage. It happens to everyone from time to time. But how you handle these times can either hurt or help your marriage. So it’s important to recognize when things are getting heated so you can handle them well.

What Are the Signs That Things Are Getting Heated?

When things heat up, it seems to hit us with little warning. It feels like we’ve gone from zero to sixty instantly. But, there are actually warning signs that things are heading south. Here are some signs that your “discussion” is getting heated:

  • You’re getting tense.
  • Your pulse is rising.
  • You feel offended.
  • You feel defensive.
  • You’re getting angry.
  • You’re raising your volume.
  • You want to withdraw.
  • You want to go into attack mode.
  • You’re thinking or saying things you wouldn’t normally think or say.
  • You no longer remember or care what started it, you just want it to end.

When you’re experiencing these things, your “discussion” is heating up and heading south.

Why Do Things Get Heated?

As I said, it’s normal for things to occasionally get heated between spouses. There are some really normal reasons for this. It can happen when the “discussion”…

  • Comes at a time when you’re tired and spent.
  • Happens at the end of a day full of difficulties.
  • Touches something about which you’re especially sensitive.
  • Addresses an area about which you’re especially passionate.
  • Criticizes your personality differences.
  • Keeps repeating and never gets solved.

Whatever the reason, there is something about this “discussion” that tends to move things from a spark to a wild fire.

What Can You Do When Things Get Heated?

So many marriages remain distant and frustrated because they don’t know how to handle these critical, heating up moments.

So I want to give you a simple approach that will help avert things before they reach the point of no return. Here it is…

If things are getting heated…take a time-out.

We do this with children, but it turns out that adults can benefit from a time-out also.

How Do You Do It?

Now I know that when things are getting heated, taking a time out can be easier said than done. So let me give you some rules for engagement for taking a time-out:

  • Talk about a time-out before it’s needed. If you call a time-out before you’ve discussed this tactic with your spouse, it could come across as a way of shutting them down or getting around the issue. So when things are good between the two of you, bring up the idea of time-outs as a way of not getting into hurtful fights. (Who doesn’t want that?)
  • Signal a time out. Agree upon some sort of signal to use when you need to call a time out. You can use the “T” sign used in sports or any other sign you want. (Make it something fun…no middle fingers!)
  • Explain why you called the time-out. Let your spouse know that the time out is about you. Tell them that you are getting to a point where you’re afraid you will say or do something that would hurt them, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Give them a reconnect time. This is important. Without giving your spouse a definite time when you will come back and address the issue, it will feel like you’re blowing them off to get them off your back.
  • Keep your promise to reconnect. This is equally important. If you don’t keep your promise to finish the discussion at the set time, your spouse will not trust any further time-outs and will keep pressing you. Be true to your word and reconvene when promised.
  • Repeat as needed. You will need to repeat this approach from time to time. But, the more you effectively use time-outs, the less you will need to use them.

The next time things are getting heated between you and your spouse, try taking a time-out. I promise you will get further with less damage using time-outs than continuing to let things heat up until someone gets singed.

The Three Fields: A Marriage Parable

The following parable is suited to many situations in life, but it’s particularly suited to marriage.

Once there were three farmers. They each had a field that was not doing well. The demands of growing crops had slowly drawn the life-giving nutrients from the soil until they no longer produced satisfying crops for the farmers. Each of the farmers was frustrated and unsure of what to do with their field

The First Farmer.

The first farmer said, “Farming shouldn’t be this hard. I’ve been struggling with this field for years, and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I’m not sure what to do, and even if I did, I’m not sure I have the time, energy, or resources to invest in this field anymore.” He eventually sold his field, at a great loss.

The Second Farmer.

The second farmer said, “This is frustrating. This field used to produce a great crop. What’s wrong with it? I’ve not changed what I’m doing, so I don’t know why things are getting worse. But I’m going to stick to doing what I’ve always done. If it was good enough to produce crops then, it should be good enough now.” This farmer continued to do things the way he had always done them. Consequently, he saw decreasing returns from his field.

The Third Farmer.

The third farmer said, “This is not good. This is not how I want things to be, but I’ve got too much invested in this field to let it go. It seems to me that what I’m doing should be working, but, maybe I’m missing something.” So the farmer sought out the original owner of the land who had a great track record for producing successful crops.

The original owner suggested that the farmer’s field was not producing a satisfying crop because the farmer was not putting the necessary nutrients back into the field. He went on to say, “Over time, the demands of growing, the heat of the sun, and the erosion from storms take a lot out of a field. You must put back into the field the things it needs if you what to keep producing good crops.” The farmer asked him what he should be putting into his field, and the original owner said, “That depends on the field. Each field is different, with different needs. You must get to know your field.”

And so, with much uncertainty and no guarantee of success, the third farmer took the original owner’s advice and went back to get to know his field and to put back into it the things it needed. The turn around was slow at first. It took a season or two to begin to see the results. But eventually, the field came around and continued to produce bountiful crops years into the future.

The following are some questions to help you apply this parable to your own marriage:

  • Which farmer do you most identify with at this time? Why?
  • Does this story apply to your situation? If so, how?
  • What is one thing that you can take away from this story that would be beneficial to your current situation?

If You Can’t Get Over How They’ve Hurt You… (Part 2)

What do you do if you’re having trouble getting over the way your spouse has hurt you?

I posed this question in the last post, but I didn’t answer it. Instead, I looked at the various ways spouses hurt one another.

I encourage you to go back and read that post, but here’s a very short summary…

  • Sometimes spouses will hurt one another.
  • Sometimes that hurt is unintentional.
  • Sometimes that hurt is intentional.
  • Sometimes the hurt sticks with you and is hard to get past.

So now I need to address the original question. What can you do when your spouse has hurt you and you can’t seem to get over it?

I suppose you could do a mic drop and leave your spouse, but because there is hurt in every relationship, you will constantly be moving from relationship to relationship. Not a good idea.

There’s another alternative…

If you can’t get over how they’ve hurt you…it’s time to forgive. 

If you’ve been hurt badly or repeatedly, you may recoil and push back at the mention of forgiveness.  Or, if you’re a person of faith, you may feel you’ve already forgiven them, but their offense continues to bother you…like a rock in your shoe.

Both of these responses are usually due to a misunderstanding of forgiveness. In order to explain what I mean by forgiveness, let’s start with some of the myths about forgiveness.

FORGIVENESS MYTHS…

There are a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness that can actually make the idea of forgiveness unpalatable and unattainable. Here are a few:

Forgiveness should be quick.

Sometimes we want to forgive quickly because we don’t like feeling resentful. Other times we want to forgive quickly because we believe that’s what our religious tradition teaches. But think of it this way…You can quickly forgive someone who accidentally bumps into you and spills your drink. But you’re not as quick to forgive your spouse who has been unfaithful and slept with someone else. The greater the offense, the longer and harder the process of forgiveness will be.

Forgiveness will come naturally with time.

Despite the old adage, time doesn’t heal all wounds. Healing takes both time and work. It may take some time for you to forgive your spouse, but it will also take work to get through the hurt.

Forgiveness is a one-time decision.

Yes, forgiveness starts with a decision to forgive, but then it is a process of continuing to forgive. Forgiveness involves re-forgiving your spouse every time you feel the hurt resurface.

Forgiveness means you forget the offense.

Our brains are not created to forget when we’ve been hurt. We need to remember the hurt…not to keep blaming our spouse, but to take the steps we need to take to protect ourselves from further hurt.

Forgiveness takes away your pain.

Forgiveness doesn’t take away your feelings. At least not quickly. Forgiveness merely asserts control over those feelings, denying them the right to drive you.

Forgiveness implies the offense doesn’t matter.

If the offense didn’t matter, there would be no need for forgiveness. The offense does matter! You’ve been wronged and hurt, and that needs to be recognized and dealt with.

Forgiveness means there’s no need for justice.

If your child is killed by a drunk driver, you can eventually forgive that drunk driver. But that doesn’t mean the driver should not suffer the consequences of their actions. Your forgiveness simply means that you relinquish the right to “make them pay.”

Forgiveness is the same as excusing the offender.

Forgiveness does not excuse your spouse for the offense. Nor does forgiveness release them of the personal responsibility for what they’ve done.

Forgiveness requires the offender to repent.

Forgiveness is something you do, independently of your spouse’s attitude and actions. Even if they see no reason for forgiveness, you can still forgive them. Forgiveness sets you free, despite their response.

Forgiveness means you have to trust your offender.

Forgiveness does not promote an environment for repeating the offense. If you borrow my car and it gets a door ding, I will probably trust you with my car again. But if you borrow my car and carelessly total it because you were driving too fast and drinking, I probably won’t trust you with my car again…even though I forgive you.

So, after looking at the myths associated with forgiveness,  now let’s look at what forgiveness really is…

FORGIVENESS IS…

Forgiveness is simply the decision and corresponding act of giving up your claim to retaliation or payment for an offense. You’re not denying the offense or the hurt it’s caused you. You’re simply releasing your right for repayment or justice.

This is what you need to do if you can’t get over how your spouse has hurt you. As we mentioned above, you may have to do this slowly and repeatedly depending on the gravity of the offense. And your forgiveness may not change the consequences of their offense. But it’s still a critical factor in your healing.

Forgiveness offers powerful benefits to a person’s physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health. But one of the biggest benefits of forgiveness is that it keeps you from being stuck in the past. The offense is a part of history, and since you can’t change history, the only way you can keep from getting stuck in the past is to forgive.

I know…it’s easier said than done! But if you can’t get over how they’ve hurt you…it’s probably time for you to forgive.

If You Can’t Get Over How They’ve Hurt You… (Part 1)

We all dream of a marriage where there’s lots of fun, good connection, deep understanding, frequent sex, abundant money, perfect kids, beautiful rainbows, and dancing unicorns.

But marriage can be as much a battleground as a playground at times because spouses will hurt each other from time to time. You can’t live with someone, day in and day out, and not…

  • Get your feelings hurt.
  • Feel devalued.
  • Be misunderstood.
  • Feel put down.
  • Be taken for granted.

Before we look at how to get past the hurt, we need to understand it.

UNINTENTIONAL HURT.

Most of the time, spouses hurt one another unintentionally. They don’t mean to inflict harm on one another. It just happens…like stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego.

Most unintentional hurt comes from three basic differences between spouses:

Family of Origin.

We tend to underestimate how much our upbringing contributes to our marital hurt. For instance:

  • If you were raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of unacceptable anger, but your spouse was raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of lively discussion…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.
  • If you were raised in a family where both spouses jumped in to keep the house clean, but your spouse was raised in a family where one spouse was responsible for the house and the other for the outside…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.

Personality.

It’s funny how the personality we fell in love with often winds up being the personality we’re frustrated with. For instance:

  • If your personality is to be very structured and planned, but your spouse’s personality is to be very free-wheeling and spontaneous…you’re going to see your spouse as inconsiderate and hurtful at times.
  • If your personality is to be very private with most things, but your spouse’s personality is to be very open with most things…you’re going to butt heads and feel some hurt.

Stressors.

Both you and your spouse deal with different pressures and stressors in life. These pressures and stressors can easily leak out in your interactions with one another, causing unintentional hurts.

  • If your boss has been on your case with one demand after another, a request for help from your spouse might cause you to react with an icy, do-it-yourself tone of voice…leaving your spouse wounded.
  • If you’ve spent the day with kids clamoring for your attention and climbing all over you, your spouse’s sexual advance may be met with a cold, back-off-before-you-lose-that-hand kind of response…leaving your spouse rejected and hurt.

All of these are unintentional hurts, but they need to be talked through and worked out.

But what if the hurt is intentional?

INTENTIONAL HURT.

There may be times when spouses will hurt each other intentionally. Where unintentional hurt is like stubbing your toe, intentional hurt is like sticking out your foot to trip each other.

Intentional hurt typically occurs when we’re…

Trying to Defend Ourselves.

If we are feeling attacked, our automatic response is often to defend ourselves. For instance, if your spouse comes at you and wants to know why you haven’t unloaded the dishwasher, your first reaction might be to say “I’m sorry.” If they continue to press, your defensiveness goes up and you begin to make excuses for why you didn’t unload the dishwasher. But if your spouse continues to press, you might lash out in anger and say something like, “I’m not your servant! If you weren’t so busy staring at your phone you could do it yourself!” Though it was said in the heat of the moment, this was an intentional hurt inflicted on your spouse.

Trying to Get Even.

If our spouse has hurt us in some way (intentionally or unintentionally) we might react in such a way as to hurt them back. This is often done in a very passive-aggressive way.  For instance, suppose you’ve asked your spouse repeatedly to let you know when they’re on their way home from work, but they never seem to remember. You might try to get even by: not preparing dinner, going out with your friends and not letting them know when you’ll be back, or not picking up the phone when they’re trying to get in touch with you. These are all passive-aggressive attempts to get even with your spouse.

Trying to Get Our Needs Met…Apart From Our Spouse.

This category can involve getting involved in habits or hobbies our spouse does not enjoy. But mostly this refers to emotional and/or sexual infidelity. It’s when a spouse seeks to meet an emotional or sexual need with someone other than their spouse. Spouses who have done this will tell you they never intended it to happen. This can make it sound like the hurt they inflicted with their infidelity was unintentional. But somewhere they made an intentional choice to step outside of the marriage, making it an intentional hurt. (Note: we will have more to say on infidelity in a later post.)

As I said at the beginning of this post, spouses will hurt each other from time to time. Hopefully, it’s more unintentional than intentional, but it will happen. The quicker we can recognize when and why this happens, the easier it will be to fix and avoid it in the future.

But sometimes the hurt (big or small) will stick with us. We take it personally…to a fault. The hurt cuts so deep we can’t seem to forget it or get over it.

When this happens, what can we do? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this post is already too long. So, you’ll need to check out the next Normal Marriage post to find out!

If You’re Attracted to Someone Else…

Let’s cut to the chase. There will be times when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse. We don’t like to admit it, but it happens. We see someone and do a double-take. We’re with a group of people and find ourselves drawn to someone’s humor, personality, or interests.

This is normal and typically not a problem. But when that attraction gets out of hand, we start comparing this person’s positive traits to our spouse’s negative traits. We become more and more distant and dissatisfied with our spouse. This signals a move from normal attraction to fatal attraction, and we need to do something.

But before we can do something about an unhealthy attraction, we must understand it.

WHY ARE WE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

In general, we are attracted to someone else when…

  • We see something we like. – Maybe we’re attracted to a certain look, style, or body shape. Perhaps we’re attracted to their personality or attitude. Maybe we’re attracted to the way they carry and conduct themselves. Whatever it is, we see something we like and we find it attractive.
  • The person is different from what we’re used to. We become so used to our spouse’s looks, behaviors, and attitudes that someone different feels refreshing and inviting.
  • Our relationship with our spouse is not going well. When our relationship with our spouse is stagnant or frustrating, it’s easier to be attracted to someone else. The attraction feels like a reaction for the other person, but it’s actually a reaction against our marriage’s current state.

WHEN IS BEING ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE A PROBLEM?

Normal attraction becomes a problem when…

  • We think about the other person when they’re not there.
  • Our thoughts about the other person are increasing.
  • We compare the other person to our spouse in a way that is negative toward our spouse.
  • We start fantasizing about the other person.

When we do these things regularly and increasingly, we move from a normal attraction to a hurtful attraction. It becomes an unhealthy affair of the mind, and it will hurt our relationship with our spouse.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO WHEN WE’RE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

When we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse, there are three things we need to do:

Remember.

Here are some things we need to remember when we’re attracted to someone else:

  • The attraction is not a call to action.
  • Reality will never measure up to our fantasy.
  • Those attractive differences would eventually aggravate. (Just as they did with our spouse?)
  • We’re only seeing the good side of the person. There’s another side we’re not seeing.

Refocus.

When we find ourselves strongly attracted to someone other than our spouse, we need to refocus on…

  • All the things we like about our spouse…rather than the few things we don’t like.
  • The good times and history we’ve shared with our spouse.
  • Our family and friends, and how much they love us.
  • What we can do to make our relationship with our spouse better.

Remove.

If remembering and refocusing is not enough to short-circuit the attraction, we need to keep our distance from the other person. This can be awkward but, as much as possible, you need to distance yourself from them.

We will all find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse at times. Don’t let this attraction throw you or take you down the wrong roads. What’s the bottom line?

If you’re attracted to someone else…understand but don’t upgrade!

If Your Approaches to Parenting Differ…

When people come into my counseling office with marital problems, I always ask them, “When did these things start to be a problem?” The majority of people trace it back to when they started having kids.

This makes sense. When kids come along…

  • You have to share your spouse’s attention with a very needy child.
  • The demands of parenting, leave you with less energy for marriage.
  • Money is tighter, leaving less to spend on the relationship.
  • Free time becomes a thing of the past and things like dating often go by the way-side.

But there’s another reason why kids disrupt a marriage as surely as pulling the pin on a grenade. When kids come into a marriage, we become parents. And although we’re parenting the same child/children, our views on parenting often differ. These different views on parenting can create a lot of conflicts.

DIFFERING VIEWS ON PARENTING

Where do we get our views on parenting?

Gender differences.

There are distinct differences between the genders. Some of these differences are the result of genetics and some are the result of socialization. But the differences are there and they affect our views and approaches to parenting. Men and women will always view parenting differently on some level.

Family of Origin Differences.

But most of our views on parenting come from how we were parented. You and your spouse had different parenting experiences growing up, so it makes sense that you would have different views on parenting now. Let me give you an example…

One of the biggest disagreements between my wife and me centered on how our teenage girls kept their rooms.

Walking into our girls’ rooms was like going on a safari in the jungles of Africa. There were so many clothes on the floor you needed a machete to cut a path. Bras and scarves desperately hung from mirrors as if they were afraid of falling to the floor and getting lost in the undergrowth. School books were scattered around the room as if their book bag had suffered from projectile vomiting. And there were drinking glasses and dishes that had been there so long, I had forgotten we had them.

My wife and I responded very differently to the girls’ rooms. I would look in their rooms and shake my head, much like you would when you see someone pushing on a door that says “pull.” Then I would shrug my shoulders and keep moving. But my wife would look in their rooms and respond so heatedly it would set off the smoke alarms and send the kids into a duck-and-cover mode.

Why did we react so differently? Because we were raised by different parents.

As a boy, I shared a very small and well lived-in bedroom with two other brothers. My mother sensed it was futile to expect it to stay neat all the time, so she gave us our space…asking only for an occasional cleaning.

But my wife was parented differently. Her parents believed that children showed respect by keeping everything neat and in its place. To do otherwise was considered disrespectful. So she always kept her room neat and clean.

You can see why we reacted differently to our girls’ messy rooms. We viewed room cleanliness based on how we were parented.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR APPROACHES TO PARENTING DIFFER?

I can sum up the answer to this question in one statement…

If your approaches to parenting differ…you must parent differently.

It took us a while to come to a mutual agreement on how our kids should keep their rooms. I wanted an approach in which the kids were not always complaining about living with a room nazi. My wife wanted an approach in which the kids respected her enough to keep their rooms from looking like a toxic waste dump.

To find a solution, we both had to change our approach. We both had to parent differently.

We came up with a solution that was different from what we each wanted but had enough of what we each wanted to satisfy us. Here is what we came up with…

Six days a week, the girls could keep their rooms pretty much the way they wanted, with two exceptions: they couldn’t leave food lying around, and they had to keep their door closed so their mother didn’t go into cardiac arrest each time she passed by their rooms. But one day a week, they had to clean their rooms to pass mom’s inspection…and mom’s inspection could be tough! And if their rooms didn’t pass her inspection, then they lost privileges.

You see, my wife and I had to parent differently than we wanted to accommodate each other’s parenting views.  We had to find out what was important to each other when it came to parenting, and then find approaches that honored us both.

It’s easier said than done, but there’s no other way. You each will approach parenting differently, which means you must each parent differently.

On a side note: both girls survived. They grew up to have kids of their own and now have to fight their own room battles. There is some poetic justice in life! 

If You Find it Difficult to Deal With Your In-Laws…

“It’s only for a couple of weeks. Just don’t say anything!” These were the words of caution/threat that my wife delivered to me prior to her parents’ arrival. And she drove those word home as if she was driving a three-inch nail through my forehead.

In all fairness, she had good reason to be concerned. You see, I didn’t have a good track record of getting along with my mother-in-law.

Maybe it started the first night I took her daughter out and brought her home at 3:00 in the morning. (Not a good start, I’ll admit.) Perhaps it’s because when we were dating, my hair was past my shoulders and I spent my weekends playing guitar in bar bands. Maybe it was because I would show up at her door dressed in eclectically breath-taking Goodwill attire. Or maybe it was because I would eventually be guilty of taking her last child from the nest.

Whatever the reason, my in-laws were coming and I was being warned to be on my best behavior.

Hopefully, you have a great, trouble-free relationship with your in-laws. If so, be thankful to the dealer for the cards you’ve drawn. But too often, friction with in-laws is a common issue in marriage.

WHY DEALING WITH YOUR IN-LAWS CAN BE DIFFICULT.

How is it that you can love your spouse, but struggle with ones who birthed them and raised them? Why can your in-laws punch your buttons so easily? There can be a lot of small and specific irritants, but globally it has to do with some things you’ve probably felt, but never really stopped to think about.

Influence.

I often tell couples in premarital counseling, that when they climb into bed on their honeymoon night, there will actually be six people in the bed…the two of them and both their parents. After the premarital couple finishes gagging over that visual picture, I go on to explain the following.

We forget that when we get our spouse, we’re not getting a blank slate. We’re getting someone who for twenty-some years has been imprinted and influenced by their parents. And rarely is that parental imprint the same as yours.

And so, there will come times when you get frustrated because you feel like your in-laws have more influence over your spouse than you do. What’s really happening in these times is that your pride and insecurity are getting bruised. Which leads to another irritant…

Loyalty.

On the day we got married, my wife and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma, where we both had jobs waiting on us. In the first year or two of our marriage, we would try to go home for most holidays. But I noticed something about those trips. Even though things were great between us when we arrived, by the time we left, I was frustrated and angry.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but it finally dawned on me. On our way there, I felt like she was my wife. But the minute she stepped across the threshold of her childhood home, it was like she switched from being my wife and became their daughter again. And me, being the stupid young husband that I was, didn’t understand that it could be both/and.

So, like a dog marking my territory, I took every opportunity to play the “she’s my wife more than your daughter” card. This didn’t win me any points with them…or my wife. You need to learn that it’s not disloyalty for your spouse to hold loyalties to both you and their parents. When you feel those loyalties are in conflict, then don’t get mad or withdraw. Talk it out.

Commitment.

The big problem is that we tend to misinterpret both our in-laws’ influence over our spouse and our spouse’s loyalty to their parents as a lack of commitment to us. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Just as showing love and commitment to one child is not a slight to the other child, your spouse’s loyalty to their parents in no way diminishes their commitment to you. Don’t put your spouse in the bind of having to choose between being committed to you or being committed to their parents. Help them in their commitment to both.

When these issues of influence, loyalty, and commitment come up, you need to remind yourself that your spouse has already chosen you over their parents. They left home, married you, and crawl in bed with you each night…unless you snore. You’ve already won them. Quit worrying that you’re going to lose them to their parents.

HOW CAN YOU BETTER DEAL WITH YOUR IN-LAWS.

Just in case you’re wondering, I have a good relationship with my mother-in-law now. It took a while, but we got there. How did that happen? Here are some things I wish I had been quicker to learn…

Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.

Despite the way it feels, your in-laws are not trying to subvert your spouse, undermine your authority, control your finances, or over-rule your parenting. When you feel like they’re too involved, put your pride in check and give them the benefit of the doubt. They really just want to help in any way they can. Accept it for that.

Show Them the Honor They Deserve.

Do you know how hard it is to work, manage finances, and hold a marriage and family together? Well, your in-laws have been doing it longer than you have. And though you may not see eye to eye with them on everything (or anything), you would not have the spouse you have…the spouse you chose…without their input, hard work, and sacrifice. For this, and more, show them honor.

Love Them for Your Spouse’s Sake.

I use to bristle when my wife would tell me, “Please, just don’t upset my mom.” I could come up with a long list of reasons why she shouldn’t put such restrictions on me. But the one thing I couldn’t argue my way around was this: her parents were important to her, so they should be important to me. If for no other reason, I need to love my in-laws for my spouse’s sake.

Remember You’ll Be an In-law One Day.

If you’re not already, one of these days you will find yourself in the devalued position of being an in-law. Some day, some young man or young woman may view you as some sort of intrusion upon their marriage. So treat your in-laws in the way you want your son-in-law or daughter-in-law to treat you. It’s just a good rule of thumb.

One final note: Perhaps there will there be times when you need to set some gentle and loving boundaries with your in-laws? If and when that time comes, do so in concurrence with your spouse, then let your spouse be the one to explain it to their parents. This will work better for both of you.

So to simply sum things up…

If you find it difficult to deal with your in-laws…get over yourself and give them some grace.