Here’s a common occurrence in counseling. A married couple comes into my office and tells me they love each other but they’re not in love with each other. The spark’s not there. They don’t feel a desire for one another. The chemistry’s gone. Things have become mundane, matter-or-fact, and boring. Neither are satisfied. They can’t figure out what’s wrong, but they don’t want to go on like this.
You may be thinking, “I’ve felt the same way about my marriage!” If so, I want you to take a deep breath and relax. This is normal. It happens to nearly every marriage at some point or another. I call it marital atrophy.
What is Atrophy?
Atrophy is defined as the gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
We usually think of atrophy as something that happens to your muscles when you’ve been in a hospital and bedridden for
a while. You also think of atrophy when one of your limbs has been immobilized in a cast for some time.
Like muscles, a marriage can atrophy.
What Causes Marital Atrophy?
Marriages decline, lose vitality, and become ineffective from neglect and lack of use. Marriages atrophy when spouses…
- Stop intentionally spending time with one another.
- Fall into ruts and routines.
- Allow familiarity to excuse a lack of communication.
- Stop flirting with one another.
- Allow sex to dwindle or become routine.
- Quit treating each other with common courtesies.
- Pay more attention to the kids than each other.
- Stop intentionally connecting with one another.
- Pay more attention to their own needs than to their spouse’s needs.
In short, marriages atrophies with spouses stop intentionally connecting with one another. And couples are more susceptible to marital atrophy at certain stages of marriage.
- When small children are demanding a lot of time and energy.
- When one or both spouses are trying to get careers off the ground.
- When you’re in the throes of parenting a teenager.
- When money is tight and conflicts are high.
Or, marital atrophy can set in…
- When you’re feeling too comfortable in your relationship.
- When things are going so well, you don’t feel like you need to try that hard.
- When a lack of complaints leads each spouse to believe the other is ok.
In other words, marital atrophy can set in anytime a couple is feeling overwhelmed with demands, responsibilities, and schedules. Or, when couples feel like things are going so well they start to coast.
What Can You Do About Marital Atrophy?
Is there anything you can do to prevent marital atrophy; or at least turn it around? There is. But before I get to that, let me take you back in time. All the way back to before you were married. Remember when you were dating you current spouse and felt so much in love? What were the two of you doing at that time? If you’re like most couples…
- You spent as much time as you could together.
- You talked every chance you got.
- You talked about what was on your heart.
- You talked about your dreams for the future.
- You did things with them you didn’t enjoy or wouldn’t necessarily do.
- You sent little texts or left little notes.
- You surprised the other with things they loved.
- You put the other ahead of yourself.
- You sacrificed for the other.
- You wanted to be physically close with one another.
- You were flirty and playful.
If these are the things you did when love was high, my question is this…if you feel your marriage has atrophied, could it be that you’ve stopped doing these things? Now, before you say anything, I can hear the excuses pouring in:
- “Well, that was when we were younger.”
- “We had more time then”
- “We didn’t have all the stressors and demands then that we have now.”
- “We don’t have as much to say then.”
- “We weren’t as tired then as we are now.”
- “We’re too busy now to do a lot of those little things.”
- “We’ve allowed too much to come between us to feel playful.”
- “We hadn’t accumulated the long list of hurts we have now.”
I know these excuses well. I’ve used a lot of them. But none of these excuses, no matter how valid they may be, will resurrect an atrophied marriage. You have to put in the work.
A Final Word…
Just like muscles that have atrophied, a couple whose marriage has atrophied needs to get moving and do the things they once did that made them feel so in love. You may think you don’t have the time or money for this at this stage of your marriage, but let me ask you this question: Do you have time and money for a divorce?
Is it hard? Yes. Is it a quick fix? No? Will your spouse always respond well? Maybe not. Will you get back to the level you were when you were dating? Probably not. But if the muscles of your marriage have atrophied, you have to start exercising them again. And once you do, you’ll be surprised what you can get back. You’ve nothing to lose by trying, and you just might get some of the old spark back in the process.