From Romance to Roommates…and Back Again!

“What happened to us. We use to talk all the time, have fun together, send each other love notes, and be up for anything. And now it’s like we’re just roommates!”

I hear this a lot in my counseling office. And if you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve probably said some of the same things, or at least thought them. How does this happen?


We all want to feel like we did early in our relationship. Those were times of great communication, good fun, and intense sex. But no one can keep up that intensity of relational focus, attention, and effort forever. Life starts to get in the way. There are jobs to focus on, kids to tend to, and a host of other things that demand attention.

Feeling like you’ve moved from romance to roommates is a common occurrence in marriage. Some of it is simply maturing and getting comfortable in your relationship, and some of it comes from trying to manage the ever increasing onslaught of responsibilities. So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve slipped into roommate status.

But no one wants to stay in roommate status forever. If left unaddressed, roommate status will slowly suck the life out of your marriage.

If you want to turn around the “just roommates” feel of your marriage, you need to start by understanding how you got there.


Remember when you first became interested in this person you now call your spouse? Though I don’t know you personally, I know that when you became interested in your spouse, two things happened:

  • You found yourself thinking about them more and more. They were increasingly on your mind. When you went to a new restaurant without them, you wondered if they would like it. You waited to seeing that new movie, because you didn’t want to see it without them. When out with friends, you found yourself wishing they were there too. They just began to occupy more and more of your thoughts.
  • You worked hard to win them. You began to do whatever you could to capture their attention and affection. You would go to movies that didn’t interest you. Talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. Take them to their favorite restaurant…even though it wasn’t your favorite. You did whatever you could to draw them to yourself.

In short, the more you thought about them, the more your affection for them grew. And the more you affection for them grew, the harder you worked to earn their attention and affection.

But then, the two of you said, “I do,” the honeymoon phase ended, and things gradually started to change. And here’s why:

  • When dating, you only had to be on your best behavior until the date was over. But now the date’s never over! You’re with each other all the time.
  • You start to see each other’s less than flattering side and their less than attractive habits.
  • You try to get each other to be like you remember, but this is met with bruised egos and defensiveness.

We start off working hard to earn the other’s attention and affection, but as the years pass, we shift to just expecting the other’s attention and affection. It’s this shift from earning to expecting that changes the marriage from romance to roommates.


If your marriage seems to be stuck in roommate status, are you destined to live the rest of your life quietly staring out the restaurant window and substituting one-word answers for conversation? No!

If you’re in a roommate marriage, it doesn’t have to be a terminal diagnosis.

To find your way back from roommates to romance, you have to reverse the process that got you there. You have to quit expecting attention and affection and instead, start earning it again. How?

Think about them throughout your day.

If you’ve been in roommate status for a while, you may not find daydreaming about your spouse that appealing, so start by thinking about when you were dating or first married. Think about the reasons you married them in the first place. Think about your favorite memories with them. Go back through old photos to jump start those thoughts.

You’ll be surprised how this simple exercise will begin to warm your heart toward your spouse and rekindle a desire for them.

Then, take it to the next level and do something with those thoughts.

Get back in the habit of working to win them.

Think about how hard you worked in the beginning to get them to be interested in you. If you want to be more than roommates, you have to take on that same mentality and work like you did when you were dating:

  • Show interest in the things that interest them.
  • Look them in the eyes and listen closely when they talk.
  • Find ways to have fun and laugh together.
  • Leave them sweet notes and texts.
  • Meet their needs, even if they’re not your needs.
  • Spend more of your free time together than separate.

You may be thinking, “It was easy to do these things early in our relationship, because we were so in love. But now those feeling aren’t there. Doing those things now would seem contrived and hypocritical.”

But, you’re just in a different stage of your relationship now. Before, your feelings drove your actions. Now your actions must drive your feelings. And eventually, your feelings will kick in and take a bigger roll in driving your actions. It’s a loop. Feelings fuel actions and actions fuel feelings.

This is how you get out of roommate status.


So, I know that In the beginning, romance seemed easy, but it’s actually because we put a lot of work into it. Then, we stop working and we gradually slide from romance to roommates. Moving back to romance will also take work. But the difference is…now we’re not working to get them. We’re working to keep them!

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not always been the best at this. I’m highly driven by my emotions, and when those loving emotions aren’t there I tend to withdraw rather than move closer with loving actions. (Just ask my wife.) So as I write these words, I’m preaching to myself first and foremost. And now that I’ve put this out there in public, my wife will be watching to see if I step up my game.

So, here’s hoping we all keep finding our way back from roommates to romance, because we’re all in this together.

Has Your Marriage Atrophied?

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.

A Heartbreaking Anniversary

What follows is a different type of post than I usually write. It’s less professional and more personal, so please forgive me if I take off my counseling hat for a moment and bare my soul.

The Anniversary

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary. Let me clarify upfront…that’s not the heartbreaking part! We’ve been together a total of 45 years and she’s still my best friend. I wouldn’t want to do life with anyone else, and hopefully, we’ll be chasing each other around the nursing home someday.

The Heartbreak

So what made it so heartbreaking? Was it the health issues we currently face? Was it the personal family things we’re currently walking through?

None of these led to my heartbreak. Though they’re not fun, they’re just a part of life, and the further down the road you travel, the more apt you are to hit some rough roads.

What broke my heart was that at the same time as our upcoming anniversary, I received word of four different marriages that were headed for divorce.

These were not rookie couples. They were couples with kids who had been married for over 10 years. They were couples who appeared to have promise and hope. They were couples with whom I had some sort of connection. And they were couples who were capable of rising above their issues and going on to have a great marriage together. But, for some reason, one or both spouses decided the marriage needed to end.

The Reality

I don’t want to minimize or trivialize the struggles they were facing. When you’re in the midst of such struggles, it’s easy to feel that things are insurmountable. Nor do I want to minimize or trivialize the efforts of those spouses who did everything they could do to keep their marriage together. Some of these spouses worked incredibly hard to save their marriage. But, as I’ve said before, marriage is a dance between two people. And sometimes you just can’t make your dance partner want to dance.

You might be thinking, “You’ve done marriage counseling for close to 30 years. You should be used to this by now.” But I’ve never been able to get used to divorce. (And I hope I never do.) No one dreams of being divorced. So to watch a couple who once vowed “till death do we part” wind up dividing property and kids because they believe they can’t make it work still breaks my heart.

Divorces will happen. We live in a complicated and messy world with complicated and messy people. Sometimes…

  • The hurt is too deep.
  • The personalities are too fixed and rigid.
  • The issues have been left unattended for too long.
  • The trust is too damaged.

I still want to believe that every hurting marriage can be restored. But sometimes divorce is just going to happen, no matter how hard you try.

The Plea

So, out of my heartbreak, I want to plead with you. Whether you‘ve been married for 2 or 42 years…

  • Don’t sweep things under the rug. Talk about them sooner rather than later.
  • Don’t ignore your spouse’s needs. If you can, meet those needs more often than not.
  • Don’t let yourselves drift apart, even in the hard seasons of marriage. Fight against that.
  • Don’t let legitimate responsibilities take priority over your most important responsibility…your spouse.
  • Don’t compare your marriage with others. Instead, focus on being the best couple you can be.
  • Don’t take things too personally. Not everything is about you. Sometimes it’s about them.
  • Don’t die on every hill. Some hills are just too small to die on.
  • Don’t let pride or embarrassment keep you from getting help when you need it. A happy marriage is worth anything.

Will these things insure that you’ll never go through a divorce? No. These things are investments, and occasionally the investment may not pay off. But doing these things will greatly improve the probability of avoiding divorce and of making the most out of your life together.

And to my wife: Thank you for sticking it out with me for the last 42 years…and not smothering me in my sleep! I owe you!

Are You Asking the Wrong Questions?

I had a daughter who taught me the importance of asking the right questions. When she was a teen, If I asked how she did on an exam, she would say, “Good.” But if I asked her what grade she made on the exam…that was another story! It was important for me to ask the right questions.

It’s true in parenting, but it’s especially true in marriage. If you ask the wrong questions you’ll wind up looking in the wrong places and getting the wrong answers.

What are the Wrong Questions

So often, in marriage counseling, I find that couples are stuck because spouses are asking the wrong questions. Here are some examples of the wrong questions spouses ask:

  • Why can’t you see what I need you to do?
  • What keeps you from doing what I need you to do?
  • Why are you acting that way?
  • What’s it going to take to get you to see?
  • When are you going to let it go?
  • Why can’t you put things where they belong?
  • Why are you doing it that way?
  • What’s wrong with you?

Why Are These Questions Wrong?

These questions are not wrong in and of themselves. They can be excellent questions when you and your spouse both feel loved and appreciated. But typically we ask questions like these when we’re upset with our spouse.

If you’ll notice, the questions have one thing in common…the word “you.” These questions are all aimed like arrows at the heart and character of your spouse. And they’re usually delivered with a bit of a bite, frustration, or anger. These questions back your spouse into a corner, leaving them with only two options: fight back or knuckle under. And neither of these responses is good for your marriage.

What Are Some Better Questions?

If you’ve been asking the wrong questions, I want to encourage you to start asking better questions. Rather than focusing your questions on your spouse, focus them on yourself by asking yourself things like:

  • Why can’t I see what my spouse needs me to do?
  • What keeps me from doing what I need to do for my spouse?
  • Why am I acting this way?
  • What’s it going to take for me to see what I need to see?
  • When am I going to let some things go?
  • Why do I need things to be where I think they belong?
  • Why am I doing things a certain way?
  • What are the things that are wrong with me?

Why are These Questions Better?

Before we go any further, let me say, I don’t believe you’re the main problem in your marriage. Nor do I think your spouse is the main problem in your marriage. When there’s a problem in marriage, both spouses usually contribute to the problem. It may not be a 50/50 split. Sometimes it may be 60/40 or 80/20. But however it shakes out, you still have some contribution. And your contribution is the only thing you have any direct control over.

I can hear someone thinking, “That’s not fair! They get to keep doing what they’re doing while I’m the one who has to make all the changes?”

Not necessarily. First of all, “fair” is not always a realistic approach to things. I use to tell my children things like, “the world’s not fair,” and “fair is that place with Ferris wheels and cotton candy.” Sometimes in life, to get where you want to be, you have to focus on doing what you need to do, even when things don’t seem fair.

Secondly, when you change yourself, it can indirectly and positively affect your spouse. Maybe in doing what you should do, even when it’s not fair, your spouse will feel more loved, more appreciated, more seen, or more heard. And as a result, it will be easier for them to feel safe, let down their guard, and love your back.

A Final Word…

When you stop asking the wrong questions and start asking the right questions, it can be life-changing for your marriage. Can I guarantee that doing this will turn your marriage around? No. Marriage is a dance between two people, and sometimes your dance partner is too set in their hurtful ways to change. But, if asking the wrong questions is not getting you anywhere, It won’t hurt to try asking better questions.

The Wrong Way to be Right

I have a grandson who thinks he’s right about everything. Even the things he knows nothing about! No matter what you’re talking about, he typically takes the opposing opinion, and he’s convinced he’s right. Even if you show him he’s wrong, he won’t concede. He just walks away.

There are a lot of marriages out there where one or both spouses are always convinced they’re right. They take a stand and an opinion on various things, and they’ll ride the “I’m right” train to the very end of the line. And if you somehow prove they’re wrong, they will shift the point to something else, or just withdraw.

Why is it so Important for Some People to be Right?

Why is being right so important to some spouses? There can be a wide variety of reasons why a spouse becomes so doggedly determined to prove they’re right.

  • Maybe they were raised in a home where being right was highly valued.
  • Perhaps they saw their parents fight a lot about who was right or wrong.
  • Maybe they were not believed in the past by parents, friends, or coworkers.
  • Perhaps they’ve been wrongly accused in the past and suffered injustices.
  • Maybe they struggle with low self-esteem, and being right is a way of feeling better about themselves.
  • Perhaps they have a competitive personality that turns disagreements into competitions.

Whatever the case may be, there are spouses out there who just have to be right about everything. And maybe you’re one of them.

You Can be Right in the Wrong Way.

Now being right can seem like…well, it can seem right. But did you know that you can be right and still be wrong? In other words, you can be right in the wrong way.

You can be right in the wrong way when…

  • You’re condescending.
  • You cut your spouse off.
  • You don’t consider your spouse’s thoughts and ideas.
  • You’re competitive.
  • You don’t control your emotions.
  • You feel you need to dominate the situation or your spouse.
  • You see everything as right or wrong…even the little things.

You may be right in some situations, but if you are right in the wrong way, you will lose more than you gain.

How to be right the right way?

I know that saying there’s a right way to be right sounds like I’m one of those people who always needs to be right. So, let’s just say there is a better way to be right. And it’s a way that will help both you and your spouse to stay connected despite disagreements.

When you feel you’re right about something, here are seven things to keep in mind:

Be kind.

If you’re right, kindness goes a long way to softening someone up and making it easier for them to admit it. And if you’re wrong, kindness makes being wrong easier to swallow.

Be considerate.

Everyone wants to feel heard…even if we’re wrong. This is especially true in marriage. Considering your spouse’s point of view will do one of two things. First, it may show you that you’re not as right as you thought you were. And second, it may show you how your right can be made better. Create space for your spouse and their views; even if you don’t agree with them.

Be compassionate.

Just as you need to consider their point of view, you also need to consider their feelings. Care about what they think. Right or wrong, their views may be driven by hurts, fears, or insecurities. These call for compassion, not conquering.

Don’t be competitive.

I know it’s easy in disagreements to get sucked into a competition to see who will come out on top. But remember…you’re both on the same team. If one of you loses, you both lose. If you become competitive, you will lose…even if you win. Marriage is not about competition. It’s about collaboration.

Don’t be condescending.

When you become condescending to your spouse…in words, tone, or attitude…you leave a lasting scar on them that apologies don’t erase. When you got married, you vowed to love and protect your spouse. But when you become condescending, you become the one inflicting harm. Consequently, it becomes harder and harder for your spouse to trust you.

Control your emotions.

When you’re in a disagreement with your spouse, it can be easy to let your emotions elevate and eventually run away with you. At that point: you elevate your volume, you use words you shouldn’t use, and you take on attitudes that do more harm than good…all for the sake of winning the argument. You may win the argument, but you will lose your spouse. I’m not saying your emotions are invalid or wrong. But you cannot let your emotions drive you in these situations because they will drive you over a cliff.

Consider if this is a hill to die on.

Finally, when it comes to being right, you need to consider whether this particular situation is really a hill worth dying on. There are some hills worth dying on. Hills like: abuse, betrayal, abandonment, substance abuse, child endangerment, illegal activity, etc. But for most spouses, the fight to be right is over much smaller hills. Hills like: whether someone’s parents are intrusive, whether there’s enough money in the clothing budget, who should be in charge of scheduling date nights, and whether to have sex twice a week or twice a month. Not every hill is a hill to die on.


If spouses put as much time and energy into being loving and supportive as they do into being right, the issue of who’s right and who’s wrong wouldn’t be such an issue. It’s not so much about having the right opinion as it is about being the right spouse. And this is not always about being right. You don’t have to compromise the truth, but you don’t always have to be right…even when you’re right.

Speak Now or Struggle Later

Speak Now or Struggle

Often, people in my office tell me about how their spouse said or did something that hurt or offended them. But, when I ask if they said anything to their spouse about it, they typically say, “No.”

And as a result of not saying anything, their hurt and resentment gradually build. The rift between them and their spouse gets bigger. And their hurt begins to leak out into other areas of their marriage.

Why don’t we speak up when we’ve been hurt? What is it that leads us to keep things to ourselves when we’ve been offended?


There can be many reasons we don’t speak up when we’ve been hurt, offended, or angered by our spouse.

We lack self-confidence.

When you lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem, it’s hard to find the ego strength to stand up for yourself. You may doubt your thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Or maybe you don’t speak up for yourself, because you assume you’re wrong or your concerns don’t really matter.

We judge by prior history.

If you’ve tried to speak up for yourself in past relationships but were consistently ignored, told you were wrong, or put on the receiving end of that person’s anger, then you will be hesitant to speak up for yourself now. You just assume history will repeat itself.

We fear our response.

If you have a history of blowing up or saying things you shouldn’t, then you may be afraid of speaking up, because you don’t want to hurt your spouse.

We fear their response.

If you have a history of being on the receiving end of your spouse’s anger when you’ve tried to speak up, then you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t speak up, because it will just make them mad and I don’t want to deal with that.”


But despite the reasons we don’t speak up, there are some really good reasons to go ahead and speak up…especially if your spouse has hurt or offended you.

It promotes honesty.

When you speak up, you’re being honest. No marriage can survive, let alone thrive, without honesty. Even difficult honesty helps to breed trust and respect. Honesty is also an important part of setting boundaries in a relationship. It may feel like it’s making things worse at times, but you can’t get to a better place without honesty.

It keeps things from festering.

Speaking up keeps things from building up emotionally. The less you speak up, the more things stack up inside. And this colors your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions in the marriage. Not speaking up is like continuing to walk with a rock in your shoe. If you don’t learn to speak up, the limp will just get worse.

It creates an environment for solutions.

You can’t fix something in a marriage if you can’t talk about it. There has to be mutual honesty and understanding before you can find a solution that will work for both spouses. Not speaking up ensures that the problem will continue…and possibly get worse.


So we’ve talked about some reasons why we don’t speak up, and we’ve talked about some reasons why we need to speak up. But how can you best speak up; especially if you know it could be difficult?

Here are some steps you can take to best speak up when you’ve been hurt or offended:

  • Speak when you can control your words. If you’re the type of person who has trouble controlling your words and emotions when you speak up, then don’t speak until you know you can control yourself. And if while you’re speaking you find yourself getting out of control, then table the conversation and come back to it when you’re more in control.
  • Speak kindly but truthfully. There’s a passage of Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) that tells us to speak the truth in love. You need to do both. Speak lovingly so they can hear you, but speak truthfully so you can address things.
  • Speak earlier rather than later. The longer you sit on something that’s bothering you, the more you stew on it and the worse it gets. Then when you do bring it up, your emotions are already high. Address things at the moment they occur and the emotional volatility will be low and manageable.
  • Speak when you can best be heard. Try not to speak up to your spouse when they’re already tired, frustrated, upset, or angry. Chances are neither of you will get anywhere. Instead, pick a time when they’re more calm and open. But, don’t put it off too long, or the issue will go cold in your spouse’s mind.
  • Speak to your contributions as well as theirs. If you’ve contributed to the issue you want to address, lead the conversation with your contributions to the problem. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for those things. This will set a much better tone and help them be more open to what you have to say.
  • Speak consistently. What I mean by this is consistently take this approach; even when it seems to be getting you nowhere. Don’t try it for a while and then give up. That just teaches your spouse that if they wait long enough, you’ll eventually drop it and they won’t have to deal with it. Continue to speak up until the two of you can come to some sort of consensus and agreement.


Or more like a final disclaimer…

Doing these things doesn’t mean the conversations won’t be difficult or that things will go according to your desire. It takes a lot of practice to break old habits. But keep at it. Following these suggestions will give you the best long-term probability of improving things and being heard. So, learn to SPEAK UP!


In my opinion, infidelity is one of the most destructive blows that can be delivered to a marriage.

It’s even worse than the death of a spouse because when a spouse dies, it’s not intentional or desired. But with infidelity, a spouse…someone who has promised to be faithful…consciously engages in an act that breaks that faith. When a spouse dies, it’s a loss, but it’s not a betrayal. And when a spouse dies, you don’t have to continually see that spouse.

Infidelity can put a marriage on the critical list. Some marriages end. Some never really recover. And some actually go on to be much better than they ever were.

So let’s take a look at infidelity: What causes infidelity, what does infidelity do to a marriage, and what you can do when infidelity comes to light.


When we hear the word “infidelity” we typically think of a spouse who has a sexual encounter outside of their marriage and with someone other than their spouse. And this is certainly the height of infidelity.

But at its core, infidelity refers to being unfaithful to a partner.

I believe that when a spouse turns to someone else for the close emotional and relational connection they should only receive from their spouse, they are being unfaithful. This is often referred to as an “emotional affair.” An emotional affair can be just as devastating to a marriage as a sexual affair. And left unchecked, these emotional affairs often morph into sexual affairs.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to be focusing on sexual infidelity. But the principles will relate to other types of infidelity as well.


People give many reasons for their infidelity…

  • There was alcohol involved.
  • The other person aggressively initiated it.
  • They didn’t intend to do it, it just happened.

There are lots of reasons given for infidelity, but they usually fit into one of two broad reasons…

An unplanned, impulsive decision.

There can be those times when a spouse wasn’t planning to be unfaithful, but acted impulsively, without thinking. These can be fueled by alcohol or other substances, or a spouse can wind up submitting to a strong sexual aggressor.

I personally believe that unplanned and impulsive unfaithfulness is a quite small percentage of infidelities. I believe that most infidelity falls into the second category…

An ongoing drift in the marriage.

This is a slower and more subtle approach. In this case, there has been a slow and progressive drift and distancing in the marriage…long before the infidelity becomes a reality.

The grind of work, kids, and life start taking their toll on the marriage. Spouses begin to take each other for granted and they stop meeting each other’s needs. Consequently, the gap between them grows larger and the connection between them grows weaker. And eventually, the atmosphere for infidelity is set.

So, then a spouse crosses paths with someone who takes an interest in them. Maybe they take an interest in the spouse’s work, their hobbies, or their personality. And it all may be innocent at first, but then they gradually start spending more time together. Then they start looking for ways to connect. As the connection/attraction between them grows stronger, the connection/attraction in the marriage grows weaker. And eventually, they’ve crossed so many lines that it becomes a small step to cross the last line.

But whether the infidelity was an unplanned and impulsive decision, or it was the result of an ongoing drift in the marriage, the infidelity will have destructive consequences on a marriage.


Just what exactly does infidelity do to a marriage?

Infidelity can affect couples in many little ways, but at its core, infidelity destroys the safety of marriage. Marriage is meant to be a haven of safety in the midst of a threatening and hurtful world.

But infidelity destroys that safety by destroying the three elements that promote safety in marriage…truth, trust, and commitment.

Think of a triangle. Triangles are used in construction because they give strength and stability to the structure. But if one side of a triangle is bent or taken away, it loses its strength and collapses.

Think of a marriage as a triangle. the first side is truth, the second side is trust, and the third side is commitment. If any of these is damaged, the marriage becomes weak, compromised, and in danger of collapsing. Infidelity deals a destructive blow to all three sides of marriage…truth, trust, and commitment.

This is why infidelity is so crippling to a marriage, and why so many marriages never recover from the infidelity.


So if infidelity deals such a crushing blow to marriage, what can you do when you discover a spouse’s infidelity.

When infidelity is revealed in a marriage, there are three basic options:

1. End the marriage.

For some marriages, the breaking of truth, trust, and commitment is too much for the hurt spouse to overcome. The infidelity is just too overwhelming and they just can’t conceive of continuing in the marriage.

If the betrayed spouse is a Christian, they may fall back on Jesus’ allowance of divorce for reasons of unfaithfulness, and end the marriage.

Infidelity will end many marriages, but others will turn to the second option…

2. Try to just put it in the past and move forward.

In this option, the betrayed spouse doesn’t feel the freedom to end the marriage, but facing infidelity seems too daunting. So much to the relief of the spouse who was unfaithful, the betrayed spouse concedes to try to put the infidelity behind them and focus on moving forward.

Though this may sound good, and even gracious, to avoid dealing with infidelity is a lot like ignoring a cancer diagnosis. It often destroys the marriage slowly from the inside out.

This brings us to the third option, and the one that I believe holds the most promise…

3. Commit to seeing a counselor and doing the hard work of repair.

Let me say upfront, this is the hardest of the 3 options. It can feel brutal because it forces you to face the infidelity in great detail when you would rather just try to forget it and move on.

But if your marriage is going to heal and grow stronger, the terrible wound of infidelity must be opened up and cleaned out before it can be stitched up and healed.

Counselors differ in their approach to helping marriages recover from infidelity, but here is the general approach I take when trying to help a couple recover from an affair…

  • There’s an initial meeting with both spouses. This is to get the story and a feel for each spouse’s desire and investment.
  • Next, there’s an individual session with each spouse. This is not for the purpose of keeping secrets from each other, but rather to help each spouse be a little freer without worrying about how their words might hurt the other.
  • Session four is a disclosure session. At this session, the betrayed spouse can ask the betraying spouse any and all questions that are important to them. The questions can range from “Did you tell them you loved them?” to “Where and how did you have sex.” The purpose of the session is not about being voyeuristic, but rather to start rebuilding truth in the marriage. As you can imagine, this is a difficult session.
  • The remaining sessions focus on rebuilding the marriage and addressing anything that contributed to the marital drift. This is where we address the things that contributed to getting them to this point.

As you can tell, this is not a quick and easy process. And issues from the infidelity can continue to crop up long after the fact. But it is a process that will give the marriage the biggest chance of not just surviving but of thriving.

Does every marriage survive infidelity? No. Some don’t survive because the offender won’t submit to doing whatever is necessary to re-instill trust in their spouse. Others don’t survive because no matter how hard the betrayer works to repair things, the offended spouse just can’t (or won’t) let go of the offense so they can move on.

So, when it comes to counseling, there are no guarantees, but there are some strong possibilities.


Infidelity can ravage a marriage, and its effects can continue to pop up long after the fact. But with a lot of hard work and rebuilding of truth and trust, safety can be restored and a couple can build a marriage that’s stronger after the infidelity than before. I know, cause I’ve seen it.

Does Your Marriage Need a Time-Out?

We’re all familiar with children needing a time-out when they’re having trouble controlling themselves, but there are times when spouses need a time-out also. I’m not talking about taking a time-out from marriage, but rather taking a time-out in marriage.


If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve probably experienced something like this:

You and your spouse are in the middle of a “DISCUSSION” when you begin to realize things are heating up and heading south. And you know if things continue it’s not going to be good, because…

  • You’re getting tense.
  • Your pulse rate is rising.
  • You feel offended, defensive, or angry.
  • You’re raising your volume
  • You want to attack or withdraw.
  • 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.

From time to time, every couple will find themselves in one of those “discussions.” It’s just part of sharing life together.


There are a lot of reasons why you might need to take a time-out…

  • The “discussion” comes at the end of the day when you’re tired and spent.
  • The “discussion” comes after a day of difficulty.
  • The “discussion” addresses something you’re especially sensitive or passionate about.
  • The “discussion” seems to attack you, your personality, or the way you were raised.
  • The “discussion” just keeps coming up and never gets resolved.

Whatever the reason, there is something about this “discussion” that moves things from a spark to a blaze. And if you don’t do something, everyone’s going to get singed…or burnt to a crisp.

It’s during times like these that you need to call a time-out. That’s right…children are not the only ones who need a time-out. Sometimes spouses need one too.


When things are getting heated, taking a time-out is easier said than done. So here are 6 rules of engagement when it comes to taking a time-out…

  • Talk about the time-out strategy before you need it. Don’t just spring this on your spouse without having discussed it with them ahead of time. That could come across as a way of shutting them down. So sometime, 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 wouldn’t want that?!)
  • Signal a time-out. When things are getting heated, use an agreed-upon sign to signal when you need a time-out. You can use the “T” sign used in sports, or any other sign you agree on. Make it something fun, but 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’re getting to the point where you’re afraid you will say or do something that would be hurtful to them, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Give them a reconnect time. This is important. Without giving your spouse a time when you will come back and re-engage in the discussion, it will feel like you’re just blowing them off to get them off your back.
  • Keep your reconnect time. This is equally important. If you do not keep your promise to finish the discussion at the set time, your spouse will not trust any further time-outs you ask for and will keep pressing you. Keep your word and reconnect at your promised time.
  • Repeat as needed. This is not a one-and-done tactic. You will need to repeat this from time to time. But the more you do it, the better your “discussions” will be.

So the next time things are getting heated between you and your spouse, try taking a time-out. I promise you’ll eventually get further with less damage than continuing to let things heat up until there’s nothing but scorched earth.

Are You the CEO of Your Marriage?

How would you respond to the following question… “Are you the CEO in your marriage?” Maybe you would say, “Well, no! of course not!” Maybe you say your spouse acts like the CEO. Or, maybe you would say, “What do you mean by that?”


Every company has a CEO, or Chief Executive Officer. This person is the highest-ranking person in the company and the one ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions.

By this definition, you might say, “Marriages don’t have CEO’s. They’re not a business or a corporation.” And you would be right.

But many marriages still have a CEO. I call them the Chief Ego Officer, and they function much in the same way as the CEO of a company. They carry a lot of weight in the relationship, especially when it comes to direction and decision-making.


How can you tell if you’re the CEO in the marriage? Ask yourself the following questions…and try to be honest with yourself:

  • Do you tend to make most of the decisions?
  • Do you get upset when your spouse makes a decision without checking with you first?
  • Do you often explain to your spouse why your way is better?
  • Do you have trouble listening to and considering your spouse’s opinions and approaches?
  • Do you get frustrated or angry when your spouse doesn’t take your advice or do things as you want?
  • Do you look down on your spouse for thinking or believing as they do?
  • Do you see your spouse’s differences of opinion as a threat to you or the marriage?

You may believe this list better fits your spouse than it does you, but the more you answer “yes” to these questions, the more likely you are to be the Chief Ego Officer of the relationship. You may have become the CEO in response to their behavior, but it still will affect your marriage.


Though a company benefits from a strong CEO, a marriage suffers from a strong CEO. When a marriage has a strong Chief Ego Officer, two things typically happen:

The marriage becomes oppressive.

Whether it’s implied or stated out-right, the CEO of the marriage has a my-way-or-the-highway approach to the relationship. The other spouse’s thoughts, opinions, or approaches are ignored, dismissed, and not considered. The CEO increasingly stifles their spouse, not allowing them to be themselves.

This is a poison that will slowly kill the love, affection, and attraction in the relationship. And, the longer this continues, the harder it becomes to recover the relationship.

Then, the second effect a Chief Ego Officer has on marriage is…

The marriage becomes abusive.

Many CEO marriages stay stuck in the oppressive stage. But there are some marriages that progress to the abusive stage.

When the Chief Ego Officer experiences disagreement or push back from their spouse, they will begin to push back themselves. At first, the CEO will try to convince or cajole their spouse into seeing things their way. If that doesn’t work, the CEO’s approach will become more pointed and frustrated. If that doesn’t work, their anger will come out and they will become emotionally abusive, and possibly physically abusive.


If you find yourself in a CEO marriage, what should you do? Well…

If You’re the CEO…

  • Humble yourself. Apologize to your spouse for being so dominant and inconsiderate. This is hard, especially for a CEO, but you need to start here. And your apology must be sincere, not just a way to get the heat off or to get your spouse to soften back up to you. If you’re not really repentant for your behavior, you’ve not changed and the relationship can’t change.
  • Invite and listen to your spouse’s opinions. This is not just something to check off the list so you can then get on to how you want to do things. Take your time and honestly listen to them. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, seek first to understand them before trying to get them to understand you. Hear their thoughts, their heart, and their desires.
  • Look for reasons to defer to your spouse. This is hard for a Chief Ego Officer because they usually believe their spouse should defer to them. But try hard to defer to your spouse whenever possible. You may feel your way is better, but don’t push your way through. Share it with your spouse and make sure you both agree your way is better before implementing it.
  • Make the above a way of life. If you just do these things to get back on your spouse’s good side, then you’ve not really changed. You’re just manipulating the situation to get back in their good graces. These changes need to be a way of life for you…even if the marriage fails.

If Your Spouse is the CEO…

If your spouse is the CEO, you have three options:

  • Continue on as it is. Some people decide they will just go on tolerating the CEO’s behavior. Perhaps they don’t want to rock the boat out of fear of the CEO’s response. Maybe they’re concerned for others in the family. Or maybe their own insecurities make them wonder if there’s something wrong with them. Continuing on as-is is a valid option, but know that such a marriage rarely improves over time.
  • Begin to push back against the CEO’s behavior. This could go from standing up for yourself and your opinions, to not being easily coerced, to insisting on counseling, to threatening to leave the relationship. Chances are, the CEO will not react favorably to such changes, and they will do whatever they can to get things back to “normal.” If they feel they’ve got no other option, the CEO will seem to concede, but it usually doesn’t last.
  • Leave the relationship. If all else fails, you may decide you can no longer tolerate the relationship and make plans to leave. Departure is a last resort option and can either be temporary, until the CEO truly changes, or permanent. The CEO may have a variety of responses to your decision to leave. They may act shocked and say they didn’t know anything was wrong. They may try to convince you that things are not that bad. They may get angry and blame you for all the problems. And if all else fails, they may concede and offer to make changes. But, oftentimes their changes are only an attempt to get you back in the fold.


Can CEO marriages really change? Yes! But…the ego of the Chief Ego Officer will not change quickly or easily. It will take work and practice to learn to exchange ego for humility. But it can be done. So, if you’re the Chief Ego Officer in the marriage, honestly and humbly enlist the aid of close friends, accountability partners, pastors, or counselors. Do whatever it takes to resign as CEO of your marriage. And if your spouse is the CEO, do everything in your power to share the problem and encourage them to change. Either way, you (and they) will be the better for it.

What to Do When Your Spouse Comes to You With a Problem

So, Your spouse comes to you with a problem and you’re really trying to be helpful. But before you know it, the whole situation has gone south and now your spouse is upset with you. Ever had that happen, or is it just me?

If this has happened to you, you know it’s not always easy to know what to do when your spouse comes to you with a problem. It may sound like they want help, but the minute you try to help you are met with either an icy stare or guns blazing.

You Don’t Have to be an Expert.

You don’t have to avoid these situations. And you don’t have to be a trained counselor or have all the answers to help your spouse when they bring you a problem.

Your attentive presence can go a long way to helping your spouse. But how do you do that…without nodding off or getting bored? I’ve got nine suggestions for you to try when your spouse comes to you with a problem. Even one of these will be an improvement on your approach, and the more you can implement, the better off you’ll be.

Nine Simple Suggestions:

1. Listen Longer and Deeper Than Feels Natural.

Too often, we listen just long enough to get the gist of things, and then we wade in with our thoughts and opinions. But you need to listen long. Don’t jump in when they stop talking, because they’re probably not finished. I know this is not what you want to hear, but learn to sit in uncomfortable silence. This will allow them to open up even more. And don’t just listen to what they say. Listen to how they say it. What are the emotions behind their words? Where do they get angry or tear up? Where do they hesitate, or where does their voice trail off. What is their body language telling you? Listen with both your ears and your eyes.

2. Reflect Back What You Hear and See, Rather than what you Think.

Telling your spouse what you think about their problem should be your last response. First, reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say and the emotions you hear in their voice. It will let them know you’re truly listening. This will foster their trust and help them process things for themselves. Sometimes people just need to bounce things off of you so they can hear the echo and work through it themselves.

3. Suspend Judgement…For Now.

This is hard to do because we all tend to jump to conclusions and make quick judgments. But make a decision up front that you’re going to suspend judgment until you’ve heard everything completely through. Make sure you have the complete picture. And chances are, your spouse needs your support more than your judgment…even if your judgment’s right.

4. Empathize As If It Were You.

Mentally put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their position? Would you be afraid, embarrassed, angry, worried, depressed? What would be your concerns? Putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way toward helping you connect and understand them.

5. Be a Friend, Not a Fixer.

Sometimes, we jump into fix-it mode because we care about our spouses and genuinely want to help them. But sometimes we quickly jump into fix-it mode because we’re uncomfortable with their hurt, pain, anger, fear, or grief. Often, when we try to fix things for our spouse, we stop listening, oversimplify their issue, and come across as arrogant and impatient. None of these are helpful. More than fixing things, your spouse needs you to listen while they work things out themselves.

6. Point Out Their Strengths, Rather Than Their Mistakes.

Your spouse is probably already painfully aware of where they’ve messed up. Chances are, they’ve already mentally rehearsed their mistake to a fault. What they need is for you to come alongside of them and remind them of their strengths and abilities. This will spur them on to how they can use those to deal with their current problem.

7. Put Off Giving Advice as Long as Possible.

Let’s say your spouse has gotten things off their chest and now they look at you and say, “So what do you think I should do?” Do not bite on that bait! Stall as long as you can before giving advice. Instead, say something like, “Man, that’s a hard spot. What have you thought about doing?” Remember, you’re not trying to fix things for them. You’re trying to help them come to a resolution on their own. Besides, if you tell them what to do, and it doesn’t work, then you’re really in trouble!

8. Wonder Out Loud, Rather Than Give Advice.

If your spouse is tired of talking about it and they’re really pushing you for your advice, Then couch your words in uncertain speculation. For example, you might say something like, “I don’t know, but I wonder if something like ______________ might be helpful.” This makes it easier for your spouse to connect with you because you’re not coming across as an expert who’s telling them what to do. You’re just wondering out loud.

9. Be Patient With Them as They Struggle and Grow.

People are complicated and messy. We’re not machines. We’re more like plants. Seeds must be planted in the soil of difficulty and given time to grow. Then those plants need to be nurtured and cared for as they grow out of their difficulty. So be patient with your spouse. Sooner or later, they will probably figure things out. But your job is not to force growth. It’s to provide the environment for growth.


Never underestimate the importance of compassionately listening to and walking with your spouse as they voice their struggles and problems. Your caring presence and listening ear have more power to help your spouse than anything you can say or do.