How Parenting Can Take a Toll on Partnering

Parenting is supposed to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. It’s supposed to bring spouses together. But without care and attention, just the opposite can happen. If you’re not careful, parenting can take a toll on your partnering.

LOSING YOUR PLAYMATE

When spouses come to me with problems in their marriage, I typically ask them when they feel the problems started. More often than not, they can trace it back to when they started having kids.

Prior to the kids, the couple would:

  • Spend lots of time together.
  • Go out on dates.
  • Take trips.
  • Have frequent and leisurely sex.
  • Talk a lot
  • Do fun things.
  • (Fill in the blank)

In short, before the kids came, they were playmates.

But, from the time the couple finds out they’re pregnant, the child begins to change everything. Even before the child is born, parenting starts to trump partnering and playmates turn into roommates.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Though my kids are adults with kids of their own, I remember how it was for us. When my wife was pregnant, things started to change. Suddenly…

  • I couldn’t make breakfast in the morning, because it nauseated my wife. So I had to start getting my breakfast at a drive-up window on the way to work.
  • Instead of saving for things we wanted, we were now saving for things for the nursery and the baby.
  • I had to trade in my compact pickup because there was no room for a car seat.
  • Instead of satisfying late-night cravings for sex, now I was making late-night runs to satisfy her cravings for chocolate milkshakes.
  • And instead of going and doing things like we use to, now our activity was restricted by her fatigue and discomfort.

And that was just during the pregnancy! Little did I know that pregnancy was just a preview of coming attractions.

After the child was born, life was all about the kid! This child controlled everything…

  • Our sleep schedules (or lack thereof.)
  • Our sex lives (or lack thereof.)
  • If and when we went anywhere.
  • What time we had to be home.
  • How loud we could be in the house.
  • The way we budgeted money.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

But perhaps the biggest change was the change in our relationship. Parenting changed our partnering. Here’s how:

HOW PARTNERS DRIFT APART

Before our first child came into the picture, my wife and I were playmates. But after our child was born, my playmate became a mom, and moms are focused on the child. They responsibly give all her attention to tending to the needs of their child.

But, I missed my playmate. So I would attempt to get her back from time to time. But it rarely seemed to work. She was either too focused on taking care of our child, or too tired from the demands on her, or too distracted with mom stuff. Though she never said it, it often felt like I was getting the message, “You’re a big strong adult who can take care of yourself, but this child needs us.

When husbands lose their playmate, they have three options:

  • They can keep trying to get their playmate back, (which tends to aggravate their wives.)
  • They can find another playmate, (which always ends badly.)
  • Or they can switch from being a playmate to being a dad. (And dads tend to focus on providing by working and keeping things up.)

And this is where the parenting starts to take its toll on partnering. As moms focus on children and dads focus on work, they begin to slowly drift apart. Gradually, they become more like roommates that only have one thing in common…the needs of the kids.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. This is normal. And the good news is, you can turn this around! We’ll get into how to do this in the next post. So be looking for it.

What Can You Do If You’re Dissatisfied With Your Marriage?

If you’re dissatisfied with your spouse or your marriage, you’re not alone. As we saw in the last post, it’s not that uncommon. But the big question is, what do you do about it?

In this post, we’ll look at what you can do if you’re dissatisfied with your marriage.

ARE YOU DOOMED TO BE DISSATISFIED IN MARRIAGE?

Just because every marriage experiences occasional dissatisfaction doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be dissatisfied in marriage.

I once knew a couple who had been married for 74 years. One day, I asked them how they had managed to have such a long and strong marriage.  The husband told me, “Son, sometimes when I would get frustrated with her, I had to learn to shut my mouth and go for a long walk.” His wife started laughing, and said, “He wasn’t the only one who had to go for a long walk!”

Despite times of dissatisfaction, this couple had a wonderful marriage of 74 years. So, even though you may experience some dissatisfaction from time to time, know that you can still have a great and lasting marriage.

WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOUR DISSATISFIED WITH YOUR MARRIAGE?

Being dissatisfied in your marriage doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad marriage, but it does mean you have some changes to make. You may think your spouse is the source of your dissatisfaction, but a lot of your dissatisfaction has as much to do with you as it does with your spouse.

So if you want to turn your dissatisfaction around, you (not your spouse) need to start making some changes. Here are a few things you can do:

Stop Comparing Your Marriage to Others.

It’s easy to be envious of other marriages that seem to have it all together. When you see them out to dinner, at church, or on social media, they look happy and seem to have a great marriage. But you would probably be surprised if you could see behind the scenes. No couple is perfect, and every couple has their own struggles.

I am not saying there aren’t couples out there who have great marriages. There are. But their marriage is great because they have learned what works for them. And what works for them won’t necessarily work for you and your spouse.

So stop comparing your marriage to other marriages that look great, and instead, start making your marriage great.

Curb Your Expectations.

We all have expectations about how we think our spouse and marriage should be. Expectations are a part of being human.

But too often, our expectations are unrealistic. Just as you would be hurt and frustrated if your spouse held you to their expectations of the perfect spouse, so will they feel hurt and frustrated if you do the same.

So learn to curb your unrealistic expectations.

Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt.

Your spouse didn’t marry you so they could make you miserable. That was not their intention when they uttered their wedding vows, and it is probably not their intention now.

It’s easy to get our feelings hurt and then to take everything personally. But most of the things you take personally, have little to do with you, and more to do with your spouse.

So assume that your spouse loves you, that they didn’t mean it in the way you heard it, and that they’re not just trying to get your goat.

If it continues to bother you, kindly ask them about it, but otherwise, give your spouse what you would want…the benefit of the doubt.

Stop Seeing Differences As a Threat.

We talked about this in the last post. When we’re dating, we believe we’re attracted to our partner by all we have in common. But in reality, it’s our differences that attract us.

Those differences seem novel at the time. But, after the “I do’s,” those differences start to lose their appeal. Rather than attracting us, those differences begin to aggravate us. They get under our skin, and we start seeing the differences as flaws in our spouse that we need to correct.  (By the way…trying to correct your spouse’s “flaws” won’t win you any points. Trust me!)

The differences between you and your spouse are not there to aggravate you. They are there to grow you. Those differences are there to help strengthen your weak areas and to compliment the things you lack.  Those differences are also there to teach you how to be humble and gracious. In reality, your spouse’s differences are a gift, rather than a threat.  The more you can see this, the less dissatisfied you’ll be.

Change Your Focus.

Many of us are better at pointing out what’s wrong than celebrating what’s right. It’s easier to focus on what we don’t like about our spouse and our marriage, than on what’s good about our spouse and our marriage. This can be caustic.

Whatever you focus on tends to set your attitude and approach to things. So if you focus on that with which you’re dissatisfied, you wind up fueling your dissatisfaction and killing your gratitude.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to focus on what’s good and right and commendable. If you learn to do this in marriage, you’ll be surprised at the difference it will make.

Show More Appreciation than Disappointment.

If you’re experiencing dissatisfaction in your marriage, you probably feel under-appreciated. But I’m betting your spouse feels the same way.

It is so easy to stop showing appreciation to your spouse and to start taking them for granted…leaving them starved for appreciation. How do you know if your spouse needs appreciation? If they’re breathing, they need appreciation.

Appreciation is the one gift that costs you nothing to give and produces tremendous benefits when you do. Be lavish in showing your spouse appreciation…even for the small things.

IN THE END…

Will doing these things make every day of marriage as happy as a broadway musical number? Nope! But doing these things will make you more aware and grateful for the great things about your spouse and your marriage. And as your gratitude increases your dissatisfaction decreases.

So, laugh in the face of your dissatisfaction and get to work!

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!

Has Your Marriage Lost the Magic?

It was late at night, and I was sick. It felt like someone had poured concrete in my head and chest. I had a sharp, hacking cough that sounded like a hammer on a tin roof. And though I had elevated my head in the bed, I was still tossing and turning.

My wife was in the bed, but was unable to sleep. (Gee, I wonder why.) She had spent most of the night lying in bed reading, but early in the morning she put down the book, turned off the light, and laid her head down facing me. (You can almost guess where this is going.) Unbeknownst to me, I rolled over facing her and coughed…one of those forceful, spraying coughs…right in her face!

Read more

Dissatisfaction in Marriage

DissatisfactionTo be married is to know dissatisfaction. That statement will probably get me in trouble, but it’s true. You can’t live with someone who is different than you and not experience some dissatisfaction. Your spouse won’t make the same decisions you would make. They will correct you at times. Their priorities will be different than yours. You won’t like all their habits and quirks. No matter how great your spouse might be, being married to them will bring a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

Read more