“Have you ever watched a movie and thought… “Wait a minute? That’s not supposed to happen!”
I feel that way after reading 1 Kings chapter 13. The chapter starts off well. There’s a clear good guy and bad guy. The good guy confronts the bad guy. And the bad guy seems to change his ways, while the good guy seems to win, staying true to his cause.
But then, everything changes. One good guy deceives the other good guy. A good guy walks away from his code of honor and gets killed. And the original bad guy continues to be just as evil as he ever was!
What kind of movie is this?!
Unfortunately, it’s not a movie. It’s real life. We want:
Things in life to be clear cut, with a predictable plot.
The good guy to always win.
The husband and wife to get back together.
Children to stay pure and innocent.
The cancer to be cured.
Hard workers to be rewarded.
And there are times when things work out the way we want. But there are other times when the plot changes and the outcomes just feel wrong.
But know this…the plot does not control the movie. The Writer/Director does. And in the end, it is what He wants that will prevail.
Even though the plot may appear twisted and unjust at times, the Director still controls the plot. And His plans for us are always good (Jeremiah 29:11). (Note: Jeremiah 29:11 was given to the Jews, even though they had been defeated, deported, and taken as slaves in a strange land for 70 years. How’s that for a twisted plot.)
There is a Writer/Director Who loves us unconditionally. He is in control of the plot, and He will ultimately make things right, in His time. (Proverbs. 3:5)
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!
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!
Stephen King is a prolific writer and probably one of the most well know and successful authors in modern history. Yet, he felt like quitting early on.
I read that one night, his wife was taking out the trash and found three crumpled pages covered in cigarette ashes. Out of curiosity, she pulled the pages out of the trash and read them. When she had finished reading the wrinkled pages, she took them to her husband and encouraged him to keep writing.
Those discarded pages eventually became the book Carrie. Carrie was not only one of Stephen King’s most successful books, but was adapted into four movies and a broadway play. And yet, he was going to quit writing it after three pages!
It’s easier to quit than to push through to the finish. We just don’t call it quitting. We disguise it by saying things like…
“It’s just not a good time to do this.”
“I’ve found something else that interests me more.”
“I was wrong to start this.”
“I’m just not cut out for this.”
“I can’t put in the time and effort this requires right now.”
“It’s too hard.”
As a pastoral counselor, I hear from a lot of spouses that are ready to quit on their marriage.
A few of them have good reason to consider quitting. There has been abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. And in some of these cases, the offending spouse continues to repeat the offense or is unwilling to change. These are very difficult situations that may be out of the spouse’s control and certainly require expert help.
But many of the spouses I talk to, who feel like quitting on their marriage, got to that point for lesser reasons than abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. Many of the spouses I talk to who want to quit on marriage, got there because of:
Lack of attention.
Widening gaps in sexual appetite.
Evaporation of common courtesies.
Failure to pursue one another.
These things are all bound to happen in marriage from time to time. When they happen on an occasionally basis, it typically doesn’t cause a person to want to quit being married to their spouse. But, when these things happen on a regular basis and accumulate over the years, they build up feelings of hurt and resentment that can seem insurmountable. More often than not, this is what causes a spouse to say things like:
“There’s just no chemistry between us anymore.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
“We got married for the wrong reasons.”
“We’re just not good for one another.”
“If it’s this difficult, it can’t be right.”
If you feel like quitting on your marriage, you’ve probably felt, thought, and maybe even said some of these things. But let me remind you that in every good story you will find…
Dark and difficult seasons.
Characters who struggle with one another.
Plots turns you didn’t expect.
Resolutions that don’t play out until you get all the way to the end of the story.
These things don’t make the story bad. They actually contribute to making the story good…if you stick it out through the story.
So here’s the bottom line. When it comes to your marriage…
If you feel like quitting…don’t.
Walt Disney once said, “The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”
Like Stephen King, you may be ready to crumple up your marriage and throw it in the trash. But with some time and some work, your marriage could be a rewritten. Don’t let your current frustrations keep you from a creating a future masterpiece.
I went to a wedding recently and I was struck by how perfect the bride and groom looked. They appeared to have it all together. Young, good looking, every hair in place, makeup just right, smiling perfectly. They looked just like Ken and Barbie. (Assuming Ken and Barbie are married.)
Who wouldn’t want to be Ken and Barbie. They have great looks, great bodies, great clothes, a great convertible, and let’s not forget the great dream house!
Trick questions can be…well…tricky. For instance, how would you answer this question:
“Have you stopped beating your spouse?”
Answering this question is tricky, because if you agree, it sounds like you use to beat your spouse. If you disagree, it sounds like your still beating your spouse.
Watch out for the trick questions.
When I do premarital counseling, I often ask a couple to complete an inventory where they respond to a variety of statements on a continuum between “strongly agree” and strongly disagree. Some of my favorite statements to which they must respond are statements like:
I have never regretted my relationship with my partner.
My partner gives me all the love and affection I need.
We completely understand each other.
My partner has all the qualities I’ve ever wanted in a mate.
We are as happy as a couple can be.
A couple preparing to get married will usually agree with these statements, but a couple that’s been married for a while will usually laugh at these statements. The difference is the couple preparing for marriage is in LOVE, where as the couple that’s been married for a while are in LIFE.
It’s all about your expectations.
There’s always a difference between our expectations and our experience. When we’re preparing for marriage, we have all kinds of optimistic expectations about how marriage should be. Remember those? Sleeping in. Leisurely sharing a cup of coffee together before starting your day. Always having your spouse’s attention and affection. Sharing the same interest in sex. Always having control of the remote. Having the same goals and plans. Spending your spare time together. The list goes on and on.
But after you’ve been married a while, those expectations aren’t always met, and you begin to struggle. So you attempt to get your expectations met. You start off by trying to talk to your spouse and explain why you need them to meet your expectations. If repeated attempts to communicate don’t get you anywhere, then you’re generally left with three options…
Manipulate or make demands to get your spouse to meet your expectations. This increases frustration, raises defensiveness, and tends to make marriage worse.
Leave your spouse for someone else whom you think will meet those expectation. This will bring an end to what could be a perfectly good marriage…not to mention the fact that no one will ever meet all your expectations.
Adjust your expectations to something more realistic. This will help you both relax and have a marriage that will go the distance.
Adjust your expectations.
Adjusting your expectations in marriage will actually teach you some valuable lessons…
You don’t have to like everything about your spouse, or your relationship with them, to have a good relationship.
You won’t always get the love and affection you think you need, but that doesn’t mean you’re not loved.
You don’t have to completely understand one another to completely love and support one another.
Your spouse doesn’t have to have all the qualities you want in a mate. (That person doesn’t exist.) But they have enough of those qualities to make it work.
The two of you could always be happier, but that doesn’t mean your not happy.
These are critical lessons for a long and loving marriage, but you can only learn these lessons by adjusting your expectations.
Don’t fall for the trick questions in marriage. Marriage is not about the two of you getting every expectation met. It’s about figuring out which of your expectations are realistic and which are not. It’s also about the two of you meeting as many of each other’s expectations as you can, while leaving room for you to be yourselves.
What is one expectation you have for your spouse and your marriage that…if you were honest…is probably not realistic? Which of the five lessons do you most need to learn? What’s one thing you can do to let go of an expectation and be happier?
Couples come into my counseling office for many reasons. Some are having on-going conflicts they can’t resolve. Others are having trouble with their parents or in-laws. Some are struggling in their sexual relationship. Others are at odds over finances. And some just seem to have different ideas about what makes for a good marriage.
But there was one couple who came into my office who summed up marital issues in one simple sentence. “We have lost the magic.“
Ever feel like your marriage has lost the magic? If so, maybe it’s because:
Expectations. We all have expectations before we get married. We have expectations about what marriage will be like. We have expectations about how our spouse will act. We have expectations that tend to become the standard by which we measure and evaluate the quality of our marriage. We expect things like…
It all started when my wife went to the front door and came back with the latest delivery from FedEx. “What’s in the box?” I inquired. “I’m not sure,” she said with a hint of excitement in her voice. Since my wife doesn’t typically get excited about things, I began to get curious.
As she went to find something with which to open the box, I thought to my self, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she surprised me by ordered something from Victoria Secrets?” The voice in my head immediately said, “Yeah, right! Be reasonable!” My head knew it was improbable, but my heart was holding out for the long-shot.
If you’ve ever been disappointed, you know how easy it is for disappointment to derail you.
I see this with my grandchildren. They always have a list of things they want: “I want to go outside and play.” “I want to go out to eat pizza.” “I want to rent a movie.” “I want a snack.” “I want to spend the night.” If something gets in the way of what they want, it can throw them into a funk from which they have a hard time recovering.
But it’s not just children who struggle with disappointment.