Are You Dissatisfied With Your Marriage?

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

“I’m not satisfied with my marriage.”

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

DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE

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

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

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

WHAT CAUSES DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE?

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

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

The two of you are human.

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

The two of you are different.

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

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

Life throws you curves.

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

Your expectations are unrealistic.

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

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

Hallmark movies lie to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s another alternative…

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

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

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

FORGIVENESS MYTHS…

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

Forgiveness should be quick.

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

Forgiveness will come naturally with time.

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

Forgiveness is a one-time decision.

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

Forgiveness means you forget the offense.

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

Forgiveness takes away your pain.

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

Forgiveness implies the offense doesn’t matter.

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

Forgiveness means there’s no need for justice.

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

Forgiveness is the same as excusing the offender.

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

Forgiveness requires the offender to repent.

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

Forgiveness means you have to trust your offender.

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

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

FORGIVENESS IS…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNINTENTIONAL HURT.

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

Most unintentional hurt comes from three basic differences between spouses:

Family of Origin.

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

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

Personality.

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

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

Stressors.

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

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

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

But what if the hurt is intentional?

INTENTIONAL HURT.

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

Intentional hurt typically occurs when we’re…

Trying to Defend Ourselves.

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

Trying to Get Even.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things You Need to Know Before You Get Married…or Divorced

“I wish I had known this before I got married.” I hear this a lot as a counselor. Sometimes it’s said in jest, and sometimes it’s said in frustration.

Before we get married, we think we know what it takes to have a good marriage. It’s only after we’re married that we begin to find out how much we really don’t know. The things we don’t know can bring an end to the honeymoon phase of marriage, and if left unaddressed, can bring an end to the marriage itself.

What is it we need to know before we get married…and before we get divorced?

Read moreThings You Need to Know Before You Get Married…or Divorced

Getting Over the Wall of Resentment

Resentment can be like a wall that separates spouses, and the longer the wall stays up, the harder it is to get over it. Walls of resentment can become so high and thick that spouses lose hope of ever getting over it.

But there are some things you can do if you have a wall of resentment in your marriage.

Read moreGetting Over the Wall of Resentment