Time and unmet expectations can take a once enamored couple over the marriage rapids. The trip begins on smooth waters, and then suddenly couples find themselves holding on for dear life. Sadly, in some cases they get tired of holding on and let the choppy waters thrust them from the relationship.
A hundred years ago, young married couples did not have the same perfectionistic expectations of marriage we have today. They expected to work hard. They expected to have some children. They expected fidelity.
These days, from the time children are two years of age, they are watching princesses and princes fall in love and then teen shows with who kissed who and who cheated on who drama. All too soon, young ladies fall in love with romantic comedies and gain such beliefs as, “If he’s the right one, he’ll never let me down,” “It is important to always feel love,” “Playing mind games in relationships is normal and part of the excitement of falling in love,” And finally, “There is one perfect person out there for me – my soulmate.”
With all of these unhealthy expectations about love being pumped into us from our infancy, it is no wonder there are so many unsatisfied couples out there.
“He isn’t making me happy. He must not love me.”
“She’s not cool and sexy like she was when we first started dating. I’m not sure I can put up with an emotional woman who won’t let me watch sports in peace.”
The unpopular truth is this: Most couples are unhappy because one or both parties (typically both) are focused on pleasing themselves. Selfishness is the root of sin. We want to please ourselves. We want what we want. We want to believe that we are entitled to what we want and that anyone who does not give us what we want does not love us.
In the recent past, I found myself in a very unhappy place in my marriage. I mulled over all the ways I was not being fulfilled. I thought of everything I believed was contributing to these negative outcomes. And, it seemed clear that Eric was the perpetrator. “If he would change in all these areas, I would be a happier bride. It’s because of him. He needs to get his act together.”
So, one night after a less than pleasant verbal exchange, I sent him an e-mail. I laid it all out on the line – all my grievances. I felt so justified.
The next day was a quiet day. He didn’t have much to say (which I have come to recognize as his way of processing before responding). I’ve learned to let him have his space on those days. ~smile~ When we came back together to talk about the e-mail, I was floored at the frustrations he was feeling towards me. The reality was, I was contributing to most of the issues for which I was blaming him. It was a humbling realization, but it shook me up and showed me how self-centered I had been. Once I took his comments to heart, I was ready to spend my energy giving rather than brooding over what he was not providing me.
If you think you will not have those moments of pure, spoiled rotten, three-year-old selfishness in your future marriage, just wait. ~smile~
“What marriage has done for me is hold up a mirror to my sin.” – Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage
If you are going through an unhappy or unfulfilled stage in your dating relationship or marriage, consider the following tips:
- Check Your Heart for Selfishness. Is there a selfishness issue at play? Are you both so busy pushing for what you want from each other that you’re forgetting to give to the other? Are you so focused on your own goals that you do not spend the time necessary to cultivate a good relationship with your sweetheart?
- Look Deeply Inside. Is there some hidden anger or unresolved issues? Is an issue driving you apart which needs to be discussed, resolved, and forgiven?
- Shake Up Your Routine. Is dinner, an activity, dessert, and good night your your every Saturday date night routine? What if you’re active and your routine is walking dogs in the park, skating, playing tennis, and then going home? Even if your activities are outdoors and active, you can still get into a date rut. And even if your activities are hobbies you both love and enjoy, you may risk a rut if you do not shake your schedule up from time to time. Are you both getting your needs met? Is there enough fun? Is there too much fun and not enough structure or communication? Examine how you spend your time, determine if something needs to be balanced, and take action to remedy any issues.
- Do Something Completely Out of the Ordinary. Wake up one morning, pack a lunch, and drive somewhere brand new together. Don’t even bother looking at the map. Just go and see where the highway takes you. Pick a completely random restaurant. Go to a show you would never otherwise attend – maybe an opera or local theater. Do a major cleaning of where you live and have a yard sale. Step out of your comfort zones and do something random together. Push the limits together. Refuse to stay dormant.
- Spend Some Time Apart. Have you been so wrapped up in each other that you have lost touch with other meaningful relationships in your life? Are you having substantially less family time or time out with friends? Love is grand, but it should not come at the expense of other relationships. It is possible to spend so much time together that you become bored. You may even smother each other if you do not allow a little space. Consider spending a few nights with friends or having a family reunion weekend. Let absence make the heart grow fonder while you nourish your other relationships.
- Admit to Your Own Personal Issues. Sometimes Eric does let me down (just as I let him down), but sometimes I project my own negativity onto him. “I am unhappy and I am married, so something about my marriage must be making me unhappy.” This is a false statement. My marriage does not make me happy or unhappy. It is my beliefs about myself and my relationship which lead to those feelings of unhappiness. If I believe Eric is supposed to always listen, pour into me, and stop what he is doing every time I “need” to talk, I will always be unhappy. He cannot provide those services for me all the time – because he is human. If I believe I am responsible for my own happiness, I will not place those unrealistic demands on him. Ask yourself if your unhappiness is truly stemming from something within your relationship. Or, perhaps your unhappiness is stemming from personal unhealthy beliefs.
Eric and I have had many times of comfort and joy in our marriage and also times of grief and frustration. That is relatively standard for all marriages, I would say. Even the couples I grew up admiring had rough patches. And, without challenges, how do we grow?
The lesson I am presented with repeatedly is this: I am usually the cause of my own unhappiness. When couples look inward to find the source of their discontentment, they can begin working on something they can actually change – themselves. We can’t change our sweeties or spouses, but we can change ourselves. If each person would pour the energy they usually spend blaming each other into bettering themselves, much of the marital discord we witness would melt away. (And, of course, I am preaching to myself. ~smile~)
I hope you are enjoying the fruits of a happy relationship; but, if not, I hope these few tips prove to be helpful. As always, feel free to contact us with questions or comments about your relationship.
Does your relationship go through long seasons of unhappiness?