“Life is busy, but overall, it’s pretty good. My job is going well. Kids are great. My marriage is pretty much dead.”
He said those ominous words, “my marriage is pretty much dead,” without changing his tone or his expression in between bites of chips and salsa. I was meeting my friend for a long overdue lunch to catch up. We’re both in the same busy season of life trying to juggle careers, young kids, marriage and all the other stuff life at full speed can throw your way. I was taken back by the bluntness of his statement about his marriage, but I was also startled by how matter-of-fact and emotionless he seemed.
After some awkward, probing follow-up questions, he offered a bit more commentary on the situation. He explained that the marriage had (in his perspective) never been great, but in recent years it had descended into a downward spiral leaving him feeling hopeless that it would ever improve. They had tried counseling, but despite their efforts to find new beginnings, old habits, hangups and heartaches seemed to create a chasm of irreconcilable differences.
Over the years, he and his wife had devolved from desperation, to frustration, to apathy. Now, they seemed to be little more than disconnected roommates co-existing for the sake of sharing household duties and parental responsibilities. They’re still legally married, but they’re no longer real friends, lovers or even spouses (by any practical standard other than the legal document still binding them together).
They rarely argue anymore, but it’s not because there is real peace or partnership; they’re simply too tired, so they settle for the illusion of peace, because the real thing seems impossible. Their hopes for anything more seem to be as distant a memory as their wedding day. Had it not been for their deeply-ingrained religious convictions about divorce, they would have most likely divorced long ago.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
He and his wife had started out with the best of intentions. They both were (and still are) great people. Neither of them walked down the aisle and said “I do” years ago thinking it would eventually look this way. It certainly didn’t happen all at once, and I’m sure both of them would have different versions of the story to explain how it got here. The overlap in both versions of the story would probably include words like: miscommunication, misunderstanding, hurt feelings and unmet expectations.
I’ve known them for years, but I still don’t feel qualified to do an “autopsy” on their marriage. I don’t have enough information. What I do know for sure is that they both genuinely believe they’ve done all they can to make it work and neither of them knows what to do next. The thought of starting where they are and somehow building a thriving, fulfilling marriage feels as impossible to them as telling two starving and exhausted people wearing no winter clothes to climb to the top of Mount Everest.
Can YOU relate to their situation? I believe every marriage goes through seasons of struggles and frustrations, but some couples find themselves in total despair where they feel that they’ve exhausted all resources and options and solutions still elude them.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’VE DONE ALL YOU KNOW HOW TO DO AND THE MARRIAGE STILL FEELS BROKEN?
I believe there’s hope for EVERY marriage IF both the husband and the wife want to make it work and are willing to do all they can to make it work. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but I believe the following FOUR ACTION STEPS could not only prevent divorce but create a beautiful marriage out of a broken mess. In no particular order…
1. Commit to counseling AND a weekend retreat for couples in crisis.
Counseling is an important part of the solution, but sometimes it takes getting away and have a few focused days to kickstart the healing process. There are some great counseling and retreat options at NationalMarriage.com, MarriageToday.com, AACC.net and we also have an online program for couples in crisis at FightingForMyMarriage.com.
2. Restructure your schedules to spend daily, uninterrupted time together.
Communication in a marriage is like oxygen for you body…it keeps you alive! When your marriage feels like it’s on life support, you might need to radically readjust your schedules to make sure you’re connecting daily. Make sure you have at least 30 minutes after the kids are in bed to talk with no electronics to distract you (TV, phones, etc.). Try to touch each other during this time. I’m not saying this will or should always lead to sex, but just showing basic physical affection or giving a foot rub can create more intimate connections between you and your spouse.
#3 might be the MOST important one on the list...