When is the last time you felt disappointed by your marriage? Notice that I asked when, not if. Disappointment is a normal part of any relationship, but it hits us particularly hard in marriage.
We live in a day and time when marriage is presented as an answer for your loneliness, insecurities, sexual frustration and romantic longings. Marriage is supposed to make you happy, right? Your husband is supposed to be your soul mate. Well that might be true in romantic comedies, but things don’t usually play out like that in real life. Maybe you and your husband have become more like tolerated roommates than lovers or best friends. Does this mean something is wrong with your relationship? Not necessarily.
You might remember the classic line, “You complete me,” from the movie Jerry McGuire. Sometimes we refer to a spouse as “my better half.” While we all want this experience in marriage, these common phrases may set us up for unrealistic expectations. A healthy marriage isn’t about two halves making a whole. The best marriages are two “whole” people learning what it means to love.
Here’s a little secret I learned a few years into marriage: I didn’t know if I really loved Mike until I felt no feelings of love towards him. The sense of “feeling love” had to fade away for me to be able to learn how to really love my husband. I learned that I don’t love him because he completes me or because he’s my better half. I love him because I’m committed to him. We’ve had those seasons in which it was easy to feel in love with each other. Life was fun, and our relationship had romance and tenderness. But as the Bible says, anyone can love a person who is easy to love. It takes determination and help from God to endure in love when it’s not so easy. The best love I have offered is when I have felt distant and even disappointed, yet I still chose to move toward Mike.
Through commitment and genuine love, you can build a solid friendship with your husband. You can also make investments in your relationship that will result in actually enjoying each other’s company. Despite what you’ve read in romance novels, this doesn’t just happen. You build a great marriage... you don’t stumble into one. As the saying goes, the grass is greener wherever you water it. Here are three practical ways that you can water the grass of your marriage.
Spend time together. How could the same person you used to laugh with and look forward to being with become boring and irritating? People often “fall out of love” because they simply have no time or energy for one another. In the stress of work, kids, finances and other life challenges, they have very little “left over” for marriage. One of the most important decisions you can make as a couple is the simple commitment to spend quality time together. Here’s a good goal: 15 minutes a day, one date a week, and one weekend a year of kid-free talking, having fun and working toward intimacy.
Invest in life together. Marriage was never created to be just about you and your spouse continually staring into each other’s eyes. While just the two of you spending time together is critical, you also need to invest together in significant interests and people outside of your relationship. Every marriage was created to reproduce. I’m not just talking about having children but the larger call to impact the world around you. We form deep bonds when we work together in things that really matter. Be intentional about investing in people and God’s work as a married couple. Here are some ideas: become part of a small group, have neighbors over for a dinner party, volunteer together at a local mission or ministry or raise money for a cause you care about. Invest together in things that will outlive you.
Address conflict. If you and your husband have an underlying conflict, don’t ignore it. Marriages don’t dissolve because the couple has problems – every couple has problems. They break apart because those problems never get addressed and they erode the foundation of trust in marriage. I’m a big believer in marriage counseling. Even though I’m a psychologist and teach on marriage, my husband and I don’t hesitate to seek counseling to address things that are difficult for us to resolve between the two of us. Don’t wait until your marriage is in crisis. Begin addressing issues now – learn to communicate, work through forgiveness, deal with wounds from the past and address current threats to trust and intimacy in your marriage.
One of the underlying questions women ask related to marriage is, “Are we normal?” Is it normal to fight? To be attracted to another man? To wonder if you married the right person? Media won’t help you answer these questions. Even your friends’ social media posts reinforce the fantasy that normal marriages are filled with romantic dates and continual fun. And “reality television” truly isn’t any closer to reality. Real marriage is not as idyllic as Cinderella nor as dramatic as the Kardashians. God works within real marriages when two sinful, broken people commit to loving one another in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, till death do us part.
Want to learn more? Listen to our Java with Juli podcasts "Managing Your Expectations in Marriage" and "Rethinking Sexuality in Your Marriage." You can also read Juli's blog "Your Marriage Should Be Fun."