By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
You’ve begun to feel unhappy in your marriage. You and your spouse haven’t been spending time together like you used to. There’s distance between the two of you, and your interactions have cooled. As blissfully happy as you were when you got married, you can’t imagine how you got to this point.
This is supposed to be your soulmate, right? So what is going on? Do you even know this person any more?
Long before we ever get married, we imagine that once we’re in a marriage with our soulmate, that person will meet our every need. But that’s not true because even after we say our vows, we’re still the same people with the same baggage and the same emotional hard-wiring.
Even though you love your spouse deeply, you will still feel unhappy and alone sometimes. This is normal; it’s not an indicator that something has gone wrong with your marriage.
There will be times when outside stressors invade your marriage and dampen your happiness. There will also be times when the two of you will have to invest extra energy into one another in order to find your footing again.
Don’t become fearful; with hard work and perseverance, you and your spouse will be able to overcome the unhappy times you face together. Here are a few tips to help you get through.
1. GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER AGAIN
When you’re dating, you spend a lot of time getting to know each other. After you’ve been married for several years, you think you still know one another–but your tastes change over time, and your old favorites aren’t your new favorites any more.
Being married is a continual process of getting to know your spouse again and again over the course of your relationship.
Taking time to intentionally learn the things that are significant to your spouse will stave off boredom. You can easily become disinterested in someone who you think you know, and who you believe really hasn’t changed since you got married. If you put that effort into constantly learning about your spouse, you’ll see that he or she will keep you fascinated.
Husbands, take note: we learned of a study done by a great researcher on marriage, and what makes the happiest couples happy. One corollary he discovered was how well the husband knew his wife. (Because women tend to tune into little details, there wasn’t much of a fluctuation for them.)
Basically, how well husbands are tuned into their wives’ favorites (movie, color, flower, perfume–whatever things are most significant to them) directly affects the level of satisfaction in the relationship.
A great way to get re-acquainted with each other is to work through Love Talk Starters. The book contains 275 questions to spark conversation and help you learn more about one another.
Invest some time to get to know each other better, and watch the level of happiness and fulfillment in your marriage grow.
2. BE GENEROUS WITH ONE ANOTHER
It’s important to cultivate a spirit of generosity toward your spouse. In fact, it’s the best marriage insurance you can invest in.
Being generous has little to do with money; focusing extra time and effort on your spouse will make a world of difference in your marriage.
Little things count BIG. Offer your husband or wife little comforts, tokens of affection, extra help, or special attention. If your wife loves to have her back massaged, offer that to her–don’t wait for her to ask. Or if your husband likes to have coffee before he leaves for work in the morning, prepare it for him, and maybe throw in something special, like a flavoring or a creamer he enjoys.
Be careful not to keep score, though. Being petty and keeping tabs is definitely not the way to draw happiness back into your marriage.
When it comes to paying extra attention to your spouse, go above and beyond to display generosity and unselfishness. The impression you’ll leave on him or her will be hard to ignore.
3. SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER
One great way to bring happiness back into your relationship is to make more time for each other–valuable, energized time, not the leftovers after you’re already exhausted.
The two of you need time to hang out together, when you can be playful and affectionate with each other. You can’t do that when you’re focused on kids or your to-do list.
It’s easy to get stuck and comfortable in patterns that starve your marriage of this special one-on-one time, but it’s imperative that you find ways to ignite one another’s desire for that companionship.
Be fully present with each other as you create space in each day where you can slow down together. These moments are essential to the well-being of your marriage.
Share your dreams; inspire each other. What are some things you dream about doing together as a couple? Perhaps you can plan a special vacation that signifies a new day in your relationship.
If you’re having trouble finding the time to set aside for one another, we suggest that you take our very short time assessment. It will help you identify your (and your spouse’s) major time style, and will give you insight to one another’s approach to time. This will set you on the right path to creating moments for just the two of you.
4. DON’T BE A VICTIM
When the happiness in a marriage fades over time, the blame rarely rests on one spouse. And when you find yourself in this situation, it’s incredibly easy to point the finger at your husband or wife, mentally listing, re-listing, and memorizing the faults and behaviors that you believe are to blame.
Any time you’re facing an ongoing or long-term unhappiness issue in your relationship, it’s your responsibility to take a look at your life and question what role you may have in your situation.
Instead of assuming the victim role and assigning the role of oppressor to your spouse, focus on becoming a healthier, happier person. Work on yourself and make the necessary changes to get yourself into a better place.
Ask yourself what changes you can make to your own behavior, or your treatment of your spouse, to help lift some of the burden from your marriage.
Making positive changes on your own will have an impact on your spouse. It will affect how you view yourself, how your spouse views you, and ultimately, it will benefit your relationship.
If you are being mistreated, neglected, or abused by your spouse, getting healthy will enable you to set appropriate boundaries, protect yourself, and enact change. Make sure you seek support from a professional counselor and trusted friends or family members as you work toward a healthier future.
5. EXERCISE FORGIVENESS
As Ruth Bell Graham once said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” No matter what you face in your relationship, it is imperative that you and your spouse be willing to forgive one another’s shortcomings.
Forgiveness in marriage is the only way to move forward through a period of unhappiness. It’s likely that both of you have done (or not done) and said (or not said) hurtful things to one another leading up to and during this time.
While it’s tempting to hold onto that negativity as an excuse to keep your spouse at arm’s length from now on, resist the fears you have and release your right to exist in a defensive state. Withholding forgiveness will foster bitterness toward one another and drive you further apart.
6. FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES
When you’re going through a difficult time in your marriage, it’s easy to allow yourselves to be completely drowned in negativity until you are unable to see the positive aspects of your spouse and your life together. During times like these, it’s important to be deliberate about being positive and cultivating a sense of gratitude for your blessings.
Not only should you take responsibility for your part in the bad situations you face; you must also take responsibility for the good times–that is, what good you can create in, and extract from, your life.
Create a daily habit of having several positive interactions with your spouse. Thank them for what they do for you; pay them compliments; take the time to point out or share something that makes you feel good (or that you know they’ll appreciate).
Gratitude will protect you from losing yourself to negativity during times of marital unhappiness.
No matter what, always believe that good wins, every time. If you stay focused on the good around you, you and your spouse have much greater chances of overcoming unhappy seasons.
HOLD ON TIGHT
How you feel in your marriage right now isn’t how your marriage will always feel.
The truth is, relationships are ever-changing. Love is always evolving. Hold tight to each other as you ride out the rough times together. When you come out on the other side (and you will!), you will be closer than ever.
For more tips and suggestions for making your marriage the happiest possible, check out our book, Making Happy.