Q. My wife and I are having many problems in our marriage. Our home is full of tension. We argue and then we avoid each other. Counseling a year ago helped make things very happy and romantic for a while. Now we’re back at war with each other and on the brink of divorce. Why didn’t the change last? What do you suggest?
A. The fact that counseling helped and you were happy for a while afterwards is a positive sign. It shows that it’s possible for you and your wife to have a happier relationship. If we can do something for a brief time, we can learn to do it consistently.
What do you want your marriage to be like? What kinds of things do you want your partner to do that will show you that she cares? What kinds of things does she want you to do that will show her you care? What did each of you do when things were going well that you are no longer doing?
If we want romance in our marriage we must purposely act in romantic ways toward our partner. Give spontaneous hugs and kisses. Give compliments. Send cards and flowers. Spend fun time together and go out together. We must fan the flame of our love. Our feelings toward others don’t just happen. Our own actions and involvement with our partner shape our feelings. Therefore, if we “act romantic” we will feel more loving. If we give of ourselves to the other person we will feel more commitment.
Couples often blame each other for the problems in their relationship. Actually, the problems are often the result of a circular interaction. Each person’s behavior is the result of an action that preceded it and is also a trigger for the partner’s action that follows it. For example, a husband may work late. The wife may interpret his coming home late as lack of love for her so she withdraws emotionally and won’t allow touching. He then stays late at work again because of her withdrawal.
Couples also develop balance in the roles they assume. If one person is very responsible about keeping the house clean, the other one may be more casual or even sloppy. Michele Weiner-Davis in her book Divorce Busting compares this type of balancing to what happens when riding a tandem bicycle. If one person stops pedaling, the other one must do all the work.
Notice the behavior between you and your wife and what you want to have happen more frequently. Often couples stop doing fun things together or stop being affectionate with each other because of a negative cycle. What they don’t realize is that the lack of these fun or affectionate behaviors increases and compounds the problems between them. The reverse is also true. Enjoyment in a relationship does much to help us forget the hurt or the differences. Couples don’t realize that changes in behavior lead to changes in their positive feelings toward each other. Feelings don’t change first, in other words.
Faith in God, praying together and worshipping together also helps unite a couple in a deeper way than anything else.
I recommend that you and your wife go back into marital counseling together. Tell your counselor you want to focuses on the solutions rather than dwelling on all the past problems, anger and hurt. Solution focused therapy helps couples stop blaming each other and helps couples work out a better balance on their “tandem bike.” In addition join a couples marriage enrichment group. The Third Option or A Weekend to Remember offer excellent help for marriages. See also www.smartmarriages.com for a wealth of information on help for marriages.
“Be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.” 1 Peter: 3:8 NLT