Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend. Those marriages that are healthy can handle growing even more, but there are many marriages, especially Christian ones, where they remain locked in the status quo. They know it could be better, but they lack the skills, characteristics or mindset that allows them to work towards improvement.
In fact, they will often outright reject, dismiss, or argue any correction, support or offer for help.
So, today I’m going to share some of these reasons. You might recognize some in your own marriage. The good news is, they’re all able to be addressed.
1. Fixed Mindset of Marriage
First is the mindset. If you believe that “this is just the way marriage is” then you’re going to find you get stuck in it. Marital satisfaction is contagious, and unfortunately, we have a lot of unhappy marriages in our churches. For many of us, this means we grow up seeing this as the model. Maybe not from everyone, but from more than a couple. Sadly these are often our pastors and elders as well. It might even be our own parents.
Those couples who adopt this fixed mindset, the idea that this is just the way marriage is and we’re stuck with it, find it difficult to change because they don’t believe it can. Some believe all marriages are this way, and it’s normal. Others think they’ve picked the wrong spouse and now they’re stuck.
Either way, it leads to the same issue: a disbelief that you can have a happy, even thriving, marriage.
When someone offers help, they say things like “If only marriage was like that” or “It’s too late for us” or “My spouse will never change” or something else that shows their lack of hope for marriages in general, or theirs in particular.
I know, because I was one of these guys. At one point in our marriage, I had given up. I figured we were stuck until one of us died. So I get being stuck there. I also know you can get out of it! But it takes a concentrated effort, ideally by both spouses.
2. Lack of trust
Some couples have hurt each other so much over the years, they don’t trust each other enough to take the first step.
Making changes requires stepping into a vulnerable space, and if neither spouse is willing to do that because they’re afraid they’ll get hurt, then it’s hard to make a move in the right direction.
This was us as well. During the first 7 years or so, we’d been constantly wounding each other so much that neither of us wanted to take the first step. We were too afraid of getting hurt. Either spouse can start a downward spiral in marriage, and either one can start an upward cycle as well. The problem is that downward spirals start on their own. Our natural inclination is to attack and defend. It takes being intentional, dying to self and deciding to trust to move in an upward fashion. Even then, it takes both spouses doing that to continue the cycle moving up.
And it takes continuous effort to do that. It gets easier. As you become more practiced, it’s easier to trust your spouse again as they return interactions positively as well. It’s easier to trust when you feel you are trusted. It’s easier to love when you feel loved.
Starting that cycle is difficult though, especially when you’ve been locked into a downward spiral for years or even decades.
3. Battle mentality
Many couples find themselves stuck in a battlefield mentality. They perceive their husband or wife as the enemy in many ways rather than a partner. They keep track of who did what, figuring out who is ahead or behind, worrying about what is “fair” or who is owed what. If you find yourself thinking “that’s not fair” or “(s)he owes me now” or planning strategies to trick, fool, evade or avoid your spouse, then this is probably you.
But you can’t get ahead in a marriage if you each are trying to wrestle power or control from the other. That’s what a battle mentality does. It takes the energy that should be used to drive the marriage forward and instead invests it in creating a complicated balance of tension and fear.
Eventually, you start believing that your spouse is either intentionally doing things to harm or block your happiness, so you demonize your spouse, or you believe they have no idea what they’re doing and don’t realize how much they’re harming you, and so you think they’re ignorant or idiotic.
In either case, moving forward with someone you think is either cruel or inept as a partner is difficult, if not impossible. The underlying conflict mentality has to be addressed before you can move forward.
4. Lack of intimacy
Marriages are holistic and any area of your marriage that is lacking intimacy is going to limit the other aspects of your marriage. Whether it’s spiritual intimacy, physical, emotional, financial, recreational, experiential or what, if you are holding back, it’s going to hold back your entire relationship.
Because intimacy spans it all. And yes, you can push one for a while beyond the others, but it puts a strain on the relationship. This is a problem we have in dating. The emotional intimacy ramps up and the physical intimacy wants to follow. In marriage, the opposite tends to occur. We have a ton of experiential intimacy (doing life together), and if the emotional or physical intimacy doesn’t fall into line, then you get frustrated. Likewise, a lot of emotional intimacy with no physical intimacy makes you feel unwanted. Lots of physical with no emotional makes you feel cheap.
Intimacy grows together, holistically, and when one is down, they all suffer.
5. Poor Communication
Lastly, communication is a huge issue that can hold people back. We naturally will say things improperly. We generally aren’t taught how to communicate well and without good models, it’s difficult to learn on your own.
So we end up saying things that hurt our spouse. We try to communicate our desires, but often it comes out as a selfish demand. We want to respond kindly, but we get defensive and then often aggressive as we counter-attack.
There are so many ineffective communication behaviours that seem to come naturally to us, and very few, if any, that are effective let alone optimal.
How do you move forward then?
Well, find one that you find your marriage struggles with the most. Just one. Head over to our webinar questionnaire and vote for a topic that meets that need. Need some more one-on-one help? Check out our marriage coaching and we can get you set on the right path with a plan and support to get you where you want to go.