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What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

Evaluating your situation can bring clarity.

Concern and confusion about your relationship are completely understandable. On the one hand, people say things like: No marriage is perfect. Marriage requires work and self-sacrifice. Every marriage experiences ups and downs. On the other hand, you might be wondering: Are my spouse and I an explosive combination? Is my spouse toxic? What do I do now?

This marriage is draining the life out of me. 

Sure, no marriage is perfect… but your overall marital experience should be positive, nurturing, and safe. Your marriage should be a positive, fulfilling part of your life, even with ups and downs.🚦Certain aspects of marriage may be hard, but simply being married shouldn’t be hard. Being married shouldn’t threaten your well-being.

A relationship is toxic when painful dysfunction is the norm.

  • You’re hurting and feeling drained daily because of your spouse.
  • Your sense of self is spiraling down because of your spouse.
  • You aren’t receiving the support or encouragement found in marriage. 
  • Your marriage isn’t a refuge or a safe place. It’s an explosive minefield. 
  • Your marital day-to-day with your spouse is a drama-filled act of survival.

I want you to repeat after me: 

My marriage is not meant to feel like this.

Before we talk about your options as the spouse of a toxic partner, you first have to make some crucial distinctions. You must evaluate your welfare and safety. (This is non-negotiable.) How are you?

1. You have to reclaim yourself.

It’s not uncommon for people in toxic relationships to literally abandon and lose themselves. They’re busy focusing on navigating the minefield of their marriage. 

Here’s how to reclaim yourself. Here’s info on the value of mindfulness and meditation.

  • Affirm yourself daily. Your “inner voice” may have become your spouse’s critical, demeaning voice. Tell yourself the truth each day. Listen to your own voice. Here’s a clear explanation of affirming yourself with practical tips and suggestions. 

2. You need to understand abuse in its various forms.

  • Toxic relationships are definitely unhealthy. They aren’t necessarily abusive but frequently have abusive elements in them. Get help making any distinctions between unhealthy and abusive. Often, the individual enduring abuse is the last one to realize it. Victims frequently make excuses for their abuser, downplay abusive behavior, or blame themselves. This is the time for some reality-based honesty. 
  • Let the experts on abuse help you sort it out. Commit to call, text, or chat online with a specialist. It’s anonymous. You’re worth it. Believe what they tell you. Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. Chat securely with an expert on abuse online here.

3. You need a dependable support system.

  • Take some time to consider and write down your immediate needs. When was the last time you had a health check-up? Be clear about any physical or emotional symptoms you’re experiencing. You should also seek care from a qualified therapist or counselor. 
  • You need people in your life who:
    • Believe in you, not people who blame or shame you.
    • Let you safely vent, and will empathize with you.
    • Can get you out of the house and help you recharge.
    • Will join you in your journey and help you reach your goals.

DO NOT LET MONEY MAKE YOU FEEL HELPLESS.

Yes, money can be a thing. It’s a hard reality. And finances can be entangled with your spouse’s toxicity. Think of your time as a valuable currency. Invest it in the search for resources. Use this guide to therapy for every budget and the resources at the end of this blog.

Internet time! (Delete your browsing history if it helps you feel safe.) What low-cost or no-cost physical and mental health services are available in your area? (Check here and here.) Are support groups available locally or online? What apps can meet critical needs? Hotlines, like the ones at the end of this blog, can steer you toward local resources. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help.

Is your marriage hopeless? What options should you explore?

Hope? Find a mirror. Take a long look. You’re looking at the face of the person who is your best hope. Let this empower you to create a future characterized by hope and not hurt

Facts! There isn’t an option on the table that isn’t challenging. Nobody knows your situation better than you… but this blog has some important things to consider.

More Facts! Research has identified two significant “at-risk” periods for marriage. The first at-risk period is the first two years of marriage, which obviously makes sense. The second at-risk period is roughly years five through 10. 

Catch This: The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. The divorce process takes about a year. On average, an individual takes two years to consider divorce before taking action. Crunch those numbers. It’s clear marital troubles frequently hit couples about five years into marriage. This makes so much sense.

About five years into marriage, there’s a good chance that:

  • Marriage has become less fun and more difficult.
  • Circumstances like demanding careers or raising children have caused relationship drift & disconnection.
  • Unhealthy relationship habits have hardened into an unhealthy marriage. Poor communication, poor conflict management. Not being proactive & intentional about strengthening intimacy & connection. It’s all finally caught up with the marriage. 
  • Someone has inflicted significant personal hurt, often fueling bitterness, resentment, and contempt. (Left undealt with, those feelings are marriage-killers.)

Press pause if your marriage is in that window, generally between years five through 10. Barring abuse in any form, there are many reasons to hope that change is possible in your spouse and marriage. Research also indicates that couples who work through years five to 10 experience a “second honeymoon” period from years 10 to 15. 

Hear & Know This: You are not responsible for your spouse’s toxic or abusive behavior. Period. Full Stop. You are one-half of your marriage. 

This Is Critical: Was your spouse always a toxic person? Or is this something they have become? Can you see a possibility where you, your spouse, and a therapist might do the hard work to sort your relationship out? It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But if your spouse was willing and actually did the work, could they (and your marriage) get back on track?

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, explains the critical factor in whether a toxic relationship is doomed. “If only one partner is invested in creating healthy patterns, there is, unfortunately, little likelihood that change will occur.” Put another way, WE can move toward a healthier marriage. But a willing ME stands little chance of experiencing change with an unwilling ME.

Can you and your spouse work toward a WE? 

As in, WE are:

  • Responsible for choosing to be the best versions of ourselves.
  • Open to seeking whatever individual and marital help we need.
  • Willing to prioritize and invest in our relationship and each other.
  • Committed to doing less blaming and more team building.
  • Agreeing to learn from the past and leave it there. 

REMEMBER: These are commitments to foundational principles for a healthy marriage. The way these principles translate to specific behaviors depends on your particular situation. Ideally, a counselor or therapist would help you and your spouse identify the behaviors, routines, and habits that honor these principles in your marriage.

★ If you’re married to a toxic spouse, RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS consider these principles a fundamental shared “minimum requirement” for BOTH spouses to work toward a healthier marriage. The proof these principles have become integrated into a spouse’s life is when their behavior moves from hurtful to helpful. NOTE: This is more than promises to change. This is change.

★ MARITAL HEALTH cannot begin to be addressed unless you are first in a place of PERSONAL SAFETY.

If abuse in any form is present in your relationship, your personal safety is your TOP PRIORITY. The appropriate professionals must address this. Don’t wonder if you’re experiencing abuse – reach out. 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. 

If your spouse is abusive, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation. Do that as soon as possible. 

As much as YOU might be committed to WE, your spouse must meet you there. You can’t make them move from ME to WE. Regrettably, some spouses can’t or won’t move to WE. 

After professionals have helped you determine you’re not in danger of abuse, you need to decide if you can be healthy with a spouse who is unwilling to function as your marriage partner. This is a critical decision to consider carefully. Please: Allow professionals to walk with you through your options. I wish you all the best in this challenging situation.


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

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Relationship Resources

Mental Health Care

The Importance of Self-Care 

The 13 Best Meditation Apps of 2022

Calm: App for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation

Headspace: App for Stress, Anxiety, Mindfulness

5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

Hotlines & Helplines

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Support Groups & Group Therapy

What Is Online Group Therapy? How To Find It

Find Support Groups | Mental Health America

The 6 Best Online PTSD Support Groups of 2022

6 Best Online Depression Support Groups for 2022

7 Best Anxiety Support Groups of 2022

DomesticShelters.org

Free & Affordable Therapists and Counseling Services

8 Affordable Therapy Options

FindTreatment.gov

MentalHealth.gov

Online Therapist and Counseling Services

10 Top Online Therapy Picks for 2022

7 Best Free and Affordable Online Therapists, 2022

Best 8 Online Psychiatry Services in 2022

Reviews of 4 Mental Health Chatbots

TalkSpace Online Services: Individual & Couples

BetterHelp Online Services: Individual & Couples

Sources

Meditation: In-Depth | NCCIH

Everything To Know About Stress: Causes & Prevention

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

Stable Negative Social Exchanges And Health

4 Negative Behaviors That May Be Making You Sick

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look At The Contemptuous Person

The Dark Core Of Personality

19 Signs Of A Toxic Relationship & What To Do If You’re In One

10 Necessary Steps To Fix A Toxic Relationship

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Test

The Problem With Online Toxic Relationship Quizzes

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

How to Keep Your Marriage Strong Over Summer Break

Be intentional and turn toward each other this summer.

School’s out, and my kids are excited about a fun-filled summer. Mom and Dad… not as much. Don’t get me wrong; I love summertime. But summer schedules can be hectic when you’re juggling different camps, vacations, and activities. Sure, the school year is crazy busy, but at least it’s consistent. Summer schedules are a little more challenging. Are any other parents feeling the crunch?

Summertime can add more stress to your marriage as well. Focusing on our relationship can get lost in the frenzy if we aren’t careful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can keep your marriage strong over the summer, too.

Here are a few ways to get you started:

Date each other.

A regular date night is crucial to the health of your relationship. It can be so easy to fall into a routine in your relationship, especially when kids are in the picture. This is where date night comes in. Dating your mate takes a little more coordination if you have young children. If you don’t currently have a regular date night, now’s the time to start. Create a shared calendar on your phone (if you don’t already use one) and schedule one date night this month. Then flip to next month and plan another one. Keep it going. I mean it! Stop reading right now, and get those summer date nights on the calendar. I’ll wait…

Okay, now that you have dates scheduled… they are scheduled, right? Here are a few more ways to keep your marriage strong.

Make time for intimacy.

Before you put the calendars away, go ahead and schedule some time to get intimate. Wait a minute! Isn’t sex supposed to be spontaneous? Sure, but if you have little kids, you know the reality. Spontaneity is hard to come by. If you’re not intentional, it’s easy to let your sex life fall into the background. But your marriage needs sexual and physical intimacy. And what gets put on the calendar often gets done, am I right? So, decide how often and when and schedule it. Just to clarify, this is a conversation for the two of you. And don’t worry, just ’cause it’s scheduled doesn’t make it boring. [Read 3 Ways to Have Better Sex in Marriage.]

Share a hobby or activity.

Identify at least one common hobby or activity and make time to do that together. You may need to break out the calendar and schedule it depending on the activity. But there may be hobbies you can do at home while the kids play. This doesn’t have to be a family activity, but it can be if you both agree that you’ll enjoy it just as much.

Daily check-ins.

As you’re going in different directions, getting the kids places, and working, it can be easy to spend less time talking as a couple. Carve out some time each day to check in with each other. Maybe it’s over coffee in the morning. Perhaps it’s 30 minutes outside together at the end of each workday. 

When you check in on each other, give your spouse space to vent. If one of you is working from home while the kids are out of school, you may need an avenue to let go of stress. Give each other space to share what’s going on.

Show appreciation daily.

Nothing says love like appreciation, so don’t forget to show your appreciation to the one you share a life and home with. Here are some easy ways to show how much you appreciate your spouse:

  • Send a text telling them how much they mean to you. (Bonus points if you’re specific about why you appreciate them.)
  • Leave Post-it notes for them. If they leave for work, leave them in their bag or lunch. If your spouse stays home, hide notes somewhere they will find them throughout the day.
  • Say it out loud and often. And say it in front of others, especially your kids. 
  • Give them a break (or at least a few hours) to do whatever they enjoy most.

Invest in your marriage.

Take an online course together. There are loads of resources to help strengthen your marriage during the summer or any other season. You can focus on intimacy, communication, parenting, or other topics. Investing in your marriage now strengthens it for the future.

Speak your spouse’s love language.

If the two of you have never taken Gary Chapman’s Love Languages assessment, now is the time. We all have a primary love language, and when someone speaks it to us, we feel loved and appreciated. We also usually express love using our primary language, so learning your spouse’s love language is crucial to helping them feel loved. 

Hold hands.

An easy way to keep your marriage strong is to simply hold hands. Holding hands releases endorphins, a mood-boosting chemical. It also releases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to your spouse. And it’s a stress reliever, too.

Make this summer a great one for your marriage. Not because of a big trip, but because you both chose to be intentional and turn toward each other.

Other blogs:

The Importance of MeaningLESS Conversations – First Things First

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage – First Things First

8 Ways To Care for Your Spouse’s Mental Health – First Things First

Sources:

Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction

Walsh, C. M., Neff, L. A., & Gleason, M. (2017). The role of emotional capital during the early years of marriage: Why everyday moments matter. Journal of family psychology: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 31(4), 513–519. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000277

Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I., Dumas, G., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2018). Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (11), E2528-E2537. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1703643115

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

Your spouse can develop empathy. Here's how to help.

You want your spouse to be fully present with you in your feelings, thoughts and situations in life. But what happens when they don’t show empathy? You probably feel alone, unimportant and misunderstood. You’ve opened up, but your spouse seems unable or uninterested in responding in an empathetic way. So, what do you do when your spouse lacks empathy? 

First, my heart goes out to anyone married to a spouse who indeed lacks empathy. This is a hard road.

Let’s begin by establishing what we mean by the word empathy. According to Harvard psychologist Susan David, “Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative.” 

The term empathy has evolved and has recently exploded in popularity.

That’s great, but it can be confusing if it’s not clearly defined. In Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, researcher Brené Brown describes two types of empathy:

  1. Cognitive Empathy is sometimes called perspective-taking or mentalizing. It’s the ability to recognize and understand another’s emotions. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! It’s completely understandable to feel betrayed. I get you.
  1. Affective Empathy is often called experience-sharing. It is one person’s emotional attunement with another’s experience. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! I feel that sting of betrayal. I feel you.

Your spouse is the one person you hope will get you and feel you. Why? So they can be there for you. (In whatever way you need them to be.)

Simple phrases like, I get you, I feel you, and I’m here for you, are gestures toward empathy. When they’re sincere, they mean I. Am. With. You. You are not alone. But empathy doesn’t stop there. Empathy isn’t complete without action. 

Empathy should lead your spouse to put self aside, be present in your story and absorb it. They understand, believe and validate it and you… they don’t judge, criticize or dismiss it and you. (And they definitely don’t make it about them.) Empathy is the catalyst to respond with appropriate, compassionate actions.

How to Respond vs. React

Telling your spouse they’re not empathetic is probably not gonna help. It’s more of a label when you actually need their labor. You need them to do the relationship work to get outside of themself and be considerate of you. 

You may be able to help your spouse who lacks empathy by fine-tuning your communication. Be clear and direct about what you need. Invite them into your story. Frame the conversation by saying things like, “At the moment, I’m not looking for you to judge me, give me advice, or share your opinion. I need to feel heard and understood.”

Pause. Reframe. Rephrase. “I need you to be present with me.”

Begin your statements (like the ones below) with “I need you to…”

  • Understand how I feel and care about my feelings.
  • Listen to what I’m thinking and consider my thoughts.
  • Hear me and care. I need to know I have your full attention.
  • Support me and be my partner in this situation.
  • Understand this part of me I’m trying to share with you.
  • Understand how important this is to me.

Empathetic conversations can lead to tangible, actionable things for a caring spouse. You can set measurable goals around these statements. Often, we can address a lack of empathy with better communication. There is help and hope to improve communication so you feel heard and understood

But what if this doesn’t snap my spouse out of themself and into being present with me?

Why isn’t your spouse empathetic even when you ask them to try to empathize with you? There can be a variety of reasons. We don’t fully understand why some people are more empathetic than others or why some people have little to no empathy. But there are indications that a person can learn to be more empathetic. 

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Model empathy for your spouse.

Make empathetic statements “out loud” and do empathy work “out in the open” where your spouse can see it. For example:

  • Help me understand how it felt to get that raise at work… 
  • Sarah, how did it feel when Hunter wouldn’t share his toys? 
  • Imagine what it must be like to lose everything as those people on the news did.
  • Amanda, I’m not going to offer unsolicited advice. I just want to sit with you as you go through this difficult time. You tell me what you need.

2. Practice talking about emotions with your spouse.

Try books, games, apps, and websites with “get to know you” questions and conversation starters. This can be a helpful practice for discussing your interior lives. Make it a “Judgment-Free Zone” and a safe sharing space.

3. When your spouse does express empathy, acknowledge it and thank them for it.

Hard Relationships. Hard Choices.

Living with a spouse who isn’t empathetic can be draining and demanding. Because your spouse lacks empathy, they might be critical, cruel, or unforgiving. They may react with anger when they feel like you are being “too sensitive.” They could be oblivious to how their behavior affects you, or be unresponsive to your needs. 

Unfortunately, this might be your reality. It’s one thing to be patient with the change process and support growth in your spouse. It’s quite another to be hurting all the time and in over your head. 

Here are things to consider: 

1. It’s not your job to “fix” your spouse.

Several factors can contribute to someone’s inability to empathize. Genetics. Socialization. Childhood trauma. Your spouse may have grown up in a family that suppressed emotions. You can support and encourage your spouse if they’re trying to grow in this area. But this may be an issue they need to work through. You also need to recognize if they’re not trying to grow in this area.

2. Seek professional help.

Diagnosable disorders may play a significant part in why your spouse lacks empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder, etc.). Know when to bring in the professionals. But remember: Your spouse may not change. 

And if abuse is going on, it may not be a safe relationship for you to stay in. Your safety and mental health are important. 

**Constant criticism, mocking, and devaluing your thoughts and feelings are forms of emotional abuse, and if your spouse is completely unwilling to get help to change their behavior, that’s not ok. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms. [See below for The Domestic Violence Hotline number.]

3. Find validation from within and from other supportive people in your life.

It can take quite a bit of time for your spouse to hone their empathy skills. It’s a process that will have ups and downs. You can’t allow your self-worth to be tied up in their ability to empathize with you; it should come from within. Practice self-acceptance and self-care, and in the meantime, turn to trusted friends you can share your thoughts and feelings with. And there’s no shame in seeking a counselor for yourself, either.

Life is certainly not easy with a spouse who lacks empathy. You can do several things to improve the situation. But you also need to recognize when those things aren’t working. Many people have successfully maintained their marriage knowing that their spouse may have many positive traits, but being empathetic is not one of them. You can set boundaries with your spouse and still get your need for empathy met in other healthy ways.

At the end of the day, we all want to be heard and understood without judgment. And chances are, you both want your marriage to be a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings. Fine-tune your communication around what empathy looks like in your relationship. Practice talking about feelings. Dig deeper into understanding and believing in each other. Recognize and appreciate any progress toward more empathy – it’s a process that will bring you closer together in the end.

Sources:

*Special thanks to my colleague, Tamara Slocum, for her insights/contributions to this piece.

Susan David, Ph.D.

Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

8 Steps to Better Communication Today

Empathy Definition | What Is Empathy

The Origin of Empathy

The Surprising History of Empathy | Psychology Today

The Secret to a Happy Relationship Is Empathy | Psychology Today

What to Do If You or a Loved One Lack Empathy

Resources:

Why Should I Consider Counseling? – First Things First

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Crack the Code of Men’s Feelings | Psychology Today

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage – First Things First

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them) – Lifehack

200 Questions For Couples

**Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?

Take the time to examine what's really going on.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope

Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)

If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.

Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.

I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)

Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.) 

(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?

These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.

(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?

There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*

(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)

We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude. 

This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.

Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism

Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.

If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.

No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?

If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.

Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.) 

If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.

Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage. 

Organize your thoughts.

Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list. 

How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances? 

These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.

Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.

Time to make a plan.

Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change? 

Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!

Let’s get your spouse in on this!

Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.

How to have a productive conversation:

  • Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns. 
  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
  • Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.” 
  • Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
  • You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
  • Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.

Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.

➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.

Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”

I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.

Sources:

Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship

Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction

How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central

The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected

Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?

Resources:

Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse

Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

Image from Pexels.com

You might phrase it differently, but when you’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse, you’re probably feeling something like:

  • That spark’s gone. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
  • I’m not attracted to my spouse like I used to be.
  • I love my spouse, but I’m not in love with them anymore.
  • Over the years, we’ve grown apart. We’ve become different people.
  • My marriage hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.
  • There’s no passion. No magic. No romance. I just don’t feel it.

That romantic feeling is going, going… gone now. What happened?

First, we need to make sure we are talking about the same things when using words like romance and love. These words can mean a variety of things, and that makes discussing them difficult. Let’s get on the same page. This might bring some clarity to what you’re feeling.

Passionate Love

This will be our term for romance. It’s usually characterized by a strong desire to: 

  • be around your spouse,
  • please them,
  • enjoy them,
  • be sexually attracted to them, and
  • overlook their flaws.

This is what people usually mean when they say they are in love with their spouse. 

Passionate love has a unique effect on your brain and body chemistry. Those fireworks! But some researchers claim passionate love naturally gives way to a deeper kind of love as your relationship grows. Other researchers argue that passionate love doesn’t have to fade. 

Passionate love might come and go, and romance might ebb and flow… but it doesn’t have to disappear from your marriage completely. You might have to be more intentional and purposeful to keep that romantic spark lit.

Compassionate Love

This will be our term for what people generally mean by the word love. It’s usually characterized by:

  • deep feelings of security,
  • emotional connection and intimacy, and
  • best-friendship in your marriage. 

Some researchers call this companionate love. 

Compared to passionate love, this love is often considered more stable, mature, and steady. It doesn’t feel as fun, euphoric, or exhilarating as passionate romantic love. But this makes sense. Because researchers have found that this love activates different parts of the brain – even different body chemistry – than passionate love. So, yeah, it actually feels different.

Perhaps your relationship has undergone a normal transition. Maybe it’s been creeping up on you. Maybe it hit you all at once. It’s not a crisis, but it can feel like one if you didn’t expect it. Now you’ve gained some perspective and can be purposefully passionate moving forward. 

Perhaps conflict or circumstances have deflated your passionate love. This is less of a relationship transition you can accept and walk through… and more like relationship issues you can expect to work through. (Compassionate love can be the safe context to work through these issues.)

That romantic feeling is going, going… gone. Now, what happens?

You don’t have to pick between passionate love and compassionate love. Healthy, growing, long-lasting marriages have both. 

Explore the depths of compassionate love. Enjoy the heights of passionate love as you keep cultivating those romantic feelings. Here’s a practical place to start – back at the beginning.



★ Here Are Some Things To Think About And Try!

Okay, today, you don’t have romantic feelings for your spouse. Look at all your yesterdays. Take a step back, like, all the way back to your wedding day. Rekindle old feelings by reviewing old memories.

1. Remember Why You Married Your Spouse.

Many counselors and therapists recommend listing what attracted you to your spouse in the first place and the reasons you wanted to marry them. What caused you to fall in love? Remind yourself of why you’re grateful for your spouse. 

Take time to reminisce about the first time you met. How do you remember it? How does your spouse remember it? Similarly, talk about your first date. Can you recreate it? While on your date, talk through five things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. How did you get engaged? How did you propose/were you proposed to? What were the feelings surrounding that occasion? What was your wedding day like? Did everything go as planned? What were you feeling on The Big Day? What was your first year of marriage like? Share favorite stories. What were you naive about? How has your relationship grown since then?

Passion Power-Up:

You know your spouse better today, including their faults, annoying habits, and when they let you down. Yes, reality puts some big dents in romance. Reality also invites you to a deeper love that transcends romantic feelings and builds a stronger bond with your all-too-human spouse. This could be a huge marital growth opportunity.

2. Remember All The Things You’ve Been Through With Your Spouse.

What circumstances have changed since your wedding day? Children? Careers? Stress? Illness? It could be as simple as being busier now. It could be as complex as significant unresolved marital conflicts. Commit to each other to work through any obstacles as a team. And commit to shaking things up a bit. (In a good way.)

Passion Power-Up:

Have you talked to your spouse about how you feel? Are you creating the time and space to maintain your marriage so there’s room for romance? This probably doesn’t sound romantic, but frequently the effort comes first. The feelings often follow. You might be surprised by the romance conjured by a planned night out, the habit of taking a walk together after dinner or even scheduled sex. Do something different. Don’t let your relationship get in a rut.

3. DANGER ZONE.

Gut-check time. Have you entertained romantic feelings for someone other than your spouse? It’s difficult to have romantic feelings for two different people simultaneously. It can be subtle at the start. A friend or co-worker seems fun and interesting. Maybe you see some qualities in them you feel your spouse is lacking. That romantic feeling for your spouse starts to wane. This is the Danger Zone.

Passion Power-Up:

If this is the case, you need a reality check. You know your spouse, warts and all. It’s unfair and unrealistic to compare your spouse to someone you know comparatively on a superficial level. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it. 

See those “feelings” for what they really are and refocus on your spouse. Nourish your relationship with your spouse and see what happens to your romantic feelings.

4. Start with you. 

Maybe this isn’t about your spouse at all. You might be experiencing some changes in how you look at yourself and your life. Several things could cause this. You might not be experiencing success in your career like you’d hoped. Maybe you’re feeling the burden of financial stress. You could be dealing with physical or mental health issues. This could be a season of life thing. You could simply be aging and not handling it in a healthy way. 

Passion Power-Up:

Do a personal inventory. You might need to take a good, honest look deep inside yourself. Many things may have changed or shifted inside of you, affecting how you feel about your spouse. You might not have noticed slow, silent repositioning in your perspective or personality. It might be helpful to enlist a trusted friend in answering these questions. See your primary care physician if you haven’t had a check-up in a long time. Our physical health and our feelings are bound up together. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor or therapist if you feel like you can’t quite understand what you’re feeling. Your spouse will thank you.

You’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse. How you respond is critical. 

Some people want a romance-based relationship. Ask yourself if that’s a reality-based relationship. You might not always feel that heady, passionate love. But as you experience that heavy compassionate love, the romantic feelings that follow might surprise you.

Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Respond in a way that’s healthy for yourself and your marriage. Seek out help where needed. Lost romantic feelings may be complex, but they may also be very simple. Taking these steps is a great sign, and there is hope!


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

The Relatable Report handpicks the latest and greatest relationship content and delivers it straight to your inbox every week.


Other Blogs:

Keep Romance Strong in Marriage

What is Romance in Marriage?

Sources:

Love and the Brain | Harvard Medical School

Brain Study Reveals Secrets of Staying Madly in Love | Psychology Today

The Dark Side of Believing in True Love – BBC Future

15 Things About Being in Love vs. Loving Someone

The Psychology Behind Love and Romance

Thinking About Romantic/Erotic Love

Navigating the 4 Stages of a Relationship

8 Warning Signs of a Troubled Marriage

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Divorce

Getting It Right the First Time: Creating a Healthy Marriage

How to Keep Romance Strong in Marriage: Part 2

Get closer in all five areas of intimacy.

Intimacy can be a scary word for some people, but it is an essential part of keeping romance strong in your marriage. We often think of intimacy as sex, but it’s so much more than that. It’s how we connect at the deepest levels. Connecting in one of the five types of intimacy (emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual) deepens the others. That’s totally a win for your relationship.

Ready to dive a little deeper into each type of intimacy and learn ways to pursue it? Let’s go!

1. Emotional intimacy happens through trust and vulnerability. 

It’s about revealing yourself fully to your spouse. 

How can you build emotional intimacy? For starters, be vulnerable with one another. Sharing your dreams, faults, fears, and hopes increases emotional intimacy. Each day, commit to really talking about your day and more. Ditching the technology and making eye contact can help you focus. It can help you grow emotionally closer, too.

2. Intellectual intimacy creates a space to share thoughts without fear of judgment. 

Remember, you’re two people with different backgrounds and views. You may not always agree on everything. And that’s ok. 

How can you build intellectual intimacy? Practice having conversations around challenging topics. This isn’t about changing each other’s minds; it’s about better understanding one another. Ask lots of questions to make sure you understand. Genuinely listen to what your partner says. 

3. Experiential intimacy is what you get when sharing experiences. 

Trips, adventures, hobbies – all those things you do together that bring you closer.

How can you build experiential intimacy? Do something together you both enjoy or try something new. Take a crafting class, go for a hike, kayaking, or a bike ride. Make a list of things one or both of you would like to do. Doing fun stuff together makes you want to do more, strengthening your bond.

4. Spiritual intimacy isn’t just about religion. 

It’s about sharing values and beliefs. More than likely, you and your spouse share some core values. That may be part of what brought you together.

How can you build spiritual intimacy? Start by writing down your family values and beliefs. Look for ways to implement those. 

5. Sexual intimacy seems pretty obvious. But getting to a place of sexual intimacy isn’t always easy.

If you aren’t connecting intimately in the other ways, this one can be pretty tricky (or non-existent). Physical and emotional changes, stress, and kids can impact this intimacy. This intimacy can also be difficult if there’s past trauma. 

How can you build sexual intimacy? Have a conversation about your sexual needs and desires. Be open and talk about it. And schedule sex. Your calendar is full of appointments and activities, so why not add sex? When you prioritize it, you’re more likely to make it happen. Anticipating it can make it more enjoyable for you both, too. [How’s Your Sex Life Quiz]

Connecting with your spouse intimately in each of these ways can fuel the romance in your marriage. 

Turn toward each other and talk honestly about how your relationship is going in each of these five areas. Learn each other’s intimacy needs. If you feel that one area needs work, focus on growing that intimacy together. 

Keeping romance strong in your marriage takes intentionality and commitment from both of you to make it happen. Taking small steps toward each other every day can keep you from getting overwhelmed. And seeing your romance blossom can motivate you to stay the course.

Other blogs:

6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

What is Romance in Marriage?

5 Things To Do When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse

Course: Discover Deeper Intimacy – INTRO – First Things First

How to Keep Romance Strong in Marriage: Part 1

Knowing each other more deeply is within your reach!

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but the romance doesn’t have to end. For some, the weeks leading up to and away from the “love holiday” are filled with romantic gestures. Others may have lost that loving feeling. Maybe the romance has faded in your marriage. Life gets hectic, and we lose focus. Work demands increase. Kids bring on a whole new level of exhaustion. Our relationship becomes routine.

Routines don’t have to ruin your romance, though. You can always rekindle that fire, and with a bit of intentionality, you and your spouse can keep the romance strong.

Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Keep dating your spouse.

Remember what it was like when you were dating, before you got married? The long walks holding hands? The intimate conversations while getting to know each other? Prioritizing your budding relationship? Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that all has to stop. Your relationship probably needs those dates now more than ever. Put those date nights on the calendar and prioritize them. Hold hands often. Treat the person you married the same as you treated them when you were falling in love. [This date night can help!]

2. Study your spouse.

We are constantly growing as individuals. Our opinions and views evolve. There’s always something to learn about your spouse. If you don’t know their love language, that’s a great place to start. Your love language is the way that you receive love. Dr. Gary Chapman says there are five love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. We all have a love language (or two) that we prefer. Get to know your spouse, but don’t stop there. Keep learning and pursuing them. Curiosity is a beautiful thing in a relationship.

3. Surprise and delight your spouse.

Leave notes in their lunch, car, or on the bathroom mirror. Text them throughout the day just to say I love you. Surprise them with their favorite drink. Use the knowledge you gained from studying them to speak their love language. Maybe that means taking on some of their household chores or responsibilities so they can relax and recharge. Looking for ways to surprise your spouse shows them they are on your mind, and their feelings are a priority.

4. Commit to pursuing intimacy in all its forms.

It’s common to equate intimacy with sex, but it’s so much more than that. Intimacy is our innermost thoughts and feelings. It allows us to bond with each other on several levels. While many healthy relationships involve intimacy, marriage should be the most intimate. Your spouse should know you more deeply than anyone else.

There are five types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual. Focusing on each one increases the others. Continual conversation is a necessity to grow your intimacy as well.

Start the conversation with your spouse about these ways to keep romance strong in your marriage. 

If you’re ready to dive into each type of intimacy and find out how to build it in your relationship, let’s take a deeper look and talk about practical ways to grow your intimacy in How to Keep Romance Strong in Marriage: Part 2.

Other blogs:

4 Signs Your Marriage Is Healthy – First Things First

7 Questions Every Couple Needs to Ask Each Other to Improve Their Sex Life – First Things First

What Is Emotional Intimacy in Marriage? (And Why Does It Matter?) – First Things First

What To Do When Your Spouse Has Changed

Working toward growth and connection (when possible) can do wonders for your relationship.

Navigating changes in your spouse can be difficult and serious. How serious?

If changes in your spouse cause you emotional or physical harm, consider reevaluating your relationship to determine if your situation is safe.

That serious. Short of that, even well-intentioned, positive changes in your spouse can still be distressing, frustrating, and confusing.

Change! = Adapting? = Distress!

On your wedding day, you knew that you, your spouse, and your marriage relationship wouldn’t remain exactly the same. Of course, there would be changes! The honeymoon phase passed. Seasons of life bring changes, and shifting circumstances like careers and children offer new challenges, too. 

But maybe your spouse has really changed. Perhaps you’re feeling insecure, or like you’re being stretched beyond your ability to adapt in a relationship that feels unpredictable. That HURTS. That’s Change-Pain.

Heads Up! Your Change-Pain reflex might be to go for the “quick fix” and… change your spouse. 

Change-Pain whispers: Just apply pressure to your spouse in the right spot, in the right way to, you know, change the change. It’s tempting – but be careful with your reflexes. Change-Pain can make us react to our spouse in unhealthy ways. 

You don’t want to make things worse.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.” Perhaps you’ve seen this play out already.  

We have to negotiate and navigate change. This requires (hard) conversations and resilience. Melissa Ferrari, psychotherapist and counselor, offers essential advice about talking through changes with your spouse:

“Relationships can survive arguments but generally not threats.”

You know when you go to the doctor, and they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10? 

Imagine a scale for Change-Pain.

How would you rate that?

1 Bear with me; I have to ask. Have you changed in a way you might not have noticed?

Looked at things from your spouse’s perspective? Are you balancing your concerns for yourself with concerns for your spouse? Are your feelings and responses proportional to the change in your spouse? In a healthy way, openly and honestly share how you feel.

2-3 Has there been a change in circumstances? Big or small? Good or bad?

Changing circumstances usually change people. Acknowledging this isn’t an excuse, but it may explain some things. Talk with your spouse about it. Be honest, direct, and kind. Express your concerns and feelings and be willing to listen to theirs. Working through this can strengthen your relationship.

4-5 Do the changes in your spouse conflict with your needs, desires, priorities, or goals? Do you relate to each other differently?

These aren’t small things, but you can work through them. Your spouse might have no idea how you feel. Start there. Try to be positive, flexible, and hopeful.

6-7 Feeling deceived or duped?

Was there a Major Thing you and your spouse discussed before you married, and now your spouse has changed their mind? These situations can easily make you feel uncertain, insecure – even cheated. Get the support you need. Your conversations with your spouse may need to be mediated by a couple’s counselor or therapist. That’s okay. 

8-9 Have changes radically impacted your relationship or put it at risk?

Practice curiosity and share your concerns with your spouse. Prioritize staying connected. Explore the little daily actions that keep a couple connected. Psychologist Dr. Jamie Long drops some wisdom here: Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. Don’t settle.

10 This needs to be taken extremely seriously. Is there emotional or physical abuse?

Are you scared or nervous to disagree with your spouse? Do you feel safe? Bring in the professionals and even the law NOW. (For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233.)

Change (and your threshold for adapting to it) exists on a spectrum. Is it possible to communicate and negotiate to a middle ground you can BOTH live with? Not just to keep going, but to keep growing?

Your spouse has changed. BUT, you can only control one thing: YOU. Please don’t let this be discouraging – it’s empowering!

How we respond to challenges forges our identity.

What happens next might be tricky. Working toward growth and connection will probably require time, energy, commitment, or even a brave acceptance of something new. Get help when you need it. 

Marriage is hard sometimes. It might feel like a mountain to climb if your spouse has changed. But, if you choose to climb, you’ll be a marriage-mountain-climbing marvel. 

And soon, you’ll be enjoying the view

Sources:

You Are Not the Person I Married | Psychology Today

How to Navigate and Embrace Change in Your Relationships | PsychCentral

12 Thirty-Second Ways to Connect With Your Spouse | Psychology Today

7 Small Ways Spouses Can Stay Connected

Please use the resources below to address your specific needs:

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

8 Things You Should Never Do During an Argument With Your Spouse

5 Tips for Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse

What to Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse

How to Deal with a Spouse Who Can’t Handle Conflict

What to Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic