Tag Archive for: Marriage

6 Things To Know Before You Get Married

Knowing some things ahead of time can lead to a happier relationship.

My wife and I often get asked a common question: “What do you wish you’d known before you got married?” 

Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We’ve had our ups and downs. But according to recent statistics, the average length of marriage in the U.S. is just over 8 years. So, it makes sense to ask questions of a couple who’s been married longer than that.

Most couples anticipate having a long, happy marriage. And they should! But if you’ve been married any amount of time, you probably recognize it’s not always smooth sailing. Your marriage is going to get rocked by waves. Sure, there will be times when the sun is shining and the seas are calm. Just know before you get married, there will be storms ahead. But you can navigate the storms and make it through.

In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable, yet the highest percentage of divorce occurs within the first seven years of marriage.”

Chapman’s book provides a marriage blueprint. He lays out 12 potential areas of stress for married couples – they’re great to think about before you get married.

Here are six of the areas he addresses:

1. Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.

The “honeymoon phase” of marriage typically lasts for up to two years. This phase usually is idealistic and romantic. Don’t get me wrong, this stage is fantastic; it just needs to be treated realistically. This is a time to learn and adjust to each other. Differences will become apparent, but that’s OK. A healthy marriage requires commitment, trust, and communication. You need more than just that loving feeling.

2. Romantic love has two stages.

Chapman describes the first stage of love as a time when couples expend lots of energy doing things for each other, but they don’t consider it work. The second stage of love is more intentional. It requires work to keep emotional love alive.

3. The saying, “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son” is not a myth.

Chapman doesn’t suggest that your spouse will become their mother or father. But parents do greatly influence who we become. You will see some traits of your spouse’s parents in them. Be aware of this.

4. How to solve disagreements without arguing.

Conflict is a normal part of marriage. When two people spend lots of time together and grow closer, they won’t agree on everything. That’s OK. Not every conflict has to end in an argument. You can handle disagreements through healthy conversation and compromise.

5. Apologizing is a sign of strength.

Apologizing isn’t always easy. Some even see apologizing as a sign of weakness. It takes a strong person to say, “I was wrong; please forgive me.”

6. Mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic.

Many newlywed couples don’t anticipate this being an issue. Dr. Chapman shares that while men focus on sex, women focus on relationship. We’re all built differently and have different sexual drives. Those drives change with varying stages of marriage as well. So, what do you do when you feel like sexual fulfillment is lacking? Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Couples who have been married for a long time talk about these issues and more. Marriage takes open, honest communication and flexibility from both people. It won’t always be smooth sailing, but you can navigate the storms together and enjoy those smooth seas. There is beauty in every phase of a relationship.

Other blogs:

5 Tips For Newly Engaged Couples – First Things First

5 Things You Should Have In Common With Your Spouse

Can A Marriage Survive Without Intimacy? – First Things First

You probably don’t need convincing that ongoing, open communication is vital to a healthy, growing relationship. If we’re honest, it’s a struggle to make it happen in our marriages. 

We all have our own reasons for why quality (and quantity) communication is hard for us, but I want to encourage you. I’ve yet to meet a couple whose communication was all it could and should be. We’re all in this together.

Sometimes you just need a little help getting started. Questions can be a catalyst

Productive answers come from provocative questions. These questions for couples’ communication can spark quality interactions. And they can draw you toward a deeper marriage connection. Buckle up.

Why work at communication? 

Let’s face it: Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability can go sideways – and fast. So, what are you trying to do? What do you need to try to avoid? 

  • The goal is definitely not to be “right,” open healed wounds or hurt each other. This doesn’t mean you can’t be true to yourself or say hard things in a constructive way. Genuine intimacy-building conversations aren’t always comfy-cozy.
  • The goal is to go deeper into each other and your relationship. It isn’t to exchange facts about each other. You’re seeking insights that move your relationship forward. You’re trying to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings so you can love better. Look for ideas and solutions that improve your life and marriage.
  • Agree to take a break, refocus, or stop altogether if the conversation escalates, becomes destructive, or creates problems instead of solving them.

Check out these questions for couples’ communication and get closer as you speak!

Group 1. Communication. Talking About Talking.

  1. What’s a topic we don’t usually talk about that you think would be interesting, important, or fun to discuss? Let’s go there!
  1. When you were growing up, how did your parents talk to each other? How did they speak to you? Has that influenced the way you communicate with me?
  1. If you could adjust one way I communicate with you, what would it be? Why?
  1. What’s a topic or area that you’re kinda uncomfortable discussing with me? How do I contribute to your discomfort? How could I make you feel more comfortable?
  1. What do you think are the main obstacles to improving our communication? Let’s make a plan!

Group 2. Understanding. Seeing How You See Each Other.

  1. How do you see me differently than you think I see myself? What are my blind spots?
  1. What do you think I haven’t taken enough time to learn or understand about you?
  1. Where in my life do you think I’m settling for less than the best? Inspire me!
  1. What’s an area where you think I don’t give myself enough credit or am too hard on myself?
  1. What are three of my qualities or attributes that you’re grateful for? How do you see them in action?

Group 3. Relating. Bringing Out The Best In Each Other.

  1. What relationship problems are we solving together? And what issues are we avoiding?
  1. What do you think is the most crucial factor in making our relationship grow? Do you think we’re paying enough attention to it? How do you think we could lean into it more?
  1. Sure, marriage takes effort, but are we having fun and enjoying each other? How would you suggest we “relax and enjoy the ride” more? What’s a fun thing we could do? Let’s put it on the calendar!
  1. What’s a part of our life where you feel a little under-appreciated? What could I do today to make you feel more appreciated? 
  1. Where in our relationship do you feel like we’re totally a team? Where do you feel alone? Help me help you to never ever feel alone.

Group 4. Wildcard Round! Oh, We’re Doing This!

  1. OkayOkayOkay! So I’m not perfect. I’m sure there’s some little thing I do that annoys you. (Thank you for overlooking it all this time.) If you tell me what it is, I won’t get defensive. And I promise to work on it. 
  2. What’s something I do for you that I obviously think is sweet and romantic, but it does next to nothing for you? What could I do that would be meaningful? 
  3. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Explain in psychologically revealing detail. (Set a timer for 30 minutes. Take turns.)
  4. I’m just curious… if I suddenly died (after you eventually worked through the paralyzing, soul-crushing grief), which of our single friends, co-workers, or acquaintances do you think you could have a high-quality, meaningful relationship with? Listen, it’s okay. Really. It’s just a hypothetical question. I mean, I’d want you to be happy. So, tell me: Who?*

*The only acceptable answer is: I would be in mourning for the rest of my empty life. Nobody could ever fill the hole in the meaningless existence I would have to sadly wander through, alone, until the end of time. I love you so much. ❤️

About these questions for couples’ communication: How do you know if all this talk is helping? 

  • You understand your spouse better, and you feel better understood. 
  • You’re taking action. You’re setting goals to improve your relationship and create deeper connections. Follow through!
  • You discover things you have in commonalities, compromises, opportunities, and maybe even fun or forgiveness.

Other Resources

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION

8 STEPS TO BETTER COMMUNICATION TODAY

17 TACTICS TO DRASTICALLY IMPROVE COMMUNICATION IN RELATIONSHIPS

8 SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN HAVE MORE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS

5 TOOLS FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE

WHAT GREAT LISTENERS ACTUALLY DO

HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR SPOUSE’S FEELINGS

30 CORE DISAGREEMENTS COUPLES ENCOUNTER

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

5 Ways to Make this Valentine’s Special

Start with these ideas and take it from there!

Valentine’s Day is special. It’s a day of love – a day to shower our significant other with flowers, gifts, and romance. The expectations can be overwhelming. But the day doesn’t have to be. 

It’s a day for the two of you, so make it memorable in your own way. It may mean a night out on the town or an intimate night in.

Focusing on what makes your spouse feel loved is what makes it memorable.

Here are 5 ways to make this Valentine’s special:

1. Tell your spouse 10 ways they’re a great partner.

It’s easy to take for granted all the ways your spouse is remarkable. Life’s busy, and we forget to express our gratitude to each other. Take this Valentine’s to tell them just how great they are, but it doesn’t have to be confined to a card. Get creative in the delivery. Here are a few ideas for how to express your feelings.

  • Leave Post-it notes around the house. Hide them in places like their underwear drawer, work bag, or shoes. After the first few notes, it gets exciting to figure out where the rest are.
  • Give them a note a day for 10 days. If they take their lunch to work, that’s a great place to hide them. Or on the bathroom mirror if you wake up before they do.
  • Employ the kids as messengers. Let them get creative.

2. Ditch the fancy dinner for a food tour.

Mix it up for dinner this year. Instead of making a reservation for dinner, select a part of town with several restaurants and make it a food tour. Have appetizers and drinks at one location, pick a different spot for the main course, then head for dessert and coffee. If the restaurants are close together, you can go for a nice walk as well.

This creates the perfect opportunity to explore what each of you likes. You can alternate picking locations. As you transition from one location to another, talk about what you like about that particular place or food. Smells and tastes have the power to transport us to a time and place in our past. Explore those sensations together.

3. Take a scenic drive.

Make a playlist and hit the road. There’s nothing more I love than driving through the countryside and talking. One rule, though: Ditch the phones! (Okay, let me specify. You may need GPS or music but no social media, texting, or phone calls.)Take in all the scenery and have some deep conversations. My wife and I have the deepest conversations when we’re out driving.

4. Tour your local area.

Have you explored all of your city? Are there places you want to visit but never have? Think of this as a scavenger hunt without the clues. Choose a couple of sites each, then surprise each other with the locations. 

Here’s a couple of ideas to make this special:

  • Choose places significant to your relationship, like your first date, where you met, or your first kiss. You can revisit those memories and talk about how you’ve grown.
  • Choose an area you’ve never visited, but you’d like to. Go for a walk and discover the food, stores, and parks in the area. Talk about what you find. You may just find your new favorite place!

5. Make intimacy a priority.

Before you think, “Of course, he said make sex a priority,” read that again. The Oxford dictionary defines intimacy as “the inmost thoughts or feelings; proceeding from, concerning, or affecting one’s inmost self: closely personal.” 

Intimacy comes in different forms, too. Yes, there’s sexual intimacy, but that’s only one form. There’s also emotional, intellectual, physical, experiential, and spiritual intimacy.

We all need intimacy. And your needs may be different from your spouse’s. That’s okay! Part of marriage is learning about and discovering each other. So make it a priority to get more intimate with your spouse. [Boost your intimacy with this Heart to Heart text series!]

Make this Valentine’s even more special by committing to celebrate your love throughout the year. Be intentional about studying your spouse and growing closer together every day.

Other blogs:

What is “Romance” in Marriage? – First Things First

Why Date Night Matters – First Things First

3 Ways Good Communication Can Enhance Sex In Marriage

DIY Date Night | Appreciation Station – 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

What To Do When You Disappoint Your Spouse

When you handle disappointment well, you can grow closer.

Disappointment is a revelation. Disappointment in marriage – doubly so. Sadly, we usually don’t sit with it long enough to learn all we should. When you disappoint your spouse, you are faced with several choices. We’ll look at some practical actions you can take, but first, you need to address your relationship with disappointment. Remember, you aren’t alone in this. I’ve been there so much I’ve made up words for my options.

When you disappoint your spouse, you can choose:

1. “Self-Regretrospect.”

This is looking back on what you did, feeling appropriate regret, and learning from it. I can totally see how that disappointed my spouse. I need to make it right with them and learn from this.

This is sitting WITH the disappointment you caused.

2. “Self-Vulnercade.

This is barricading your vulnerability. It’s not a big deal. They disappoint me all the time. I would never do that. Just get over it.

This is sitting AWAY from the disappointment you caused.

3. “Self-Crucifiction.

This is fictional martyrdom. I’m the worst! Why do I always screw everything up? I can’t do anything right! I’m terrible!

This is sitting IN the disappointment you caused.

If you can muster some self-regretrospection and sit with the disappointment you inflicted, you’re in a place to learn something valuable. Disappointment reveals where hope is. You’re disappointed the recipe didn’t turn out because you hoped it would be tasty. You’re disappointed your team lost because you hoped they’d win. 

There is no disappointment without hope. 

So. You’ve disappointed your spouse. They’re understandably upset. Now, think about the hopes your spouse has that were let down. Be specific. They could be hopes for particular actions or hopes for certain character qualities. They could be hopes for a special kind of relationship. Learn into it. 

What better way to grow closer to your spouse than to understand their hopes?

I’ve been married for 28 years. Do you know what I’ve learned about disappointing my spouse and being disappointed? It happens often, but worse, we usually totally waste it. 

We don’t learn anything from it, so our relationship doesn’t grow. But disappointment is fertile soil for bitterness and resentment, even in the healthiest of marriages. For both of you. ¡No Bueno!

Sadly, it’s taken most of my 28 years of marriage for me to realize that we rarely have the right discussion/argument/fight. Instead of defending & deflecting, instead of wilting & wallowing, I should own more. Take more responsibility. And then explore my wife’s hopes. Study them. Celebrate them. THIS: Protect her hopes because they’re connected to her dreams.

That’s all good in theory, but let’s get practical.

“What if my spouse’s hopes are unrealistic, impossible, and romanticized? I’ll always end up disappointing them!” 

That’s a great point and a valid question. Our hopes need to be continually evaluated, calibrated, and recalibrated. But remember, hope by definition is a stretch between what is and what could be. 

Hope in marriage should stretch you as individuals and as a couple, but hope should never break you. If you’re continually being broken, that’s not hope; that’s hurt, and it needs to be addressed. The goal is to keep growing as you keep going. 

What do you do short-term when you disappoint your spouse? Like, now?

Your spouse’s hopes have been dashed and they are hurt and disappointed. Of course, this is not where you want to park your relationship.

You can hear and validate your spouse’s feelings in the moment and explore their hopes and expectations later.

(1.) Own your actions, words, and attitudes. 

(2,) Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

(3.) Apologize for disappointing your spouse. 

(4.) Then, at the right time, ask questions and listen to the answers. 

“What do you think is the hope driving that?” or “What is the hope beneath that?”

It might be trust, respect, feeling heard, feeling cherished – who knows? But that’s what you’re actually working on – not just dishes, taking out the trash, helping with the kids, folding laundry, and sending 😍 😍 😍 texts. 

★ Heyo! Your spouse might realize they need to address their hopes and expectations. Maybe they go beyond a healthy stretch to an unhealthy setup for perpetual disappointment. This is an ongoing convo that should strengthen your bond. This is the heart of marital growth.

Homebuilding is Hopebuilding.

Your goal isn’t to stop disappointing your spouse. It’s way deeper. Your goal is to always be working to protect their hopes. When your spouse sees you working to that end, so many of life’s disappointments, big or small, just seem to… fade… away.

Other blogs:

5 Ways to Reduce Resentment in Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop Resentment – First Things First

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You – First Things First