I’ve talked with a number of couples recently who came to marriage counseling because their marriage had grown stale. The obvious symptom they describe is that they feel like they are just roommates. There’s little or no sense of an emotional connection between them–they sometimes feel like two ships passing in the night. They say they are still committed to the marriage, but. . . .
Often there’s been mention of the word “divorce,” but they both decided counseling had to come first. But they didn’t know for sure how it would help. They just weren’t ready to separate.
I often ask early in the process, “What happened to your friendship?” The typical answer is to look at each other, kind of shrug their shoulders, and admit that at this point, even the friendship is non-existent.
How did they get here? How did the dreams and hopes of the newly weds 15 or so years ago simply fade away? The answer is “busyness.” Usually, both parties in the marriage got in a career path that was demanding of their time and energy. Then when you add kids to the equation, you have the typical scenario.
The New Yorker Magazine has great cartoons, and one I remember is of two boys, both around 12 years of age, standing outside of one of their homes. The caption said, “You’ll love my parents, they”re very child centered.” Couples in a complacent marriage are typically too career centered, and /or too child centered. They forgot that after the kids leave, or the career levels off, there is still a marriage.
So that’s part of why couples get to this point. What can be done to restore the marriage? Here’s where I begin:
1. I tell them, “Don’t worry about love.” It can always come back when the behaviors of love are restored in the relationship.
2. We begin to work on the friendship. A satisfying, enjoyable marriage is always built on the foundation of the friendship. What do friends typically do? They talk about lots of things, most of which aren’t really that important. So I suggest that the couple sit together and talk “friend-talk” for 15 minutes after dinner. I tell them to dismiss the kids from the table, and just sit and talk about anything. But avoid talking about issues–friends seldom talk about heavy issues. Just talk together. If it goes longer, so what. They can do the dishes together when they’re finished.
3. As the friendship begins to be rebuilt, then we begin to talk about the issues that have led to the present situation.
Sounds too simple? Try it, no matter where you are in your marriage. It will bring added life to any marriage!
Question: How do you think a couple can prevent reaching this state of marital staleness? Would love to hear your comments.