Aleteia

Is your marriage stuck in a rut? Here’s how to give it a jump-start

ZŁE NAWYKI MAŁŻEŃSKIE
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To have a happy relationship, know how to spot the signs of distress before they take a toll.

For many couples, the daily grind off life can turn into a dead end and even go on to a separation. The routine settles in and one sad day it dawns on us that it’s been the same monotony for years. “One of the spouses gets bored,” observes Sophie Passot, a  marriage counselor, who is happily married and a mother of four. “More and more often, each sits in his respective corner, in front of a computer or playing with their cell phone. Silence settles over them.

”This is a sign that marital ties have worn out. People have grown apart, to the point that they live like strangers, without craving emotional intimacy,” says Passot. It is a time when people start looking back, regretting what could have been. How could this couple who came together in such enthusiastic manner fall out of love? 

In his book The Four Seasons of Marriage, psychologist Gary Chapman calls this “fall marriage.” “These marriages look fine externally; outsiders may even comment on how happy the couple seems to be. Yet inside the marriage, things are changing. And when the chilling winds arrive, the deterioration of the marriage will be obvious to all.” The routine could rear its head fairly quickly, even though it generally strikes people after 40. It stealthily takes hold, without a warning. To nip this monotony in the bud, you first need to recognize the signs of distress — both your own and those of your spouse.

Tracking signs of wear and tear

When time spent together grows farther apart, when conversations become brief, the two spouses risk transforming into roommates. Deep inside, each blames the other for this estrangement and more or less expects the other to change. Some warning signal should alert them. Carelessness, for example, which reappears after a few years of life together — people become sloppy, exhibiting less self-restraint. A kiss in the morning and a kiss goodnight transform into mechanical pecks on the cheek. The small daily attentions fly out the window: sharing a meal together, lending a hand, inquiring if the other had a good day. But we should stop feeding the flames of marriage; the relationship has to be maintained and cultivated.

This carelessness takes root in selfishness. When the couple met, the two were ready to please one another. Whatever happened to them? In his Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman observes, “In the beginning Adam and Eve were both naked and felt no shame – total intimacy. But shortly, they were sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves. What happened? They disobeyed God’s commands. Sin always separates. So, if you have lost your intimacy ask yourself: Which of God’s commands have I broken? I think you will find more than one.” 

Before the warning lights go on, vigilance is a must. How so? There are solutions, and sometimes things can be even better than at the beginning.

Feeding the flames of love

Before turning to desperate measures, try to creatively spice up your love life. “It is time to try out something silly, this joyful frivolousness you enjoyed when you got engaged,” advises Sophie Passot. Striving to remain attractive for one another is a must. Barbara and Joe, who have six kids and 22 years of marriage behind them, agree: “It is vital to change your romantic setting from time to time. Sometimes we go on romantic weekends and leave our kids at home. This introduces some magic to all of that.” Sophie Passot declares, “Couples also need to invent their own rites for festive and ordinary days.”   

It is good to dream together and dream of projects for the future … “We will buy a big house one day, or we will travel around the world …” claims Sophie Passot. “Common projects are not always realistic, but they always keep the partnership going. You could be preparing a trip or a party. This provides solidity to your relationship. It is something you discuss before and after.”

 “A happy marriage is when no matter how long you talk, it is never enough”

But magic is not enough. To reignite the flame, you need to make your relationship more profound. “Is it not to live together, to speak together, that we got married?” asks John, who has been happily married for 25 years, “Yet, fairly quickly we don’t do much for it.” What is the point of traveling to the ends of the world, if once you are back, the daily routine is as oppressive as before? Rather, the couple needs a real cure. You need to start by paying attention to one another. If the spouses do not take the time to look at each other, nothing can happen. Getting back together again requires a real conversion and selflessness.  “The first loved one entrusted to us by the Lord,” remarks Sophie Passot, “is the person we married.”

“A happy marriage is when no matter how long you talk, it is never enough,” wrote the French novelist André Maurois. Spouses never have enough of one another. But what do they talk about? About everything and about nothing, we would most likely say. Yet, this is not enough, for what is most often lacking is the sharing of feelings.

Before the routine settles in, you need to look back at your life together without omitting anything. It is a time to take a step back, to review the very foundations of your relationship. It is possible to evaluate the path you’ve traveled since your wedding day, mentioning joys and pains that marked it. It is useful to ask yourself some questions: “What happened to the goals we set? Where are we now? What can each of us do to change this routine? How does each of us escape our relationship: cell phones, work, video games, books …  How can we make more time for one another?” 

Gratitude and prayer should not be overlooked

For Salomon Nasielsky, a therapist specialized in transactional analysis, “gratitude is the fertilizer for a couple.” It is a wonderful way to strengthen the bond and to revive it. Saying thank you and explaining what that thanks is forms important — for the years spent together and also for all that the other did, which seemed like a duty but is actually a gift. You should not overlook forgiveness. When you ask the other for forgiveness, defenses fall away and you can talk together once again. “It is not in ignoring our faults that we can attain intimacy, but rather in admitting to them and asking for forgiveness”, observes Gary Chapman, who believes that the closer the spouses are to God the greater their intimacy is.” 

Ada and Pete can attest, “The best and the most fruitful help is the spiritual one.” The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of renewal, who renders flexible that which is inflexible, irrigates what is arid and warms that which is cold, is the ideal listener for a couple stuck in the routine. It is up to the couple to pray with trust so that the right solutions emerge in your heart. The” Veni Sancte Spiritus” can serve as an ideal prayer.

Florence Brière-Loth

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