I had an interesting conversation with an old colleague yesterday that I hadn’t seen in years. We talked business for a while, then I shared with him about my new focus on marriage and coaching couples to have better relationships. He told me that he has been wed for over thirty years himself, and told me that he shared my passion for marriage. But then he paused and asked me an interesting question.
“Did you ever go through a season in your marriage where you questioned everything including your relationship?”
He went on to tell me that around 20 years of marriage he hit such a time. He found himself discontented with his wife, questioned his feelings toward her and began to distance himself emotionally. As he shifted his focus away from meeting her needs, she in turn pulled away from him. He told me her reaction was, “I’m getting no love or affection from him, why should I show any back?” As a result, the relationship began to erode.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. He told me that after a few years of feeling this way, he “woke up” one day and realized that he had everything that he ever needed in his wife. It wasn’t her shortcomings that was off-putting, but rather his own that he struggled with. Looking back, he blames the situation on a classic, male mid-life crisis. He had hit a point where his career had peaked, his kids were grown and he didn’t see the continued growth and excitement in his future that he’d experienced in his past. This led him (as it does many men) to question life from a variety of angles. With this new realization, he was able to fall back in love with his wife and finds himself today in a better place with her than he’s ever been.
I use this as a cautionary tale for myself and for my readers. It is natural and common that we go through highs and lows in life. When we hit a low point, it can be tough to look at ourselves to find the root cause. We become desperate to find an external source for our woes. There’s typically no one closer to us (in terms of emotion or proximity) than our spouse – they become a natural target for our frustrations. “They must be the reason that I feel this way. I’m sure that someone else would make me happier”. And for many that is the path they choose. The new partner, like a new shiny toy, distracts for a while, but since nothing really changed in terms of the root cause, discontent inevitably sets back in.
If or when you ever find yourself in this situation, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from an objective point of view. Are your really frustrated with your spouse, or are you actually frustrated with yourself? If your marriage is eroding, be honest – have you stopped investing in it? Have you quit trying? The odds are that during your wedding ceremony you recited vows that included “…until death do us part”. That was a strong commitment, and it should be in effect no matter what season you find yourself going through.
Experts tell us that the best time to invest in a company is during a recession. Prices are low and the potential return can be huge. I think this same logic applies to marriage. When you find yourself feeling relationally low, invest time, effort and money into your marriage. Then you too can find yourself falling back in love all over again.