Is your marriage broken?
Posted April 27, 2016
By Kim Giles and Kristena Eden
When my husband and I were first married we were so happy. It seemed like everything was easy and he could do nothing wrong. Now it seems like he purposefully tries to make my life miserable or at least doesn't care how I feel. I have less and less respect for him and we fight more often. I think our marriage is completely broken. Is there a way to get back that love we once had?
There are ways to create more love, respect and attraction in your marriage, but it probably won't ever be like it was at the beginning, nor should it, because it could be something even better.
In the book "The Lifecycle Stages of a Marriage" by Barbara Markey, ND, Ph.D., she explains that relationships proceed in three basic stages. We call them the newlywed stage, the cooperative stage and then the endearing stage.
The newlywed stage is the stage of romance and giddy feelings. We are high and the love hormone is racing. We feel that nothing can go wrong. This stage is filled with passion, and we find it easy to give and give, fulfilling all our partner's needs. We tend to romanticize and idealize the “idea” of marriage in this stage. Here, we think because we have the perfect partner we will stay in this stage forever. When this stage starts to shift and change to the next stage, we sometimes feel our love is broken.
The cooperative stage is the problem-solving stage. Here, you both start putting most of your efforts into your jobs, raising kids or paying the bills. You may even feel that you’re more in a business relationship than a marriage. This is a stage of utility where you are trading services and here, you have to work at remembering why you even married. You may forget who you are here, and life may be filled with stress and fear. You may have fear you are not good enough and fear of loss that makes your spouse feel like the enemy. You may feel that you have lost real love, but that is only because it's different than before and the sacrifices and struggles of this stage may feel overwhelming. It is at this stage you need to remember that every worthy end we obtain comes with great work. As Thomas Edison states, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
It takes a great deal of common sense, hard work and maturity to get through this stage of life still admiring and caring for each other. As you and your spouse work your way through this part of life, your character is tested and you will have many opportunities to see your spouse at their best and worst. You will watch them growing, stumbling, rising and learning in the classroom of life. You will have many opportunities to be forgiving in this stage and give your spouse space to learn and be a work in progress — since that is what you both are. You will also have many opportunities to ask forgiveness for your mistakes, faults and flaws. Hopefully as you both fight your way through this stage and life's challenges you will begin to admire each other and focus on the goodness you have inside you. This begins to create the final stage.
The endearing stage is the last and best stage. This is the most stable of all the stages and the most rich. This is where you begin to truly know and love the other person. You thought you loved them at the beginning, but you now realize that was just infatuation and attraction, it wasn't real love. Real love is about admiring, respecting, appreciating and honoring the intrinsic worth of this amazing human being your married. It is truly caring for them and their happiness as much as you care about your own (or even more.) It is a space where you love their character, their virtues, their talents, their quirks, their faults and their weaknesses. You now understand both their light and their darkness, but you choose to forgive their faults and completely embrace their light. This is a stage of mature love, understanding and wisdom.
By the time you reach this stage, you have probably better learned how to communicate and solve problems together. It is here that you finally know who you are and also who you married. You have learned how to lift each other and how to understand each other at a deeper level. Your expectations are no longer fantasized, they are now realistic, understandable and acceptable. You have arrived at a place of peace. Not perfect bliss with no problems, but a place of deep devotion and connection.
So, what is the key to making it through the broken times and achieving the enduring stage?
It lies in focusing on admiration for their efforts, their striving, their intentions and their intrinsic worth. They won't ever be perfect and they will continually disappoint you (as you will them), but if you will focus on their goodness and give them the same level of forgiveness and compassion you want back, you can get here. Here are a few other suggestions:
- Get professional help at the first sign of trouble. Don't wait years (like so many do) until the hurt is deep and the wounds are mortal. A little help from an expert, right now, can make fixing your relationship much easier and faster. If you haven't found someone you both like, keep looking and find someone who can work with you both individually so your focus stays on fixing yourself, not your spouse.
- Figure out what your spouse's fears are and identify the fears your spouse triggers in you. There are a few worksheets on our website that will help you do this. Once you understand the fears, you will understand what triggers them, and you will also know what needs to change.
- Spend time together. Marriage and family therapist Brett Williams says that real love comes down to attention. You cannot create real enduring love without spending lots of time and attention on your spouse. Remember what you did when you were first in love and do that again. What made the two of you laugh? What made you both feel loved? Make sure you acknowledge, listen well, validate and build up your spouse.
- Make a date night. Have at least one a month without any kids.
- Find a hobby or fun activity to do together.
- Surprise your significant other. For no reason at all give a gift, do a chore for them or give a back rub. Let them know you are thinking of them and desire to serve them.
- Daily good mornings or good nights. Greet each other when you come and go each day. Give a hug, a smile or a kiss, a simple reminder that yes, life is overwhelming, but I still love you.
- Listen and listen, and listen some more. Listening is the most powerful way to show a person you value them. Spend lots of time here and honor and respect their right to see the world the way they do.
- Make sure your spouse feels appreciated, admired, respected and wanted daily. Work on a better intimate relationship — a good one takes time and effort. Thank them often for every little thing they do for you and the family. Tell them often about the character traits you see in them and admire. Tell them how lucky you are to be married to them. Coach Kim has written many articles on these topics on her blog.
- Remember that your spouse is the same as you. No matter how many or which faults each of you has, your intrinsic worth is still the same. Make sure you never talk down to or insult this amazing, miraculous, one-of-a-kind soul you married. Build them up and help them to see their potential. Positive encouragement creates more change than criticizing ever will.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.