By Gary Moore
Because we’re in “sales and marketing” when we’re dating, the first five to seven years of our marriage shift our attention from similarities to differences. It’s a time when we begin to realign our expectations with reality. We feel misunderstood and at times devalued. We fight over money. We go to bed angry and quiet on many nights.
When a marriage gets stuck in the grind, the vacuum of intimacy sucks each spouse dry. It is exhausting and draining. When the relationship is at risk, couples are stuck. Sadly, many marriages end because one or both spouses blame issues and each other as the source of the problem.
Are you a stuck couple? Here are what author and pastor Ted Cunningham says are the eight symptoms of a stuck marriage. And, according to him, most couples drift into these symptoms. Here are the eight symptoms of a marriage stuck in the grind:
- You blame your spouse as the source of the problem.My wife is not my source of life. Neither are my kids, job, money, home or possessions. When you look to your spouse as the source of life, you blame him or her as the source of all your problems. And when your spouse is the source of your problems,you automatically become dependent on him or her to create a solution. You are stuck, waiting on your spouse to make the first move. When your spouse is your source of life, you also spend your days trying to control, manipulate, and change him or her into your image.
- You question your compatibility.eHarmony and Match.com are selling the message that great marriages are the result of great chemistry and compatibility. But in reality, great marriages flow from great character. Your character, not your chemistry, determines your commitment to enjoy each other for life. I’m not saying that chemistry is not important. It is. It’s just not as important as character. Chemistry does not hold you to your vows, but character does.
- You repeat mistakes and develop patterns.Most stuck couples experience what “Love and Respect” author, EmersonEggerichs, calls “the Crazy Cycle. We all make mistakes. The real issue is whether we will learn from them. Couples often say, ‘We’ve tried everything, but we cannot get any resolution to this issue. We don’t know what else to do.’”
More than likely they haven’t tried everything. They have tried a few things multiple times. This pattern drains marriage of fun and intimacy. You begin to think, “We’ve been down this road before, and here we are again. Why can’t we get anywhere with this? Why are we still fighting over the same old issues?” Don’t get louder and repeat. Try something new. When your conversations feel stuck, approach them from a new angle. Renowned family counselor, Gary Smalley, teaches an approach he calls LUV talk — listen, understand, validate. We all want validation of our thoughts and feelings as well as resolution to our issues.
- You rush decisions.When a couple is stuck, they struggle to make wise and healthy decisions. Speed and hurry are enemies of intimacy. When your marriage is stuck in the grind, you lean toward expedient rather than principled decisions. Healing the wounds ofstuckness takes time. Stuck couples are usually anything but fresh and rested. Stuck couples are exhausted. When their tanks get low, or empty, they lose hope. When a couple is at their limits, their load exceeds their limit. They throw their hands up in the air and quit. Never make a decision to walk away from your marriage when your load is exceeding your limit. Instead, get your tank refilled. When your physical, emotional, relational, mental, and spiritual tanks are empty, that is a horrible time to make major decisions about your marriage. You are not thinking clearly.
- You close your heart.Is your heart open or closed? The answer to that question determines everything about your life and marriage. A closed heart is numb, detached, distant, and angry. An open heart feels safe, non-threatened, and willing to share. Anger has three primary sources: hurt, fear, and frustration. Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s not a primary emotion. You always feel something before you get angry. Those feelings are amplified when your heart is closed. When you are stuck and your heart is closed, your marriage suffers.
- You isolate yourself from others.Great marriages don’t just happen. Great marriages are the result of hard work. Dr. Scott Stanley said, “Everybody falls in love with the front end of the puppy.” But every puppy has a back end. Every marriage has a back-end story. Every marriage has a story of struggle, pain, frustration, trials, and disagreements. When you get stuck and isolate from others, you fall for the lie that no one understands what you’re going through. When you feelstuck, press into a biblical community. You need to hear, “What you are going through is not unique to you. We’ve been where you are now. You can make it through this. We will help you.”
- You doubt your future as a couple.Who is planting seeds of doubtin the soil of the decision you made on your wedding day? You stood before God and others to commit yourself to your spouse. Use discernment around family and friends who plant seeds of doubt. They may be well-intentioned, but their comments build doubt and erode commitment.
- You explore other options.Here’s a definition of commitment that I like: “Commitment is making a choice to give up all other choices.” However, in our society we are taught to keep our options open.
Relate to any of these symptoms of stuckness? Don’t give up. Enjoying your marriage in the midst of the grind is possible. Others are doing it. So can you.
Gary Moore is currently a part-time staff member at Cloverdale Church of God in charge of Adult Education. He’s served as associate pastor there for the past 14 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He also does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. For information on his workshops and retreats, contact him at [email protected]dalechurch.org.