Marriage is hard.
That’s not news to us married folks yet somehow every time there is a rough spot in a marriage it comes as a surprise.
Remember the beginning days when you were so in love and your partner could make huge mistakes and you’d still find some way to love them through it? Those big things seemed insignificant then, and little things never happened at all. So what happens when the little things become big things and the big things start tearing the marriage apart?
I don’t actually have the answer to those questions. I do know all hope is not lost just because it isn’t as easy as it was in the beginning. Nothing we do for a long time is as easy as when we first start. That’s growth. Whenever we learn a skill we constantly challenge that skill to perform at higher and higher levels. Marriage is the same in that way. We age. We grow. Our marriage is challenged by our growth and change of opinions, by changes in hormones, by changes in stressors. You probably didn’t have children when you were first together, or a mortgage. Maybe you started a business after you were married, or started school. Maybe you’ve since experienced grief, loss, or anger together. All these things challenge the skill of being married. I assure you being married is a skill. Just like any skill, marriage takes practice.
Loving someone takes patience, intention, and motivation. If we do not spend time on our partners then the marriage falls apart. I’m not talking about dates either. Dates are fun and necessary, yes, but those usually aren’t challenging. What is challenging is conflict and stress. In my own marriage I’ve learned that my partner and I need to practice loving one another through conflict and stress. We need to practice loving one another when there isn’t enough money to pay the mortgage. We need to practice loving one another through anger and frustration. We need to practice loving one another when we disagree on fundamental things like parenting philosophies. We need to practice telling each other the truth while still being on each other’s side.
Conflict: The worst part of any marriage is conflict. It sucks the life out of my bones when my partner and I argue. The whole world falls away for me and I get stuck in a terrible negative self talk loop. I feel like a failure and like I’m the worst person on the planet. My partner doesn’t communicate any of these things to me. We don’t yell at each other or throw things. We actually talk very calmly, but what we need to practice is not how we argue. We need to practice loving one another, and being kind to one another, while we argue which are two different things entirely.
Most marriages have the how part down. Some don’t, and that is really unhealthy for everyone involved. If your marriage is like mine it’s mostly just mundane with little spurts of disagreements here and there. I hate these moments when they come up for us. In hindsight I value that my partner is the person I can trust to be honest with me even when the rest of the world tolerates me. I value that she is willing to say things I know she doesn’t want to, knowing they might hurt my feelings, because she wants to continue in this life with me. I value that she participates in our marriage in such a way that she is willing to express her needs and wants. I value that she trusts that I am willing to work to meet those requests for her where I hadn’t been. These conflicts, the skill of loving one another through conflict, makes our marriage stronger and better each time.
Passion: Passions were high for us in the beginning. Boy howdy was there passion. Over the years that has become second to going to work and school, taking care of the kids, getting the house clean, etc. It has become second to basically everything. In its place has formed security and routine. I love routine. I feel safe with routine. Part of my work in my marriage is that I’ve recognized that while routine is a comfort for me, it makes my wife feel alone at times. It makes her feel unwanted. Before she told me this, it didn’t occur to me that something that felt so safe to me would leave her feeling left out. I felt terrible when she told me that. I realized that my routine looked like checking out a lot. I think it’s easy to go home and be on your phone, or watching TV, or just sleep through things you are uninterested in. I became more present and I began to notice that there was a lot I was missing. My children wanted to spend more time with me. There was more time for kitchen dancing, hand holding, hugging, and kissing. There was more good stuff. It took very little effort on my part, but it meant more time to fall in love. It meant more moments that felt like the beginning, but with the gratitude and maturity of all the time we’ve spent together since then. All the flame of passion needs to be lit is presence.
Show love: It seems silly that I would even include this one. It’s obvious right? Is it though? To me I was showing my wife love. I was showing her ways in which I enjoyed her and appreciated her, and she was showing me. Neither of us could see it though. Having that conversation was tough. It was so tough, it took many days and many breaks. Instead of rehashing it any further we just started asking what each other needed. I was surprised that she wanted some of the same things I wanted. We’ve been together for 7 years, you’d think we would know how to show each other love by this point, but no. What you need may constantly change. Likewise with your partner. That’s okay. Just be willing. If a way you can show your partner that you love them is by doing the laundry, then do the laundry. If a way they can show you they love you is by writing notes and leaving them in your lunch box, say so. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of thinking your partner should “know,” but no human has the power to read minds or hearts. Have the courage to say what feels best to you, and have the mettle to listen to what feels best to your partner in return.
Communicate: The worst distance between two married people is resentment. Communication falls by the way side until the feelings are so big that things from the past are dug up like zombie bones and thrust into the present moment until it’s a layer cake of anger, frustration, and disappointment. The other person then naturally becomes defensive. Nobody wants things to be their fault. What if instead of blaming we accept that our partners would never intentionally try to make our lives harder? We certainly do that with our children. We give them the benefit of the doubt, yet, we require telepathic perfection and accuracy from our partners at times. That won’t work to keep a marriage together. It doesn’t work for anything actually.
One method of communicating conflict,weekly or daily, is by doing what is called 3n3. Every night spend 3 minutes giving 3 things your partner could have done differently in the day, and 3 minutes A PIECE describing ways they really supported or loved you that day. Then have your partner take a turn. On the 3 criticisms part try not to interrupt or defend yourself. Try just to listen and accept. That’s harder than it sounds, but it does work. It’s super awkward, but again, marriage is a skill and learning to communicate in ways that each other can hear is an important part of that. Couple’s counseling can be helpful too. Ultimately if you want to stay together then you will if you see your partner as a loving person first and in the perspective of the stress or conflict second. Be kind to one another and the rest will fall in place.
I’ve spent this entire time sharing what I’ve learned from my own marriage adventures, but this only applies to reasonably healthy partnerships. If you are married to someone who hurts you, is abusive, or is toxic, please seek help. Sometimes the best choice is to leave. All the above will only help when both people want to stay. Take partner violence seriously. People die every day from domestic violence. Don’t become one of them. The national domestic violence hotline number is