Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
She always seems to be in the doldrums," Don said solemnly during a recent counseling session, referring to his wife of twenty years.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"She works about fifty hours a week and mothers our two youngest kids," he said. "I know she's tired, but our life together isn't fun any more."
"Are you helping her?" I asked. "Many women are exhausted and their husbands aren't much help."
"Trust me," he said emphatically. "I'm not your typical husband. I cook three or four nights a week. I take our kids to soccer practice and help around the house. But, I don't feel like she notices or appreciates a thing I do. She turns down every request I make to go on vacation or do anything fun."
"And you've offered to help her in any way you can?" I pressed.
"Yes," he said. "She just seems to have lost her zest for living, and it's impacting me and our marriage."
"Marriage requires our best efforts," I agreed. "We need to come in the house at night with good energy for our mate. We can't give everything to the workplace or our marriage is going to suffer."
"Tell me about it!" Don said, appearing troubled. "I'm at my wits end. I get blamed for things that aren't my fault. She seems impatient with me, and I'm starting to resent it."
"Have you talked to her about this problem?" I asked.
"I'm kind of afraid to," he said. "Her fuse is pretty short. I'm afraid she'll just turn it around on me."
"I think you have to talk to her Don," I said. "Avoiding her and the issues simply compound them. Yes, she might become angry, but you don't know if she is really angry with you, depressed and simply unhappy with some aspect of her life right now. Things need to change and you two have got to bring some joy back into your marriage."
"Okay," Don said slowly, clearly apprehensive about approaching his wife.
In the weeks that followed Don did approach his wife, and discovered she felt stressed with her work, misunderstood by him and generally unhappy with her life. She appreciated his concern and agreed with him that they needed to bring some joy back into their relationship. With a smile, Don volunteered to take the lead. They agreed they needed to be life-giving people, bringing energy into their marriage. While they were there to support each other, they also needed to be ready to both bring joy and enjoy their marriage. They needed to be interesting people, conversationalists who could add spark to their marriage. Their relationship gradually improved with the following steps.
First, he dedicated himself to really listening to her, helping her solve problems in the family, marriage and even on her job. Stress has a way of robbing us of our joy, and left untreated, can drain us of our energy and enthusiasm for life.
Second, he committed to relieving her stress in the home as much as possible. While he thought he was being supportive, she shared other ways he could carry more of the load of raising their children. She felt immense relief from his efforts.
Third, they explored ways to have their teenage children share in the responsibilities of their home. They called a family conference and assigned responsibilities to their children, with Don being instrumental in enforcing this new structure.
Fourth, they agreed she would cut back some at work, alleviating some of her stress. She also agreed to see a doctor to determine if she might be experiencing depression. She agreed to have a physical to see if there were other factors leading to her being tired, withdrawn and stressed out.
Finally, they agreed upon a plan to infuse their marriage with fun, surprises and excitement. They agreed they had let their marriage slip into a mundane existence, where work and over-functioning had become the norm. Since she had several weeks of vacation unused, they began planning a trip that excited both of them.
Don and his wife are, unfortunately, not the exception. Many couples slip into boring, mundane existences and the toll can take its effect. Years of raising a family, working and caring for a home—without the excitement of vacations, little surprises and special events to look forward to—can create a drain on a marriage.
How are you doing in your marriage? Do you have "happy feet," where you still feel some dance with your mate? If not, step back and determine the causes for the boredom in your marriage. Take responsibility where needed and create a plan for change. Let me know how these strategies work with you and your mate. Please send your responses to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com and visit my website.
October 4, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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