Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dear Dr. David,
I have been married for thirteen years. It is our second marriage and I am very disappointed with my husband. Why is it that men put a lot of energy into “conquering” the woman at the start of the relationship, and then seem to get bored and put their energies back into their work? I’ve talked to my girlfriends and they notice the same things in their marriage—their husbands are loving and attentive during dating, and then once they feel secure in the relationship, they give up trying.
I am resentful that I have to be the one to encourage outings. I have to be the one to initiate and plan special trips. I have to be the one to initiate talking about our marriage. If it were up to him he’d be content to simply let things continue on being boring. Why is it that it takes a crisis for men to “get it” that their marriage needs to be tuned up consistently? I’m tired of taking the responsibility for our relationship. Do I “let go of my end of the rope” as one counselor told me, only to have him drop his end? --Exhausted
Sadly, I’ve heard your story many times before. There seems to be more than a kernel of truth to the notion that men are “hunters,” tending to pursue their “catch,” and after “capturing her,” give up and pursue other endeavors. This, of course, leaves the woman feeling abandoned, neglected and living with a relationship that is dying a slow death.
We know that while men have an innate tendency to be warriors in pursuit of adventure, we are also fully capable of being warriors in pursuit of protecting and nurturing our mate. These roles are not incompatible, and in fact, complement one another. For this to happen, however, men need to “wake up.” Too many men are sleepwalking through life, unaware their marriages are dying, their emotional, physical and spiritual lives are being neglected and find out too late that they are in serious trouble.
In my book, Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make, I thoroughly explore the tendency of many couples to neglect their marriage, as well as the ignored topic of mutuality in marriage. Far too many women find themselves carrying the weight of keeping their emotional marriage alive, and it’s a burden they inevitably cannot continue to carry. They’ve been told to “let go of the rope,” only to find their man letting go of his end as well.
Not only are men guilty of failing to maintain their marriage, but many couples fail to champion one another, erringly believing that the marriage will coast along fine without due attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every marriage is in a constant state of entropy—deterioration. Without constant attention, nurturance and encouragement, marriages will suffer and die. It is no surprise that we are witnessing so many women abandoning their marriages at alarming rates. They, like you, are tired of carrying the full weight of caring for their marriage.
There are steps you can take to assist a man in “waking up” to the dangerous reality of his marriage being in trouble and the importance of mutuality in marriage.
One, get your husband’s attention and then talk straight to him about the problem. Let him know that you are tired of being the one to arrange date nights; tired of planning vacations; tired of trying to bring new life to a tired and dull marriage. Make sure he understands that change is not optional—without it there will certainly be a crisis he will not like.
Two, challenge him to agree with you on a co-responsible course of action for re-invigorating your marriage. The key is co-responsibility. Encourage him to see that the marriage is a joint relationship, where two people are responsible for the direction of the marriage. This cannot be something he does for you, to make you happy. He must take ownership of the problem and the corrective actions. Make a clear agreement about who will be responsible for what, and then hold one another accountable for these decisions.
Three, develop a clear picture of what an enlivened, exciting, adventurous marriage looks like. Draw it out. Talk it out. What does it look like—specifically? Will you create a time to chat every evening? Will you spend one weekend away every eight weeks, sending the kids to their grandparents so you can work on your marriage? Are there travels, concerts, activities you enjoyed previously that you want to enjoy again? Plan it, arrange it, do it.
Fourth, when he does participate, show him genuine appreciation. Everybody appreciates encouragement. Your mate needs you to notice any efforts he is making. Each effort and action is an opportunity for further growth.
Fifth, prepare for slippage. Every couple drifts at times. This is to be anticipated and expected. It is not planned—it just happens. But, you can make provisions for keeping one another on track. You can both be intentional about reaching your agreed upon goals. Even after there’s been a slip, you can encourage one another to work on the marriage again.
Finally, commit everything to prayer. Come together before the Lord and pray that He helps you bring new life to your relationship. Pray for courage and strength to work as a team in rebuilding your marriage. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16: 3)
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. 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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