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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

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Are You Relationally Lazy?

Are You Relationally Lazy?

Jane is anything but plain. She is highly educated, funny and full of life. She is engaging and active in her church and community. She has a secure attachment style. She wants much, much more from her husband.

“I want my husband to be engaging too,” she said during a recent counseling session. She had asked to meet with me alone so that she could speak more frankly about her problem.

“Steven seems bored with me and our marriage,” she complained. “I keep myself up, pay a lot of attention to him and want him to pay attention to me. I don’t want to have to beg for the scraps of love I receive. What am I doing wrong?”

“I don’t know that you’re doing anything wrong, Jane,” I said. “I wonder about his attachment style. I also wonder if he is simply relationally lazy.” “What do you mean?” she asked.

I shared with Jane how some men, and women, are relationally lazy. I shared how many men are willing to invest time in making money, becoming successful entrepreneurs and being fanatics for their local sports team, but won’t pick up a book on cultivating empathy or intimacy. Many men are relationally lazy.

I went on to share another aspect of this phenomenon. “It is quite interesting to me that when a woman creates a crisis by firm, consistent confrontation or in desperate situations, temporarily leaving—which I’m not necessarily recommending—men are often brought to their emotional knees. All of a sudden they take an interest in their marriage and will do just about anything to save it.”

“I don’t know if Steven would do anything like that,” Jane said. “He just seems disinterested in anything but the basics in marriage. I know he loves me and our children, but I doubt he will do anything more.”

“Does he have to do anything more?” I asked. My question seemed to surprise her. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “What do you mean by ‘have to do anything more?’”“What I mean is that if your husband is relationally and emotionally lazy, it may take something significant to shake him out of his trance.”

Jane was clearly interested and we spent that session and one more talking about how she enabled her husband’s laziness and what could be done to shake up their marriage.

Here are a few of the ideas we had for changing the nature of their stale marriage.

First, review critically how you are relating to your mate. Step back and review your relational patterns. How are you to live with and what is he like to live with? Write it out and notice the patterns. Watch how you attempt to engage your mate and note his typical response pattern. Are there additional problems you have overlooked such as workaholism or alcohol issues that will need to be addressed.  

Second, stop enabling relational laziness. Notice the ways you compensate—over-function—for his relational laziness. Perhaps you beg or complain about his behavior, but do little to invoke real change. Perhaps you have settled into living with the situation. Change will occur only after you have interrupted the status quo!

Third, develop a strategy leading to change. Change is possible, but only if you call out dysfunctional behavior. You must not only stop enabling the troubling behavior, but must ‘create a crisis.’ This involves making a definite plan for how you will be different and what exactly you need from him.

Fourth, confront and interrupt lazy behavior. You will need to have what I call a ‘critical conversation’ in which you name the troubling behavior and set a boundary regarding change. Since we cannot change others, our boundaries must focus on what we want different and what we are prepared to do to get it. We must be prepared to take increasingly drastic action to obtain the kind of relationship we need.

Finally, be consistent with your insistence on change. Once we have outlined our dysfunctional patterns of interaction and the relational laziness, as well as the strategy for change and boundaries we are prepared to set in place, we must follow through—again and again, as necessary. We cannot let up or let down as we strive for a ‘new normal.’

Scripture is very clear: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6: 8) Emotional laziness has no place in the life of the Christian!

Are you or someone you love relationally lazy?

added for clarity If you would like our professional support, please go to our  website, send responses to me  at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.comand also read more about The Marriage  Recovery Center on our website.You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction,  emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.


Publication date: August 4, 2015