Has the “Greener Grass" Syndrome Invaded Your Marriage?
- 2009 13 Jan
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Who of us hasn’t gazed at a starlet or leading man on television or the cover of an entertainment magazine, and wondered what it would be like to be married to them? Even if you haven’t had such flighty dreams, perhaps you’ve been enamored with another couple, idealizing their life and devaluing your own.
Our lives often appear boring or mundane compared to our friends. It is quite common to idealize the lives of others and falsely believe our lives are less. We peer into other’s lives and believe they are better off than we are. This tendency has been summed up by the cliche, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”
I believe it was Erma Bombeck who said, “The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow it.” In other words, other people’s lives may not be as perfect as they appear. We all have problems.
Of course, it’s one thing to fantasize about someone else’s perceived glamorous life, (usually stretching it far beyond reality!) but quite something else to allow these fantasies to interrupt or jeopardize our life. We first experienced the desire for more in the Garden of Eden, when in spite of having everything they could possibly desire, Eve was tempted by forbidden fruit. The world has never been the same.
The “greener grass” phenomenon was also illustrated by the life of King David. You recall he had an incredible life, filled with power, prestige, glamour -- all the delights one can imagine. Still, it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted what he couldn’t have---the wife of one of his soldiers, Bathsheba. His desires were so overwhelming that he plotted to have her husband killed so he could be with her. While he sought and obtained her, his life crumbled, leading to immeasurable suffering as a result.
A recent email reminded me of our desire to peer across fences to compare what we have with what others have:
Dear Dr. David:
I thought my husband and I were okay until I started watching a soap opera, and I fell in love with how the leading actor treated his girl. Then I started wishing I was that girl and since then I’ve been really sad because I can see that my marriage is in danger. I now think about divorce and falling in love and getting all that I used to have a long time ago. I’ve tried to talk to my husband about this problem, which took a lot of courage, and he doesn’t seem to care that our marriage has lost its excitement. This makes me dream all the more of falling in love with someone else.
I am a Christian woman and want to obey God, but staying married is repulsive to me. How can I stay with a man who doesn’t seem to love me? Is there anything I can do to bring the spark of our marriage back? Can one person bring back a spark? Please help. ~ Lonely in Marriage
As I said, you are quite typical in comparing your life to those that are intentionally glamorized on television and in the popular magazines. But, let’s slow down and think this through.
You said you thought your marriage was okay until you compared it to the soap opera star. This suggests that perhaps your marriage is quite typical—needing a tune-up, perhaps, but not ready for the scrap heap. Is it possible you have over-idealized the television personality and then are unfairly comparing your husband and marriage, to it? If so, turn off the television, get your feet back on the ground, and remember why you chose to marry your man.
Comparing our lives to ideals can make us feel inferior, or can motivate us toward something better. It is also possible that watching the screen star in action reminded you of some qualities missing in your marriage. If so, consider it an informative lesson and go to work on your marriage. While the ideals set forth by the television star may be just that, ideal, you can still learn from them.
Your marriage is an opportunity for your own growth and holiness. Remember, God instituted marriage, and there are opportunities for your own growth in your marital issues. Be prayerful about what you need to change, and begin with you—not him.
And what if, as you say, your man doesn’t respond immediately to your request for improvement? Stick with it. Encouragement, not criticism, is the way to your man’s heart. Offer suggestions for evenings out. Create opportunities for adventure. Ask if he won’t take that long-needed vacation to a sunnier part of the nation.
We all need inspiration and sometimes it comes from unexpected places. What has inspired you to improve your marriage? I’d love to hear from you.
Published on January 13, 2008
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center, where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. 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.