Q: My husband and I love each other very much, but we’re going through a time of apathy. We just don’t feel close to each other. Is this normal, and is there a way to bring back the fire?
A: This happens sooner or later in every marriage. A man and woman just seem to lose the wind in their romantic sails for a period of time.
Their plight reminds me of seamen back in the days of wooden vessels. Sailors in that era had much to fear, including pirates, storms and diseases. But their greatest fear was that the ship might encounter the doldrums. The doldrums was an area of the ocean near the equator characterized by calm and very light shifting winds. It could mean certain death for the entire crew. The ship’s food and water supply would be exhausted as they drifted for days, or even weeks, waiting for a breeze to put them back on course.
Well, marriages that were once exciting and loving can also get caught in the romantic doldrums, causing a slow and painful death to the relationship. Author Doug Fields, in his book Creative Romance, writes, “Dating and romancing your spouse can change those patterns, and it can be a lot of fun. There’s no quick fix to a stagnant marriage, of course, but you can lay aside the excuses and begin to date your sweetheart.” In fact, you might want to try thinking like a teenager again. Let me explain.
Recall for a moment the craziness of your dating days – the coy attitudes, the flirting, the fantasies, the chasing after the prize. As we moved from courtship into marriage, most of us felt we should grow-up and leave the game-playing behind. But we may not have matured as much as we’d like to think. In some ways, our romantic relationships will always bear some characteristics of adolescent sexuality. Adults still love the thrill of the chase; the lure of the unattainable; excitement of the new and boredom with the old. Immature impulses are controlled and minimized in a committed relationship, of course, but they never fully disappear.
This could help you keep vitality in your marriage. When things have grown stale between you and your spouse, maybe you should remember some old tricks. How about breakfast in bed? A kiss in the rain? Or re-reading those old love letters together? A night in a nearby hotel? Roasting marshmallows by an open fire? A phone call in the middle of the day? A long stem red rose and a love note? There are dozens of ways to fill the sails with wind once more.
If it all sounds a little immature to act like a teenager again, just keep this in mind: in the best marriages, the chase is never really over!
Q: Would you identify some of the major “marriage killers” that are most responsible for the high divorce rate that plagues today’s families?
A: Any one of the following “dragons” can rip a relationship to shreds if given an opportunity to do so:
• Overcommitment and physical exhaustion: This condition is especially insidious for young couples who are trying to get started in a profession or in school. Do not try to work full-time, have a baby, manage a toddler, fix up a house, study and start a business at the same time. It sounds ridiculous, but many young couples do just that and are then surprised when their marriages fall apart. The only time they see each other is when they are worn out!
• Excessive credit and conflict over how money will be spent. Pay cash for consumable items or don’t buy. Don’t spend more on a house or a car than you can afford, leaving too little resources for dating, short trips, baby-sitters, etc. Allocate your funds with wisdom. • Selfishness: There are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers. A marriage between two givers can be a beautiful thing. Friction is inevitable for a giver and a taker. But two takers can claw each other to pieces within a period of weeks.
• Unhealthy relationships with in-laws: If either the husband or wife have not been fully emancipated from the parents, it is best not to live near them. Autonomy is difficult for some mothers and fathers to grant.
• Unrealistic expectations: Some couples come into marriage anticipating rose-covered cottages, walks down primrose lanes and unmitigated joy. There is no way a marriage between two imperfect human beings can deliver on that expectation.
• Space Invaders: My concern is for those who violate the “breathing room” needed by their partners, quickly suffocating them and destroying the attraction between them. Jealousy is one way the phenomenon manifests itself. Another is a poor self-concept, which leads the insecure spouse to build a cage around the other. It often suffocates the relationship. Love must be free and it must be confident.
• Sexual frustration and its partner, the greener grass of infidelity. It is a deadly combination!
• Business collapse. Failure in work does bad things to men, especially. Their agitation over financial reverses sometimes sublimates to anger within the family.
• Business success: It is almost as risky to succeed wildly as it is to fail miserably in business. King Solomon wrote: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8). It’s true.
• Alcohol and substance abuse: These are notorious killers, not only of marriages but also of the people who indulge excessively.
• Pornography, gambling and other addictions: It should be obvious to everyone that the human personality is flawed. During an introductory stage, people think they can tamper with various enticements, such as pornography, gambling, hard drugs, etc., without being hurt. Indeed, many do walk away unaffected. For some, however, there is a weakness and vulnerability that is unknown until too late. Such people then become addicted to something that tears at the fabric of the family. This warning may seem foolish and even prudish to my readers, but I’ve made a twenty-year study of those who wreck their lives. Their problems often begin in experimentation with a known vice and ultimately ends in death . . . or the death of a marriage.
These questions and answers are excerpted from books authored by Dr. James Dobson and published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright 1997 James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
This article is with kind permission from Focus on the Family Africa. Copyright © 2011 Focus on the Family. Tel: +27 31 716 3300 or visit www.safamily.co.za.
Read the article in the Nov/Dec issue of Radiant magazine on page 31.