Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D.,LMFT
Dear Father Charles,
My husband and I have been married for nearly sixteen years. During this time, we’ve experienced many high points and like all couples, our share of low points. The past few years have been different – not many highs or lows, just a lot of what I would call “blandness.” When I’ve tried to talk about this with my husband, he’s gotten angry and accused me of making “a big deal out of nothing.” Sometimes I have agreed with him, and thought I might be overreacting. At other times, I think something is wrong – terribly wrong. To make matters worse, over the last few months I have begun to feel some sadness and discontentment. Am I being silly, or should I be concerned? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
You are not being “silly,” and you have asked a good question that I believe applies to many marriages today. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that may help you and your husband move beyond the “blandness.” Write me back if you have follow-up questions.
From Blandness to Discontentment and More
Many couples who slip into a place of “blandness” fail to act. In some cases circumstances change between them and the blandness lifts, but in far too many cases, the blandness lingers and they drift further and further apart. Many of these couples often report that circumstances between them eventually morph into a state of discontentment. Further, if the discontentment is left unchecked, emotional distance, isolation, sadness and tension fill their relationship, seriously undermining friendship, trust, understanding and the love they once shared.
Am I suggesting you and your husband are on this path? No. I am not familiar enough with the dynamics of your marriage to answer this question, but why wait to find out that, in fact, you are on this path. The reality is, the “let’s wait, there’s nothing wrong” strategy that you have adopted does not seem to be working. So, rather than taking a let’s see attitude, why not take a more proactive approach and consider making some blessed adjustments and changes.
Together with these suggestions, I am a great advocate of what our Lord taught: “…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt. 7:5). In other words, I would also like to ask you to take a closer, introspective look at yourself. These few thoughts may prove helpful.
Contemporary spouses expect more from their marriage than those from past generations. This is not always bad. Higher expectations force spouses to be more accountable and responsible to one another and their marriage. However, there is a downside.
All too often, I have met persons who have demanded too much from their relationship, and not enough from themselves. These persons have expected their relationship and their spouse to ameliorate some internal discontentment that their spouse and marriage cannot remedy. Those who fall into this trap begin to believe that their challenges are interrelated with what they are not getting from their spouse and their marriage. When in essence, a great deal of their discontentment is internally based and very much the result of living in a secular society that is quick to designate our spouses and marriages as the source of our problems. Here are some questions you might ask yourself to help you discern if the issues are couple based and/or personal in nature.
- Am I a victim of the messages in today's popular media that are all about what I'm not getting?
- Considering what I know about my spouse's limitations, are my expectations overly inflated?
- How do I live with my spouse's shortcomings?
- How do I live with my own reactions to my spouses shortcomings?
- Are my expectations making me miserable?
- How often have I counted my blessings and thanked God for what's good about my spouse?
- If our problems aren’t that bad, how do I accept the things I can’t change right now?
- How do I change the things I can change?
- What can I do differently to improve circumstances between us?
Cultivate a Relationship with God
Along with the last two suggestions, I would like you to take a long, prayerful look at your relationship with God. Here is why?
To the extent that we choose to cultivate a relationship with God, our faith tradition repeatedly teaches that this choice can have a positive impact on us personally, and by extension, our relationships with those around us, especially significant relationships such as our marriage. That is because a relationship with God is by nature transformative and healing: at once ameliorating internal emptiness and discontentment while also positively affecting our efforts to connect with others in a healthy, holy way, our marriages being no exception. Quoting from a lady who has been married for twenty years, her thoughts nicely illustrate these last few points. “About ten years ago, I finally decided to take my faith in God seriously. When I did, I soon began to notice that I had a more understanding, more patient and loving attitude toward those around me….I can honestly say that I’m not the same wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend that I was before I permitted God to come into my life.”
Quick Fixes and Easy Solutions
Will change and healing occur overnight? No. Change and healing takes time and considerable effort – time and effort that that we are not always willing to invest. Often, we are looking for quick fixes and easy relational solutions. For example, consider some of the recommendations in popular media that discuss cures for the blandness and discontentment that you have described. Here are a few examples. “Ten Easy Ways to Get What You Need from Your Partner” and “Bring Back the Excitement in Two Weeks.” The reality is, while there may be some helpful hints within these articles, there are no quick fixes and easy solutions when it comes to either protecting or reclaiming marital satisfaction. The process is ongoing and requires that we intentionally invest the time and expend the effort to make on our spouse and marriage a high priority.
A Few Final Thoughts
So this is what I suggest. Stop ignoring the lingering blandness and take action. In your action plan you should (1) recruit your husband’s help, (2) consider the internal discontentment and address it with help if necessary, and (3) turn to God and permit Him to help. Embracing this approach should make a difference.