The first time I saw my wife, Sarah, she was barefoot, laughing and dancing at a music festival. Her carefree nature was something that an uptight guy like me needed more of in his life.
I didn’t take many chances. I strove to follow the rules and frequently worried about what other people thought.
You might have described me as an anxious people pleaser, which is why Sarah’s way of life was endearing to me, especially while we were dating and engaged. After we were married, I saw another side of her carefree spirit that left me feeling much different.
When we were dating, I never imagined what Sarah’s lack of inhibition might look like during an argument or how speaking her mind would hurt when we were angry with each other. I didn’t consider how I might feel when sometimes her family and friends came before her responsibilities at home.
Differences can drive a married couple apart until the husband and wife feel like they have little in common. Other stresses in marriage — unmet expectations, misunderstandings, the daily demands of life — also have a way of pulling couples apart over the years. There will always be hot and cold seasons of marriage, but building a successful relationship requires intentionally strengthening your connection with your husband or wife.
If you feel miles apart from your spouse, culture may tell you it’s time to walk away from your commitment. That’s nonsense. It’s just time for a restart. If you don’t know how to do that, here are a few tips to help you get started:
Let grace be your expectation
Sarah and I attended a marriage conference in 2009, and one of the speakers stretched his right arm over his head as if he were measuring something tall. “These are expectations,” he said. He then reached down with his left arm and said, “This is reality.” While emphasizing the distance between his hands, he spoke some piercing truth: “Everything in between is disappointment.”
Certainly your spouse has let you down in many ways. But keep in mind that your spouse sees negative traits in you, as well. Realize that you both bring brokenness to the table.
Sarah often seemed so disappointed in me, needing more emotionally than I was able to give. And many of my desires left her feeling like she was never enough.
Grace is still amazing. Receiving and extending it will never lose the power to transform your life and marriage. If you hold on to an expectation in your marriage, let it be grace.
Don’t assume; ask
A family friend told me the heartbreaking news of how her parents’ marriage unraveled. What struck me most was the way she described how their imaginations drove their love downhill. Her parents’ anger and hurt snowballed into growing mistrust. The couple stopped believing the best of each other and started assuming the worst behind every action and intention. They continued to choose anger over understanding, and sadly, that cycle destroyed their intimacy and led to divorce.
A gap in clear and healthy communication leaves imaginations to write their own narrative.
Have you ever bought the tabloid written by your emotions? I have. For example, let’s say Sarah is having a hard day and seems snippy. Instead of asking her what’s wrong, I tell myself an imaginary story about how she’s unjustly mad at me. I become defensive over something that hasn’t even happened. That’s not helpful to either of us.
How do you prevent yourself from fabricating such scenarios? Ask your spouse clarifying questions to resolve the doubts and fears you have about your relationship. “How are you feeling about things between us?” “Is there anything you’ve been wanting to ask me?” “Any feelings you need to express?” Take time to break down the imaginary obstacles so you can see each other clearly again.
Rediscover each other to restart your marriage
I love the photo albums that Sarah has made. I love the pictures she’s chosen and the colors of the binders. Most of all, I love the way it feels to open the albums and flip through the pages with Sarah. The memories connect us, but we also can’t help noticing how much we’ve changed over the years.
It’s powerful to remind yourself of the qualities in your spouse that you’ve admired from the beginning. But recognizing the ways that you both have changed is also important. Time changes everyone, and now is the perfect time to rediscover the person your spouse has become.
Start with a simple question like, “What makes you feel alive these days?” Make conversation with your spouse about his or her favorite simple pleasures (“What would you choose first at the candy store?”) or ask him or her to retell some favorite childhood memories. Revisit the things you think you know. You may be surprised about what has changed or what you might have forgotten.
Use those simple questions as a gateway to deeper conversations. Invite your husband or wife to clarify what’s important to him or her. Ask him to express his hopes for your marriage. Be curious about her deepest dreams and desires, even the ones that may not seem to matter so much at this season of life. Be interested enough to simply listen to each other’s hearts as you did when you first met, when everything he or she said mattered to you.
Take action to restart your marriage
Get creative about how you can love your spouse beyond words. Carefully consider the things you’ve discussed and find ways to show love through action. Here are a few ideas:
- Affirm your spouse with handwritten notes. The power of a love note is timeless.
Squelch your spouse’s imaginary fears with affirmation. Use words that speak love and truth into places of doubt and insecurity. What were those favorite flowers of hers? They would look nice in her favorite spot in the house — sooner rather than later.
- Make time for sex. If you have kids in the house, this one gets tricky. Plan a time to take it slow. Don’t skip the foreplay. And talk about how you can be more creative in the bedroom.
- We’ve all heard of the five love languages. So what is your spouse’s love language? Refresh your memory on what makes you and your spouse feel most loved and put those things into practice.
- It’s been said that fun is family glue. Create moments to have fun together and make a point to laugh more.
Change is possible
Do you ever fight that voice inside your head that tells you positive change is too hard? I do. It’s the one that makes me afraid to raise my hopes for the future because it keeps reminding me of the ways I’ve failed in the past. Let me speak some truth to counter those lies you’re telling yourself: I believe the best days of your life and marriage are ahead of you. First, get open; then get honest; and last, get real. Give yourself the chance to be known and loved. And don’t believe the lie that it’s time to give up on your marriage. It’s simply time to restart.