Many couples get into marriage without understanding the intricacies surrounding this much sought after union. They comfort themselves that ‘they’ll learn on the job’. They argue that if others before them survived the marital upheavals, there is no reason why they cannot. While this is true, the only problem being there is no good track record out there to learn from. Marriage statistics cannot be trusted as the players purport to make their marriages better typically for public display. Marriage appearances are too unreal to learn from and it’s not uncommon to see a couple cuddling lovingly, calling each other sweet names, but outside the public eye, a beast awakens causing hell in the marriage. Countless movies have been made on this platform, either to show the destructive nature of the marriage actors, or as a mockery of the marriage institution.
Many couples are in unhappy marriages, but you the outsider would never know – that is inside information only available to the husband, the wife, and the children; Marriages that were once happy lay in ruins as couples focus on the “me” convenience, and are too proud and conceited to mend the broken walls, opting to live as housemates than soul-mates i.e. sharing house bills with no relationship whatsoever. Yet when you visit those families, they portray a loving couple. In a recent blog “talkaboutmarriage.com”, a contributor writes “Everyone who knows us thinks I have the best husband in the world. In front of everyone, he throws surprise parties and gives expensive gifts and praises my beauty. But behind the screen, he is very bossy and controls me very much – I am very unhappy”.
An unhappy marriage is like a vehicle that has missed its regular maintenance/service; oil change, tire rotation, and so on, regardless of how expensive the vehicle is, it would no longer run as smoothly and risks breaking down at any point. But after a good service, the vehicle would once again spurt to life and on to a smooth drive. Similarly, when you get into a marriage you have one of two choices; be determined to pursue happiness for your sake, your spouse and that of your off springs or; do nothing at the risk of being unhappy and ruin your marriage. Wise couples choose to do something, they seek to harvest happiness from their marriage by sowing seeds of commitment, honesty, affection and respect in their marriage; they do what they need to do to find happiness. Marriages don’t just fall apart, you don’t wake up one morning and find your spouse has turned into a vampire, or a beast, no; it’s a process of time. It’s the little things that are ignored, the missed oil change, the engine light, and over time those little things, if unattended, end up destroying a very solid marriage.
What can you do to avoid an unhappy marriage?
1. Commitment – Your marriage credo should be; “This marriage will not end in divorce. I am committed to this marriage”. While the therapist will offer solutions to your marriage, when you face challenges, it will take you, and your commitment to make that marriage work. You are the only one who knows why the wheel does not turn. The therapist can only offer ideas, but you would have to be the one to get down and fix the wheel.
When you are looking for a solution to a problem, you remain focused to the problem until you get a solution. You don’t paddle the boat further away from safety. When you are committed to your marriage, you guide your marriage to safety; paddle your boat to a safe place, by speaking words that will help bring calmness to your spouse.
When you are committed to your marriage you will do anything to save your marriage, no matter how unpopular you end up being to your friends or family –after all it’s your marriage you are trying to save. You will keep your marital differences to yourself, and you will protect your spouse even when he or she is as wrong as wrong can be. You will create time to be together as this will keep you away from prying eyes, and other addictions. When you are together, you promote commitment and your spouse feels more secure, thus reducing chances of another eruption.
Remember every marriage has it’s time of testing, and if you got into marriage knowing in your heart that there’s no way out of that marriage, you will do what you need to do to make it work. Think for a moment, you are living with someone you’ve probably only known for a short period of time, compared to your brothers or sisters, that’s not easy. Even twins, born only minutes apart, easily find something to fight over – ask Zack and Cody Martin (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) from the American sitcom ‘The Suite Life of Zack & Cody’.
Let me quickly add here, that an unhappy marriage can quickly convert to an abusive one. When this happens get help as quickly as you can. Your commitment might lead into manipulation (it matters whom you are committing to), and manipulation might lead to abuse –physical, psychological, or emotional. No one has a right to abuse the other. Talk with someone in authority, talk to the local police, and let them be aware of the abusive relationship you are in. Let your pastor and the marriage support teams you may be part of, know what is going on. You only have one life to live. Don’t be a statistic, save yourself. Far too many lives have been in recent years, because the spouses did not understand the destructive signs the partner was displaying. Save yourself and talk to someone in authority. Understand spousal killings are on the increase – refuse to be a statistic.
2. Honesty – Share your feelings, concerns, and thoughts with your spouse as honestly. Don’t conceal your sad and frustrated moments, rather share them as you would share your happy moments. Unexpressed frustrations can pile up and could easily result to resentment. One writer said holding onto resentment is ‘like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. Speak your heart out to your spouse, as honesty as you can. There are only two people who can fix a failing marriage, and that is the husband and the wife. Remember when you fight back in anger, you hurt yourself more. If you are committed to the marriage, one of you will back down, and allow God to avenge for you, according to Romans 12:17 -19.
‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord’. (NLV)
As a trusted partner, uphold integrity in all you do, the way you handle finances, the way you handle your relationships, the way you handle yourself with the acquaintances of the opposite sex, and so on. Your partner wants the assurance that he or she can trust you, not just in what you do, but in what you say and how you present yourself. Don’t give yourself a reason to be dishonest – live a life beyond reproach.
When you are honest with your spouse, you build trust. Your spouse sees the trustworthiness in you, one who does not run to defend him/herself. You also promote accountability, which is a great enemy to addiction – whether alcoholic, drug, or other destructive behaviors. Most of all, when you speak honestly to your spouse, you promote good communication, which is healthy to your marriage.
3. Affection – affection is hard to define and even harder to measure, but its absence is easily noticeable. Affection is the care you show, the time you make for your spouse; it’s the attention, the commitment to your union, the integrity you uphold, the financial support; it’s a conglomeration of the positive acts towards your spouse.
Todd Creager, a licensed marriage therapist and author of The Long, Hot Marriage says, “Studies have shown that happy couples give compliments often. Offering a simple ‘thank-you’ is an easy way to show appreciation and make him or her feel significant”. One way to test affection is to ask “where do I place ‘me’ and ‘we’ in my planning, in my conversations, in my life”. If ‘me’ comes first, then you are heading for a soggy unhappy marriage, or you are already in one.
When you show affection, you naturally become respectful to your spouse. You look forward to being together as you enjoy the company of one another, which increases security.
Men and women react differently to issues, but since you are in it (the marriage) together for the long haul, learn to be kind to one another. When your spouse comes home stressed, allow them to vent. Hold back your anger; hold back your condescending comments. Men easily hold back when they are confronted with accusations or condescending remarks, while women react to rudeness or non-communication. Avoid any action that will kill conversation as it will also evict affection.
When spouses fail to talk to each other, they separate from each other both mentally and physically, and each starts to seek a place of refuge away from home, where they can find people who will overlook their weaknesses and celebrate them. Avoid providing this opportunity to your spouse, avoid pushing your spouse to the wall – as much as you want to address serious issues when they are still hot, you can’t kill a mosquito with a gun, save your marriage. There is time for everything.
4. Respect – Respect your spouse; speak to them honorably even when anger is sneaking in. There is nothing that precipitates conflict faster than lack of respect in a marriage. When you speak to your spouse with a haughty spirit, when you call him/her humiliating names, when you refer to him/her in a pejorative manner, or ignore them– you are asking for heavy duty trouble. Your spouse maybe out of work, but that does not qualify you to disrespect him/her. It is a temporary thing, grow up. Your spouse maybe going through some personal issues, see beyond that, he/she has not always been that way. Don’t be short sighted, and sacrifice your marriage over a temporary gain. The fact that your spouse is facing some challenges does not justify you to disrespect them; the fact that your spouse is not financially where he/she ought to be (according to you) does not mean he/she cannot be respected. Respect your spouse; you are in this marriage for a long time.
Sometimes, your spouse may need some time and space to vent – honor that request and in support identify a place of refuge; a place in your house where each of you can go and steam out, and let out the beast within. That place of refuge will help you calm down and once again be able to see your spouse as a human and not a monster; it’s amazing what a self-time out does to the human spirit.
During this time of economic hardships and high unemployment, it’s not uncommon to see the spouse earning more than the other looking down on the other. When this happens, you will not have long to wait to see the marriage disintegrate. Respect your spouse regardless and let your friends know you respect your spouse.
Respect your spouse when he/she speaks honestly on a touchy subject. When you respect your spouse you are indirectly promoting your commitment to the marriage and building trust. Even when your spouse acts up, respect their feelings. When you respect your spouse, you manage your anger and deflate confrontation. One thing you should always assure yourself is, “my spouse is not always this way; this is an exception”. When you do that, respect creeps back, affection comes back running, and commitment resurrects.
Marriage is a school, a school you never graduate from; it’s an ongoing school and you never fully learn or understand your spouse. When you come home and find your spouse has embraced a negative spirit, don’t let it bother you, give him/her some space – we all have our moments. A happy marriage will have negative moments but a wise couple refuses to focus on those moments, instead they choose to focus on better happier moments. Similarly a spouse who elevates negative moments, e.g. what has not been done, what has not happened, what is not there, and so on, in effect promotes unhappiness in marriage. As the old adage goes, you reap what you sow; it’s not a wonder then that a simple petty issue can degenerate to an ugly worthless encounter – the results of what was sowed –leading to an unhappy marriage.
If you are in an unhappy marriage, realize that the path to fixing that marriage is shorter than taking an exit. According to LJ White in her research – Does Divorce Make People Happy? “Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later”. If you got into that marriage knowing in your heart that there’s no way out of that marriage, you will do what you need to do to make it work. Unfortunately, couples expect too much from their partners without sacrificing anything for it. The question is, since you are in that marriage for the long haul, “what is it that you want out of it and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?