Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Marriage Maintenance

There’s a trend that I’m seeing in my practice that is worthy of, if not in need of further exploration:  people becoming disenchanted with their marriages, feeling stuck, wanting out, but trapped by the guilt of hurting the spouse, disrupting the family unit for their children (if there are any), facing the financial uncertainty, dealing with the extended family reactions, and thus resorting to being in a sort of “limbo” state of living.  
What tends to end up happening is that some kind of major event occurs — be it an affair, turning a certain age, losing a job, having to live apart for whatever reason, an illness or death in the family, etc. — that shines a huge spotlight on one’s marriage, seeing all of its flaws and smacks us in the face in order to wake up and deal with the reality of our relationships.

Many of us live on auto pilot, in our day-to-day lives; we go through the same routines over and over.  This inevitably dulls our senses and keeps us from really seeing and feeling the true nature of each other.  Sometimes we sleepwalk through years of our marriages before this “wake up call” happens — we buy houses, change jobs, have children, raise the children, go to PTA meetings or soccer games, build a community of friends, and establish ourselves as a “family unit”.  Our culture doesn’t allow much leftover time to spend cultivating our marriage, rediscovering our partners, engaging in mutual interests together, or appreciating all the efforts we make to keep up with the daily rat race.  So it DOES sometimes take a shocking event to snap us out of auto pilot!  Like it or not, if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity to fix whatever flaws are going on in your marriage at the time, another event will inevitably occur. 

So how can you prevent the shocking events from occurring?  Well, some of them you just can’t.  But, if you look at it from the point of view of taking care of your car, it can make more sense.  If you don’t take your car in for oil changes or regular maintenance checks, then your risk for driving down the road and your engine light coming on, smoke billowing out of your front hood, and incurring a major repair expense that could have been prevented if you’d taken better care of it.
Same thing with your health.  If you take good care of your body, you have a lower risk of getting life-threatening diagnoses, right?  But if we are smoking, not exercising, not eating right, maintain high stress levels, then sometimes Life wakes us up by giving an early warning sign, so we have the opportunity to turn things around and get on the right track.  People who have had heart attacks, or a bout with cancer, or have been diagnosed with diabetes, etc, are being given the same kind of wake-up call.  And hopefully they’ve done the work to put their life on a different course, as a result. So why would it be any different with our most important relationship — the one with our spouse??
We need to pay attention, roll up our sleeves, rally our supports and go to work, if faced with a “tragedy” or major life change that jars our relationship into a state of shock.  There’s a reason for everything, guys.  If something has turned your marriage upside down, it’s probably because you’ve been sleepwalking and not dealing with some distance that has grown between you.  In other words, you haven’t done enough regular maintenance.  It’s painful — of course — but these are growing pains, and you can honestly look at the situation as an opportunity for redefining your relationship, rather than ending it.  I’m not saying that all marriages can be saved when these issues arise, but I do think that it’s worth the effort to at least learn something from the experience — even if the marriage ends — so that you can take the new knowledge to your next relationship.  
One of my earlier posts was about recalibrating your life — and I think it can also be applied to your relationship.  As we age, have children, and go through various life experiences, we become different people.  We’re no longer the 20-something person that our spouse first fell in love with.  Maybe you’re in your 40’s or 50’s now and things are a lot different — you’re not as physically attractive, you’re not as fun-loving and impulsive, there are many more worries and responsibilities on your mind, so you have little room to think about your spouse (much less yourself!).  So, every year or two, I think it’s worthwhile to take stock of each other, see where things have changed, and how you can adapt better to each other.  A relationship that lasts is one that is constantly adapting and evolving.  If you’re not doing that, then don’t be shocked if 10+ years later, you look at your partner and say “who the heck are you anymore?”
So take time to be alone together, talk to and touch each other, share new experiences together, ask each other where they are, how they’re doing, and what you could do (if anything) to make things better.  Check in, now and then, to make sure you’re both still a united front with your children and/or what you value (because those will shift sometimes).  Support each other if one of you shows a new interest in something.  Do not discourage personal growth — it’s one of the fastest ways to create distance between you!  And don’t forget to notice and thank each other for all your efforts — find your spouse’s positive traits and bring them to light, rather than constantly pointing out their faults.  These things alone can literally preserve your marriage.  
In short, make the time to do the work, guys — before the engine light comes on unexpectedly and ends up in a costly loss.

3 Comments to Marriage Maintenance

  1. September 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Marriage works by loving the right person enough to make the right choices as you do so.

    irvine marriage counselor

  2. November 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I've come back to the Marriage Maintenance entry often enough and have even passed it on to others. It speaks to me and have had others say the same. Everyone in life deserves to be happy no matter what road takes them there.

    Thanks Tonya for your insight.


  3. November 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Heather, and for sharing the message with others. It's definitely an important element of marriage to keep in mind and continue to work toward.


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