You know the feeling. Your relationship with your husband is just okay. You can't put your finger on why, but the bacon's not sizzling. At this point, you have two options: One, keep your marriage on cruise control and hope for the best; or two, pull over, lift the hood, and check the spark plugs.
In our 22 years of marriage, I've experienced plenty of days where the sparks simply fizzle. But when the occasional day sputters into months of marital mediocrity, it's time for a tune-up.
I used to blame the sad state of our union on everything from our house full of teenagers to my husband David's passionate involvement in his chosen vocation. But as draining as those situations can sometimes be, I finally discovered it wasn't our lack of time together that created our biggest problems. Instead, it was usually my attitude that kept all cylinders from firing. I've learned that when I eliminate these troublesome attitudes, my marriage starts sizzling instead of fizzling. Yours can, too!
Guys Don't Need Emotional Support.
One of the things that attracted me to my husband, David, was his inner strength. He supported me through all kinds of challenges, rarely expressing any needs of his own. Once high-maintenance children arrived, David's low emotional requirements came in handy for me. Then two of his long-time friends and coworkers resigned, and less than six months later, David underwent another major vocational setback. For the first time in his life, David's confidence was in the basement. My Superman became vulnerable, and I was forced to take back the red cape and bullet-proof vest I'd unconsciously assigned him at our wedding. Though it made me feel uncomfortable, it was crucial I listen to his comment, "I need you to let me be needy sometimes." Fortunately for David, his crisis lasted just long enough to do its work in me, too. I had to grow up, become less demanding, and commit myself to asking about the condition of his heart a minimum of once a week. Now when David shows signs of fatigue, silence, or distraction, I know he may be nearing an emotional drought. If I'm patient enough to draw him out, the sharing refreshes us both.
Show Me the Money!
When I stayed home full-time, money was the hot topic of many late-night debates with my husband. In the wee hours of the night, I'd pledge compliance with the budget, but once David cooled off, I'd slip back into overspending, complaining, and pouting. Ignoring the financial realities of our marriage sent a clear message to David: "You'll never make enough to satisfy me." My lack of cooperation frustrated and demotivated him. When we added a second income, our balance still barely budged. Eventually I had to face the fact that the problem was with me, not my bank account. To improve my concept of money, I've asked David to walk me through the budget every few months to remind me of our financial commitments and goals. Seeing it in writing helps me follow through.
After 23 years of marriage, my friend Susan has improved her outlook in this area by taking over the responsibility for paying the bills. Recently she said, "It's given me a new level of financial confidence and motivated me to make better choices."
I've Got a Better Idea.
My husband, David, is an optimist who sees life in technicolor. So to prevent him from overdosing on all that bliss, God gave him me—a naturally gifted, flaw-finding female who's always "just trying to make things better." If he did a project, I improved it. If he told a story, I made sure he got the dates and times accurate. If there were a field of Perfectionism, I would have had my doctorate.
Eventually, David's pot boileth over, and he replayed in graphic detail embarrassing scenes of my negativity and nitpicking. After years of trying to change my destructive relational habits on my own, I spent time with a professional Christian counselor who helped me realize the roots of my critical nature—and manage my emotional patterns. Now, when critical words begin to surface, I'm learning to communicate my fears and relinquish my need for control to the Lord.
. . . Into Sizzle!
I Love You, But I Love Me More.
I'm a night owl. Translated, this means: I like to sleep late. For years, I was convinced I couldn't wake up early. So even on his day off, I persuaded David to get up and take the kids to school. I was selfish and often took advantage of his willingness to serve me and his desire to preserve the peace in our relationship. I often pressured him to deny his need to socialize in favor of my more urgent need for solitude. I regularly put my desires above his needs, taking far more from him than I was giving.
Jesus spoke to self-centered tendencies when he said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). I can't die for my husband as Jesus did. But I can die to myself. One way I work at this is by concentrating more on David's joy than my sacrifice. Getting up early is still hard for me, but now instead of whining about it, I promise myself an afternoon nap.
With the Kind of Day I've Had . . . Don't Count on It.
Like most wives, you probably have days when you're too drained to enjoy sex with your husband. You accumulate stress like an emotional shopping cart that careens through the day gathering conversations and complications that squash any desire for intimacy. So while your husband prances around at bedtime, fluffing pillows and whistling "Midnight at the Oasis," you've still got "groceries" to unload. You may need to unload—but if you haven't done it by lights out, it's too late.
One way I've learned to lighten my load is through writing lists. I'm not a natural listmaker, so it took some practice. But now I make lists of things to remember to tell David about the house, the children, and the church. I also list things I need to get done as well as concerns to take to God. Most of my stress came as a result of these items rolling around loose in my mind. Writing things down gives my concerns a resting place, enabling me to initiate and enjoy lovemaking more freely.
However, my children didn't always fit neatly on a list—especially when they were young. I delighted in being a mother, so I became an avid student of child behavior, reading book after book on breast feeding, toilet training, and character-building. But as motherhood soared, my marriage slid. We didn't lose our love, but we did lose some valuable ground we'd worked hard to gain. God blessed the wedding before the womb; I'm learning it's my responsibility to recognize that order with more than just mental assent.
Some days the business of life must come before pleasure. But don't bankrupt your bedroom by making it a habit.
If I Can't Count on You, Whom Can I Count On?
In the early years of our marriage, I put tremendous pressure on David to meet all my needs. I expected him to rush home from work, help with the kids, talk to me for hours, and fill the leaky hole in my heart. Much to my frustration and disappointment, David failed to fix me or the things that stood in the way of my happiness. I wanted David to be God. Lucky for me, he wouldn't cooperate! This forced me to go kicking and screaming to my heavenly Father, who taught me that I get in trouble every time I expect too much from my husband and too little from God. Psalm 5:3 helps me adjust when I start to run out of bounds: "In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."
Not long ago, David, donned a tuxedo and boutonniere, and joined our boys in grins and whistles as I emerged from our bedroom in a long black evening dress. As cameras flashed, David surprised me with a giant bouquet and a shining limousine waiting outside. We giggled and kissed as the chauffeur drove us to the park for pictures. Maybe it was our apparel—or the flowers I carried—but I really think it was how we looked at each other over dinner and snuggled on the horse-drawn carriage ride that made people ask, "Did you just get married?"
"Are you kidding?" we answered. "Today is our 20th wedding anniversary, and we've never felt more in love!"
After years of living, learning, and attitude-adjusting, our marriage was more than just okay. We were cruising full-speed ahead. And by the time breakfast rolled around that next morning, our bacon had not only sizzled—it was burned to a crisp!
Caron Loveless is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Florida.
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.