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Does Your Marriage Need a Tune-Up?

What causes this once smooth-running machine to knock and sputter?

Couples generally enter marriage with engines revving, but sooner or later find their relationship "idling." The thrill is gone, arguments easily become overheated, and the pressure of jobs, kids and a mortgage is on. What causes this once smooth-running machine to knock and sputter?

Warning Lights

The biggest culprits are dangerous patterns of thinking that wear your marriage down and lead to big blow-outs. When conflicts become habitual, it's not surprising that you begin to think negatively far more often than you consider your marriage's positive aspects. Here are a few of the warning lights. Any of these look familiar?

  1. Feeling bored with your spouse. Before you were married, getting to know each other and establishing a deep commitment were welcome challenges. But now you've "been there, done that" on just about everything. Both of you sense the lack of excitement, but life is so crowded it's easy to stop making the effort to learn more about each other. Yawn.
  2. Focusing on differences. The same opposite traits that you once found so charming are now simply annoying. I can't tell you how many times I've caught myself thinking: "We'd get so much more accomplished if Chris [my wife] would just do things my way."
  3. Fixating on a fantasy. It's easy to fall into a habit of daydreaming about your "perfect spouse" as an escape from dealing with the real one. Some of this is natural—at times the fantasy is a lot simpler to handle. But you can take it too far, especially when you become disappointed because your spouse doesn't meet the impossible standards of your fantasy. Wake up! Dreams are just that—dreams.
  4. Avoiding your mate. Setting aside a little time for yourself is healthy. For instance, I try to take a solo camping trip once a year. But if you're avoiding contact with your spouse, or if the time you spend together feels like a chore, that's a clear warning that you need to spend even more time together.
  5. Pursuing individual goals. Couples often get discouraged when they find it difficult to establish joint goals. When communication starts to break down, you're quick to think, My spouse isn't going to listen to me anyway. So I'll just go ahead and make this decision myself. Before you know it, you're focusing on what you need instead of what's best for both of you.
  6. Reaching the boiling point. When everything your mate does seems to make you crazy, irritabl, and just plain mad, that's a clear signal that your attitudes are mired in negativity. But if you think back, you'll remember a time when your relationship was full of promise. What changed?

Under the Hood

If recognizing the warning signals has you gripping the wheel, don't panic. These are normal responses to the challenges of everyday marriage. The warning lights simply tell you when to stop and check things out. Here are eight ways you can give your marriage the tune-up it needs.

  1. Get intentional. Create a positive experience for you and your spouse—on purpose. Blow a wad on a great date night or a surprise for your mate. Then do it again in a few weeks.
  2. Study your spouse. What kinds of things does he or she get excited about? What are your mate's dreams? What does your spouse think would make his or her life more fulfilling? One way to make your partner feel appreciated is to express genuine interest. Even better, you'll both experience joy as you help make your spouse's life more satisfying.
  3. Sort through the negatives. Which problems are negligible—things you can live with—and which ones are important and must be resolved? As you sort them out, you may be surprised at how few "biggies" there really are. Also, as you tackle one or two problems together, the next one that comes along won't seem so insurmountable.
  4. Set mutual goals. Offset the tendency to focus on yourself by finding one or more areas that you can purposefully work on together. Chris and I recently agreed to work toward a financial goal of spending less for the next 12 months so we can pay off a debt. Agreeing to achieve this goal together turned a sore point into a connecting experience.
  5. Don't let feelings fester. Find the time and energy to resolve disagreements as they come up—even if it requires a "late-nighter." Long-term resentments can use up more energy than a few hours of wrestling through a problem.
  6. Focus on reality. Guess what? The grass is browner on the other side of the fence. The perfect spouse doesn't exist—anywhere. So look for what you love and appreciate about the one you've chosen.
  7. Be a servant. This is how Christ won over the multitudes. So make your mate the target of some good deeds this week. Serving your spouse will actually make you feel better.
  8. Seek excellence. Work as hard to maintain your marriage as you do to advance in your career or to excel in raising your kids. What areas need extra attention? How will you know if you've met your goals? Generate new energy and creativity and apply them to your marriage.

Don't let the challenges of the road throw you off track. A positive relationship is a destination worth pursuing—together.

Michael Lace, Psy.D., is a psychologist in marriage and family practice in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He and Chris have three children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Change; Intentionality; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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