It's discouraging," Marc said of his 24-year marriage. "We disagree on everything. We're both bull-headed, which has created conflicts and a coldness about our relationship." His wife, Marsha, chimed in, "Over the years we've both piled on the resentment. There's been more effort on my part than his. He's so critical. We hardly spend time together and we rarely touch or affirm each other."
While some people enjoy winter sports such as snowmobiling and skiing, no couple enjoys a winter marriage. Winter marriages, such as Marc and Marsha's, are characterized by coldness, harshness, and bitterness. The dreams of spring are covered with layers of ice, and the weather forecast calls for more freezing rain.
What brings a couple to the winter season? In a word: rigidity—the unwillingness to consider the other person's perspective and to work toward a meaningful solution. All couples face difficulties and have differences. Couples who fail to negotiate these differences will find the marriage growing cold. When one or both spouses insist on "my way or not at all," they move toward winter.
In winter, attitudes turn negative. Sarah and Will have been married 19 years. She told me, "I tried to work on our marriage, but it seemed as if he interpreted everything I suggested as nagging. Nothing worked, so I shut down. I don't care about his needs at this point. I'm waiting for him to put some energy into our marriage."
"It makes me feel like we're never going to make it. It just keeps getting worse," Will said. "We fight 24/7. I can't go on like this, and I don't know what else to do." In winter we perceive the problems as too big and our positions as too entrenched. We think that disagreements have gone on too long and can never be resolved. We blame our spouse for the decline in our relationship.1