I’ve seen it happen again and again. Especially to people who have been together for a long time. Their relationship was solid at the beginning. And they still love each other. After all, they’ve been through so much together. And yet, they are slowly drifting apart. Neither one can point to any clear moment when their relationship started to unravel. But it clearly has.
Why does it unravel?
There’s a really popular idea that once you fall in love, you’ll stay that way, unless you’re one of the unlucky ones who don’t. Of course, when you’re in love, you never think that could be you.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking supports being passive when it comes to your marriage. And that is a very dangerous idea. Because instead of actively tending to the relationship, you may think that if you really love each other, it will be okay.
Things become even more precarious when you’re angry with each other. Instead of kissing your husband as he heads off to work, you may ignore him instead. He might retaliate by working late and skipping the typical family dinner. The next morning, perhaps he extends an olive branch by reaching over and touching you in the morning. If you’re not ready yet, you may turn your back to him, registering a rejection on his end.
This back and forth can continue, slowly unraveling your daily relationship rituals. Add the stress of kids, work pressures, or money problems to the mix and you have a perfect recipe for the connection coming part. Until, you are now going to bed at different times, only discussing the daily tasks that need to be completed, and barely touching each other anymore.
Are you the frog?
It’s easy to end up like the frog in the boiling water. If you haven’t heard this story, it’s about putting a frog in some tepid water and then slowly increasing the heat. If you heat things up slowly enough, the frog will adapt to the changing temperature and won’t realize the danger surrounding it.
It’s the same way with your marriage. Thousands of small interactions over time strain your connection. if you don’t repair the hurt in a timely way, your relationship can come apart. All without your fully understanding why.
How to keep it together
Here are a few quick tips to keep your relationship strong as the years go by:
Remember to tend to your marriage like you would a living plant, making sure you are both getting what you need.
When you hurt each other, repair the damage quickly. Focus your energy on the big problems. Let go of the small annoyances that are coming up simply because you’re stressed out.
Exercise discipline about keeping positive relationship habits in place. If you normally give him a quick kiss when he leaves, do it. Yes, even if you’re mad and don’t feel like it. Why? It’s easier to give a half-hearted kiss than to stop kissing him and then try to get back into that habit again. Tearing things down takes just a minute, while building them back up is much, much harder.
Remember the words of Simone Segnoret:
“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”
Make sure your actions help preserve the connection. To learn more about other ways you can strengthen your marriage, consider picking up a copy of my book, Strong Women, Strong Love.
Have you seen the Netflix series “Indian Matchmaking“? It is one of the most talked about shows in recent memory. And that talk is widely varied.
For some, “Indian Matchmaking” is simply just another addictive dating show, like “Love Is Blind” or “The Bachelor.”
But others are aghast that the matchmaker, Sima Taparia, openly uses social class, skin color and beauty as criteria for selecting a mate. She also considers personality, educational background and profession because her goal is to optimize compatibility and make sure families fully support the marriage.
As someone of Indian background, I want to consider how this very different model of marriage might provide some insight into what is necessary for any marriage to work.
My Parents’ Story — and Mine
My parents never even saw each other before getting married. They were both in their early 20s when their families arranged their marriage in India. When my father told the story of their wedding day, he would always note that my mother’s face was veiled, so he was not even sure whom he was marrying! Yet their marriage lasted over 50 years until my father died.
Like most of you, it’s hard for me to imagine agreeing to an arranged marriage myself. However, as someone who has been married for over 20 years now, I am better able to understand some of the factors that make both types of marriages work. After all, no matter how your marriage began, we are all challenged to make the relationship one that works for us.
Where Does Romance Come In?
My guess is that some of the interest in “Indian Matchmaking” from U.S. audiences comes from disenchantment with marriage or the process of finding a mate here.
As I’ve written before, our current cultural norms around marriage set couples up for disappointment. We have come to think of marriage as the end all, be all of life relationships. Not only do expect our partner to be a nice person who’s compatible with us. We also seek a soul mate who will unceasingly shower us with passion and romance.
But, as you know, a marriage is about a lot more than romance and passion.It’s often about raising children together. It’s about maintaining a roof over your heads. It’s about getting along with each other’s parents and possibly even caring for them when they grow old and infirm. It’s about the laundry, paying the bills and making big life decisions together in a way that makes both of you feel reasonably happy and heard.
Sometimes a “fairy tale” romance evolves into a solid partnership for navigating real life. But sometimes it doesn’t. If that’s where you find yourself, it may be intriguing to watch relationships that have the opposite trajectory. Arranged marriages have their roots in family and practicality. From there, the assumption is that couples can grow romantic love.
What Do YOU Think of ‘Indian Matchmaking’?
You don’t have to be in an arranged marriage like my father to think, “Who is this person I’m married to?” Sometimes it feels like the man you fell in love with has changed into a stranger.
But I firmly believe that if the two of you have a respectful partnership — that is, you can manage your household together and treat each other with kindness and friendship — then rekindling romance is actually the easier part. As you are there for each other through thick and thin, the bond grows deeper, and you can find yourself falling in love with your husband all over again.
No matter how your marriage begins, you will always have to work on it. That’s one of the things I take away from “Indian Matchmaking.” How about you? I’d love to hear your take on this intriguing, and polarizing, show.
You’ve been with your husband a while, and some of the things he does drive you so crazy that you wonder if you possibly married the wrong man. He falls short of so many of your expectations. How do you know whether you made a mistake or whether it’s just normal to feel this way in a marriage?
So, let me start by asking you a really important question: Who did you marry?
Notice, I did NOT say: Who do you wish you had married?
Who Is This Man You Married?
Take a really close look at your husband and ask yourself these questions:
Is he lazy or a hard worker?
Is he easy going or inflexible?
Does he have your back when things are rough, or does he leave you to fend for yourself?
Is he generally kind or mean?
Is he a good dad or uncaring with the kids?
Does he know how to nurture, or is he clueless about how to take care of someone?
Is he messy or a neat freak?
What are his best qualities?
What are his worst ones?
Are his good qualities ones that really matter to you?
Are his worse qualities deal breakers?
How well do the two of you work as a team?
Why did you marry him in the first place?
Can You Accept Him?
Very often, the frustration you feel toward your spouse simply comes from a failure to accept the person you actually married. Women often go into a marriage with the mentality that they will “fix up” the guy they married. When attempts to change him fail, the challenge is to accept reality.
Your husband may never be the man in your dreams, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great marriage partner. He cannot compete with the idealized image in your mind. So, the challenge then is for you to love him as is, without any upgrades.
What Old Married Couples Know
Couples who have been married for years and are still happy have inevitably come to understand the importance of deeply loving and accepting their partner, even with all their quirks and foibles.
It’s when you step into a place of deeper acceptance, that your real marriage actually begins.
It’s happened to any woman who is married. You ask your
husband to do something — for example, take care of a leaky faucet — and he
says he will. You wait for it to happen. And wait. And…
That dripping faucet is still driving you crazy. And now your husband is too.
You could handle the problem yourself. However, that adds one more thing to your already-long task list, and you know you’ll feel resentful. Or, you could remind him and maybe get accused of nagging.
Neither option feels like a good one.
OK, let’s set one thing straight. If the two of you had a discussion
and came to an agreement that he would do something, it’s not nagging to check in if it didn’t get done. It’s simply
“following up.” You follow up effectively with people at work all the
time. And it’s possible to do the same with your husband. Here’s how.
Decide Whether to
First, decide whether this is a conversation you really want
to have. There’s no right or wrong decision here. Think about how important the
request is in the big picture. Is following up on it the way you want to spend
your energy right now? If it is, that’s fine. You can use the rest of the
strategies in this article. But if it’s not, are you OK just letting this one
go? I mean truly letting it go without being mad.
Give Him the Benefit
of the Doubt
If you do decide to follow up with your husband, here’s how
NOT to lead off:
You said you would fix the faucet, but you still haven’t! Why can’t you just get things done without my having to ask you AGAIN AND AGAIN to take care of them?!!!
No doubt, he’ll probably get defensive if you come at him that way.
Instead, you want to take an approach more like this:
Honey, I know you’ve
been busy, so it may have slipped you mind, but the faucet is still dripping. I
know you told me you were intending to take care of it by last Friday.
Use a neutral tone of voice, not a blaming one and just state
the facts. Remember, you’re just checking in, like you would with someone at
Listen to his response and then make another specific request, making sure you highlight the importance to you:
It’s really important to me. Would you please take care of it today?
Now please know that this is not some magic formula that will keep your husband from getting
irritable or defensive. Some guys will still be reactive no matter how you
follow up with them. But others will mirror your respect and courtesy.
Increasing the Odds of being Heard
There are a few ways to increase the odds that your requests will not be overlooked:
1. Connect the Request to Your Needs
One thing that can keep your request on his radar is to clearly connect it to a need you have. Sometimes husbands don’t follow through on requests because they don’t see why they’re important. Maybe he’s not as concerned about the water bill or conservation as you are, so that faucet isn’t bothering him. But it would bother him if he understood how much it was stressing you out. So try saying something like this:
I’m kind of at the end of my rope right now with Mom being sick and work being crazy. So that leaky faucet is just adding to my stress.
2. Treat Him Like an Adult
You don’t belittle or disrespect your colleagues and friends.
(At least I hope you don’t!) So don’t treat your husband this way. Give him the
respect you would any other adult.
But while you’re both entitled to respect in the relationship, you’re also both entitled to some degree of accountability too. That’s part of being an adult, too. Adults do the things they say they will do.
If the request you made was important to you, stand your ground. Just always do so respectfully and kindly.
3. Show Appreciation
If your husband regularly ignores your requests, make sure you’re not committing this common mistake. One of the reasons men say they stop stepping up in their marriage is because they truly believe no matter what they do, their wife will never be happy. So they just stop trying.
If that’s the case in your relationship, the easy fix is to consistently thank your spouse just like you would a friend or coworker if they did the same task.
Start changing the atmosphere in your relationship by looking for opportunities to show more respect and appreciation. More often than not, your spouse will do the same.
You love your husband. But, if you’re being real, you have to admit he drives you crazy sometimes. He has all these annoying quirks and bad habits. The longer you’re with him, the more irritating he is to be around.
Nothing like you, right?
You’re so much easier to be around. Or are you?
Seriously, stop for just a second ask yourself what you’re like to live with. Is it possible you might be hard to live with, too?
The truth is that it can genuinely be hard to recognize ways you might be driving your partner crazy. After all, how often do any of us step back and analyze what we’re doing?
How you behave as a wife and as a parent has probably been heavily shaped by what you observed in your own family. That’s what you consider to be “normal.” But your husband came into your marriage with a different idea of what normal looks like.
For example, maybe it was routine in your family to always be running a few minutes behind. But in your husband’s family, “on time” meant “get there early.”
Differences in promptness are not as big a deal as having different ideas about handling conflict or loyalty in the marriage. But how your husband interprets your actions is always important. In this case, your habitual tardiness is a big deal if he views it as disrespect.
It’s good to take a step back and reflect on your own behavior in your marriage sometimes. Now, admittedly, this is a little harder than just focusing on all the stuff he does! But it’s really good for your marriage to look in the mirror occasionally.
Neither of you is ever going to be perfect. But both of you should be aware of how you affect each other. You may be surprised by how much the things you do bother him. For example, maybe you’re already aware that your perfectionism doesn’t serve you well, but you didn’t know that it’s also really stressing him out.
When there are obvious differences, it’s helpful to explain where you’re coming from: “I’m not late because I don’t care about you. I just never developed the habit of being on time. It’s something I’m working on now, though.”
That last part is the key. Maturity
means being aware of what you bring to your marriage, taking ownership of it
and making an effort to change anything that’s detrimental to your
Women will often say that they want more intimacy in their
marriage. If you’ve had feelings like this, I want to give you something to
Typically, when a wife complains about a lack of intimacy, she means that she and her husband are not having deep and candid conversations about things like each other’s true feelings, thoughts, and dreams.
However, intimacy can take different forms in a marriage. Some men — especially those with a more traditional upbringing— have an easier time with nonverbal intimacy than with building intimacy through conversation.
Paths and Roadblocks to Intimacy
When your husband seeks intimacy more physically than verbally, it’s easy to misunderstand his motivations. You may think things like, “It’s all about sex for him” and assume he’s only seeking you out to fulfill his own desires. Usually, the truth is more nuanced. Yes, he’s probably enjoying sex. However, he’s also seeking connection and intimacy with you in a way that just feels more comfortable for him.
When you seek intimacy through conversation and he seeks it through physical connection, neither of you is wrong. You just need to see that these are two different paths to feeling closer, and find a way to honor both.
To set the stage for more intimate conversations with your husband, make sure there’s an atmosphere of safety and respect in your marriage. Listen when he talks. (Put down your phone!) Be curious about what’s going on with him. And don’t micromanage or criticize him — would you want to open up to someone who is constantly getting after you?
Enhancing Nonverbal Intimacy
In addition to deepening your connection through conversation, appreciate the various forms of nonverbal intimacy in your marriage and look for ways to increase that too. I’m not just talking about sex. You could also…
Offer physical comfort.
Reassure or encourage with a squeeze of the shoulder or a gentle touch.
Hold eye contact.
Hold each other.
Wink and smile.
Gently caress his face, hair, or arm in a cherishing way.
Sit close to each other.
Speak quietly and lovingly.
Lean on each other.
Reach out and hold hands.
Give him a pat on the butt.
Walk arm-in-arm, holding hands, or arm-over-shoulder.
On their own, these gestures will bring the two of you closer together. They could also make it feel safer for your husband to risk opening up to the intimate conversations you’ve been longing for.
A Minute of Silence
I want to leave you with one of the most vivid reminders of the power of nonverbal intimacy that I know of. Perhaps you’ve heard of Marina Abramovic’s work “The Artist is Present” in which she sat across from strangers and shared a minute of silence with them. That’s intimate enough itself! But when Abramovic’s ex-love sits down, look at how much passes between them before they even speak a single word.
As Abramovic shows us, there’s nothing more powerful than the connection between people. Make it a priority to constantly build your connection with your husband, whatever form that intimacy takes. My book, Strong Women, Strong Love, can give you more ideas on how to stay close no matter how busy and hectic your lives are.