My Marriage is Slipping Away From Me (Episode 187)
What do you do when you think your marriage is falling apart? What do you do when you’re starting to see the cracks, and you don’t know what can be repaired? It can be really scary when you’re facing a mountain between you two, so let’s break it down a bit.
This is a touchy topic. It is. Oftentimes it gets glossed over - do I address this, or just brush it off? It’s not a big deal; I’ll just let it slide.
And yet, we coast through the motions of life, we throw children into the mix, and with so many variables and curve balls, all of a sudden, we can land in reaction mode. Your marriage may have taken a back seat, and you wake up two years later realizing, my marriage sucks.
This isn’t yet the point to say your marriage is over. Yet, it’s a wake-up call that it’s definitely not headed in a sustainable direction.
Think about any vessel. A bucket, a boat, a computer, a person. There is only so much you can take in before it will overflow, capsize, max out on storage...or explode.
If we have these cracks in our relationship - the things we don’t like but we ignore/let slide, we’re creating a shaky foundation for any issues to mount up on. It creates a slippery slope where you can have everything crash down on you quickly. However, it doesn’t have to be that way!
Falling Into Routine
Oftentimes we can get off-kilter with something small. Maybe it was a sick family member, so you watched more TV, and now, every night is staring at a screen and not engaging with each other. Maybe it was just one extra night of working late, and now it’s become 5 nights a week. Sometimes one little thing can spiral into a rut we have to intentionally step out of. Or, we wake up one day to realize, “we don’t talk anymore.”
Sometimes we notice something is off simply by the yucky feeling of unrest we have, recognizing this isn’t the type of environment where you feel alive anymore. You feel stifled, walking on eggshells, depressed, full of resentment, or just, in any way, not at home.
Unfortunately, it can be pretty easy to fall into negative habits that aren’t serving you well, just like grabbing that huge bowl of ice cream and plopping down in front of the TV every night. It’s super easy to do, and is all well and good until you realize you don’t know your family and your pants don’t fit anymore.
How Do You Treat Yourself?
Oftentimes those habits are determined by how we choose to treat ourselves on a regular basis. If we have gotten into the habit of working ourselves to the bone all day long, it’s going to be pretty hard to have the energy to jump into a big family game night. If you’re working yourself ragged, what are you leaving for your family? For yourself?
We all have more intense times in life we go through. It could be just a busy week at work, or a work/family crisis where something unexpected happens, or someone getting sick, etc. There are so many curveballs that give us instant justification to fall into the martyr role in life.
When you are taking on a lot, especially those if you’re an internal processor, it can be a pretty isolating experience. When you don’t communicate what’s going on in your life or your desires for the people around you, how are they to know? If you’re stressed by not communicating it, how are they going to be aware if they are adding to that stress?
When things aren’t communicated in a home - even the little things, like the laundry on the floor or the way she interrupts - they become the landmines you aren’t sure of. You get family members walking around on eggshells, knowing the foundation is shaky, but not quite sure what will set it off. Everyone reacts to anything, unsure of what is the real issue, as it’s not discussed anymore.
Drop The Badge
It's time to drop the badge and get clear on who you are. Life is complex. We don’t have everything in perfect little categories and know exactly when we’ll be able to come up for air. We have to learn to manage the ups and downs of life as they come, recognizing we cannot control circumstances beyond us. It doesn’t matter who is being counted on as “the provider” or if it’s both of you - there are pressures on both sides.
We cannot always “fix” a situation. We can’t always eliminate the drama or the pain/trials/lessons we will go through in our lives. So it’s not about just going in and fixing everything. It’s also not about wearing this as a badge of honor.
There is no glamour in consistently showing up to your relationship as the beaten down warrior. Wow, think of that - how often do we actually act as if we’ve worked ourselves to the grindstone, dragging ourselves home from a brutal battle? How is this showing up for your family? Are you a person in the home, or simply a paycheck?
Don’t lose yourself with a badge of the martyr
- martyrs are talked about in past tense -
they simply can’t sustain it.
When we were going through a difficult time, maxed out with both our jobs, family trauma all around us and young children in the mix, we “dummy-proofed” our evening to keep our marriage a priority. This is an example to cope through a rough time, recognizing there are seasons to everything.
When you’re busy and distracted, it can be even harder to be intuitive to your partner’s needs and desires. So take out the guess-work. Make it easy!
We decided to have his/hers/ours nights. After we put our children to bed, instead of just plopping down in front of the TV, or creating the same routine every day, we took turns.
On my night, it was all about me. Sometimes, as a mama with babies and toddlers who was also working from home, that meant a full body massage and bed. Sometimes it was a movie and a drink! And sometimes, it was “I don’t want to think about what to do tonight - can you just surprise me?” And Nathan planned the whole evening. He took me on magical “food journeys” with fun treats and creations we’d make after the kids went to bed, or picked out something perfectly funny to watch together.
On Nathan’s night, the responsibility was on me - it was his night to receive, with no need for any reciprocity. It took the pressure off. Yes, one night I would take full responsibility for planning the night and taking into consideration any of Nathan’s desires. Yet I also knew that I would have a night “off” where I was also able to be focused on and recharged in any way I wanted.
And then on the “our” night we’d often just decide together what we wanted to do, just talk and hang, or repeat more of what we’d already been doing.
We found that it freed us up to receive without feeling like we had to match or reciprocate, it pushed us to come up with new things to do yet also took off the pressure of either of us having to plan everything, and, it allowed both of us to show up equally to our relationship, knowing the give and take is SO important for both of us to get the space to build each other up.
When you “dummy-proof” what you’re going to do, already agreeing on who’s night is who’s, then it takes the guesswork out of it. There is no mind-reading on who is going to initiate, who will step up and plan, or if you need to reciprocate. We knew our night to soak it in, our night to step it up and “plan the date”, and our night when we both come ready to give and receive.
What Do We Need?
Trust. It’s hard - so hard - to build a relationship without trust as a solid foundation. It’s important to know whether your partner “has your back”. Sometimes we get so lost in ourselves that we forget that we’re on the same team. Sometimes, we have to wake up a bit and recognize the war zone and landmines we’ve created in our own home, where it’s become “every man for himself”.
What do you want in your home? Do you want a family where everyone has each other’s back, or roommates who may live life side-by-side? You really have to look at what your desire is for your family. Go back to your family vision - and pay attention to if you are working together as a team to create that.
Pack In The Down Time
We really don't pack in downtime, particularly for our relationships. Oftentimes it’s more along the lines of, “I need to just zone out and not think about anything and watch a little Netflix and chill.” We know how to do that, but we have forgotten how to play games with each other, how to read with each other...how to talk to each other.
These are the important things that revitalize a relationship. The first cracks show when you realize those scary statements:
We don’t talk anymore.
We don’t touch anymore.
We don’t date anymore.
And instead of addressing it, you just fall into the routine. If you recognize things aren’t going in the direction you want them to, be very, very clear, that things will not change until you get intentional about doing something different.
I Don't Even Know Where To Start
This is so often the first - and biggest - issue. How do I even start if I don't know how to talk to them? Is there any space in your life to simply be together and just talk? If you don't have the opportunity or downtime for it, it’s not going to happen. Are you or your partner hiding behind the TV, work, children, or tasks?
I Already Know Everything
You may be thinking you already know everything about your partner. You’ve been together for ages and you can predict their every move. Let me tell you this. When you have a growth mindset, your knowledge and insights are constantly expanding. Think about 21 questions and all the things you would ask when you were dating. Have you considered that your answers may have changed?
Go back to old questions and revisit them. Ask if your partner thought this was how things would turn out, and ask them what they dream would look different. Ask them what they yearn for. Ask them when they felt most loved by you, and if there is anything you can do to help them feel more supported. Google “questions to ask your partner” and search the gazillion ideas you’ll get.
Before You Fix, Ask
Before you fix, ask. They may not want fixing. You may not know how. In our desperation to make things right we can get stuck in the role of the fixer, always coming with a solution so as not to make it any harder on the other person. Yet, if you always have the answer, where is the voice of your partner?
On the flip-side, it’s a give and take on both sides. Not only does the fixer need to pull back and ask some questions, but it’s time for you, my friend, to take a hard look at what you want in this relationship. Are you stepping up for a marriage and owning your role, or have you lost your way? You are significant. Your involvement - or lack thereof - is making a direct impact on your whole family.
Step It up
Your family needs you - not the shell of you, or you just acting a part.
The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse - criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone-walling - are what relationship expert John Gottman says can destroy a relationship. What are you taking responsibility for? Are you looking in the mirror first and assessing how you can be the person you want them to be - and the parent you want your children to see?
The Gottman institute has researched the Effects of Marital Discord on Young Children's Peer Interaction and Health (here is an easier read) - their research showed they could determine if parents argued by measuring the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in their children’s urine. Not only that, they found that children as young as 3 months old experienced higher blood pressure when their parents argued in front of them.
That’s pretty significant. This isn’t to shame anyone - this is to bring to the forefront the powerful and wonderful human being you are. That each and every one of you are significant. And you as a parent have a child who is learning about independence, confidence, and personal responsibility, not from what they are hearing, but what they are living, seeing, and experiencing in their home.
The Root Of The Question
What is the root of the issue? Are you both owning a part in it? Are you seeing there is an issue in the first place? The first thing to do before anything can be fixed is determine if both people are aware of the issue, and if both people want to find a solution.
There is so, so much you as an individual can do. Dr. Laura Bergman has an incredible series on Mind-Blowing Love - all about quantum love and what it can do for your relationships even if it’s just your own inner work.
And yet, ultimately, two people have to truly want to be together. And if someone has made up their mind or is unwilling/unable to address their own inner work, that’s not something anyone else can force. Forced love isn’t authentic. True love has to be willing to give space for each to walk into the relationship willingly and fully.
When you’re asking each other - and even asking yourselves - questions about what you want or don’t want in the life you want to create moving forward, get to the deeper root of it all. Ask “why” 5 times and see what happens.
For every “because I…” dig a bit deeper - what is the real fear, concern, frustration, etc?
What Is Your Goal?
And, before you even have this conversation, go back to this key focus: “What is my goal?” Is it to really get honest with yourself? To reach out in love? To make your marriage work...or are you throwing in the towel? What is the goal of the conversation? Do you truly want to get to the root of it? Sometimes that means navigating uncomfortable places, so it’s critical to be clear on why you’re going there.
There is a whole shift in the playing field when you go from two people with the goal of proving their point or convincing the other to the common ground of “let’s work together to make this marriage flow in a way where we both thrive.”
“I want the marriage to work.” You don't have to have every answer, but you have to make sure that you start with a common goal. If only one of you is really seeing the chance for the marriage to continue, you’re fighting an uphill battle. This is a hard conversation and takes brave work. But these are things we can’t shy away from, especially when cracks have already formed. They don’t just go away.
Those cracks are not fixed by more money. Not by nicer cars, a bigger house, and definitely not by more children, animals, or things.
A crack becomes a weak point
that is simply waiting for that
right amount of pressure to fully break.
It Starts Within
We're all searching for something that makes us happy; something that makes us feel “complete.” Yet it’s not “out there” at all. You have to learn to be real with who you are - the good as well as the struggles and the blind spots. And there has to come a point where you see yourself with the love you so want from others.
Sometimes, you may find yourself in a season of your relationship where you are with someone who has forgotten who they are, lost their way, or is struggling to find that love. It can happen quickly - you think everything is going just fine, and then something triggers it - a trauma from the past or the growing mountain of little cracks that have now become fissures and chasms with holes so deep you can get lost in them.
We can all lose our way. We all have our own mountains we’ve climbed, trauma and hurt from our past, and times we’ve messed up and learned our lessons the hard way.
What Batter Do You Have?
One of our favorite little go-to books is Buddhist Bootcamp by Timber Hawkeye. In it there is a little story about cake batter, and what type of cake you’re cooking up.
In it, Hawkeye explains how the way we live our lives on a daily basis become the ingredients that create our cake batter. There are certain ways of living that make a really nice cake for you to enjoy your life. And when you do things like go on vacation, eat a yummy treat or do something in addition, that becomes the icing on a great-tasting cake.
But if your “daily ingredients” are bitter - they are stress- and resentment-filled, then there is no amount of fancy vacation or luxuries that are going to be enough icing to cover the taste of the bitter cake underneath.
You have to learn how to live a life that you thrive in and enjoy on a daily basis that makes the cake so rich. And a huge part of that is loving yourself and being honest with yourself and those around you.
We Don't Talk Anymore
So what happens when the big crack is, “we don’t talk anymore”? Number one thing to do is to create the space to talk! That does not mean setting 5 minutes aside to squeeze in anything important. That’s actually creating enough space to talk, think, and process. This conversation isn’t just words. It’s the space for the silence. For bringing awareness to all that each of you are, and recognizing the nuances and all the vulnerabilities that we share with the person we are most intimate with.
Give grace for the fact that, when you’re having a hard conversation, you don’t have every answer laid out. If you have it all eloquently laid out, my friend, you’ve already defeated the purpose of the conversation.
You can’t fully hear someone else when you’ve already crafted your answers.
That means, sometimes we mess up. Sometimes we still say something hurtful, or we backtrack because we didn’t word something right. Some people are external processors, so they truly think out loud. Well, I know all of my thoughts definitely shouldn’t be voiced - we filter through them for a reason!
Do this one thing - add seven seconds to your pauses. When you allow for a seven second pause before you answer, jump in, or when a question has been asked and it’s quiet, it creates space for everyone to process and think things through.
Don’t listen with the intent to reply. Listen with the intent to get to know your partner and understand them better. Wait a full seven seconds to keep the tensions de-escalated, to allow for everyone to breathe, and to allow yourselves to think up what you really want to say (and reflect back on what that goal is) before you speak.
And, if your conversations are centered around the word, “you”, then get real clear, again on what your goal is. Is it to attack and shut them down, prove you’re right, or figure out how to make things work? As Nathan’s great-aunt always used to say, “whenever you’re pointing a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing right back at you.”
We know these conversations can be dicey. These conversations can end up with either one of you fumbling over your words and you have every opportunity to feel hurt or attack each other. So give grace in this.
Own your own feelings only - not telling them what they think or feel. Avoid using the words “never” and “always” - unless you can 100% make that blanket statement, it simply sets the other person up to defend their position.
If you can and it works for the moment, remember humor can help diffuse tension in a powerful way. Not being taken seriously is frustrating, so be careful here, but adding a little smile and a joke can go a long way for remembering you are on the same team.
Making Sense Of Our Past
Our past is a part of who we are today. And yet part of that may be wounded pretty badly, and it can be hard to separate the past from what can choose to create for the future. Your past is part of who you are today. However, we can choose how we’re going to carry those stories. We can nurse them like a wound that will never heal, or we can choose to write a new story or perspective starting now. It won’t change what we’ve been through in the past, but we sure as heck can choose now to not perpetuate it in the future.
It doesn’t get hot without a fire, and that fire can burn you to the ground...or help you learn to navigate the heat to create a beautiful glass vessel. Sometimes those things that seem so horrible in your own past become the message of hope, resilience and inspiration for someone else to see light at the end of their own tunnels. Our pain can become proof of our strength and resilience...but we have to face it in order to get there.
It’s a hard question to be hit with - is your past trauma or fears more important than your present family? Do you have a negative confirmation bias, where you predict the future based on the let-downs of the past?
There is no perfect point in life of having it all together. I promise you, for those of you who think you do have it all together...just wait. Something will crash down and humble you. I don’t say that as a doomsday threat; but more as grace to keep on going.
It’s okay to admit you don’t have it together, and even that you need help. Oftentimes where we get stuck is in our own blind spots, and it truly can take some outside support to be able to even see them ourselves. We can be so close to the problem we are incapable of seeing any solution, other than we’re unhappy.
There is help out there. For the inward looking process, it may be a counselor is the first step. Maybe it’s a book that helps you shift your mindset, journaling, or following a certain thought leader. Here are some examples of resources that may help you:
- Here is a great example of Tony Robbins helping a man own his own role in a relationship
- This is Byron Katie’s “The Work” - completely free to go through all the content online, and going through this process was a huge catalyst for healing in my own life
- BetterHelp.com - with all the ease of technology, you’re not stuck with just the therapist closest to your doorstep. BetterHelp matches you based on exactly what you need so you can connect with a counselor that is best suited for you
- Check out some great books, like How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
- Explore Dr. Laura’s “Mind-Blowing Love” course
We all have triggers - are those going to limit us and take us back, or are we going to learn how to navigate those in a way that helps us continue forward in our lives? We get to determine how much of our past will dictate how we create our future.
We Don't Touch
There is a lot in this post. So here are two quick additions beyond learning to talk again. Often times, another stressor is, “we don’t touch.”
It is very hard to remain emotionally distant
when you physically connect on a daily basis.
Now, again, the conversation has to happen first here. When you have cracks, you have to earn the right to touch, and you have to respect when someone may need to work through their own wounds first. The sooner you can, however, the better your relationship will be.
Not everyone is touchy-feely. This isn’t about demanding you have sex every night, or that you have to be touching every time you’re together. First and foremost is simply opening up enough to ask each other, how do you like to be touched?
Maybe it’s a massage, or scratching their head, or when you come up behind them and give them a hug while they are cooking. Maybe it’s holding their hand, or always kissing goodbye. I’ve had some coaching clients practice the 60-second hug, where, once a day, they simply hold each other in a hug for 60 seconds. Non-sexual, simply allowing yourselves to hold each other in love for a full minute. And it can be a game-changer for how they connect the rest of the day.
We Don't Date
Maybe you’re not in the complete dire straits of your relationship right now, but you’re completely in a rut when it comes to doing things together. First off, reframe your idea of dating. What does a date have to be, or look like? For Nathan and me, a “date” simply means focused 1-1 time where we choose to be together and connect. So oftentimes our dates are super easy - putting the kids to bed, and then, Boom! It’s Date-time!
If you can book a client, you can schedule time for a date. If you can coordinate a doctor’s appointment, you can coordinate a date. We make time for what is a priority in our homes. And if the babysitter is the stressor, get creative! As I’m typing this, my daughters have been doing their own thing for the past three hours, from reading books to watching a show to playing with Legos. They really don’t have to have my attention 24/7, and it’s healthy for them NOT to!
You are on the same team. Don’t let the issue become bigger than the relationship.
You are playing on the same team, not opposing sides. Don’t polarize yourself so much that you become isolated – you are in this together!
Quick Tips For Hot Topics:
- Give space for each other to think and process.
- Take the accountability off of each other and put it in writing. Write out your plans and your goals so you can look to that paper for the accountability vs. your spouse looming over your shoulder shaking their finger.
- With Finances – come to an agreement on what is mutually beneficial for the family as whole. Does what you spend ADD to the family, or is it one more thing adding tension/clutter
- Extended family – you have to draw the line – you are not duplicating your family of origin. You are creating a new family entity. You may draw from the past, but not to the detriment of what is. Your family will be different, and that’s okay.
- Give yourselves grace to practice. You aren’t going to get it right all the time. Allow for grace in your growth – as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.
What is your intention with your disagreement? Is it to truly find love in the relationship or get the upper hand?
- Catch yourself when things get heated. Before you point that finger of blame or immediately fly to the defense, take a breath and remember who you are talking to. This is your heart and who you chose to take on this world with.
What are your biggest disagreements? What tip above is most needed in your relationship?
Take the opportunity to really take a look at what is going on in your home. What are you tolerating? What are you ignoring or tiptoeing around? What are you avoiding, hoping it will disappear? What are you afraid of?
Ask yourself these key questions.
- Are we where we want to be?
- Are we truly happy?
- What role can I play to improve this?
I will promise you every single one of you plays a role. This is not ever going to be one person needs to do all of the changing. When we get to a point of separation in our relationship or to a point of conflict in a relationship, it requires both people to step up.
Even if your role is simply acknowledging they're in a hurting place so much that they can't see your relationship right now, you can step up to hold space for them to heal. You can give you the support they need to process it, and also the accountability of why it’s worth it to do the hard work. Your love - and, if you have children, your children - are ready for them to want to try and work toward love and connection.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and you're feeling stressed with this, break it down and make it simple. Start with just one conversation. Recognize it's not going to all be solved in a day.
One conversation isn’t the answer, but simply starting with sharing your heart to the person you love the most in the world is a powerful first step in being open and creating the relationship where the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us. Namaste
Dig Deeper with These Posts and Episodes:
- My Marriage Sucks (Episode 66)
- Has Your Marriage Taken A Back Seat? (Episode 114)
- Will My Marriage Last? Insights From John Gottman (Episode 113)
- What is Home, To You?
- Opposites Attract…And How To Live With Them (Episode 86)
- Does Your Life Have Seasons?
- What Is Your Family Vision?
- Carol Dweck: A Summary of Growth and Fixed Mindsets
- Questions To Ask Your Partner
- What Is Your Goal?
- Tension Points That Cause Couples To Argue
- 7 Seconds to Change Your Communication...and Your Life (Episode 62)
- Mind Blowing Love Course with Dr. Laura