On a recent episode of The Naked Marriage Podcast, Ashley and I discussed the common-but-tragic marriage dynamic that occurs when one or both spouses seems to lose interest in the marriage. The episode sparked some great discussion online and some messages and emails from spouses in the heartbreaking situation of living in a loveless marriage. Through the feedback of our listeners and online community, we realized that this issue is one that needs additional discussion.
We desire to help couples work through these seasons of struggles, even when the feelings of love and romance seem to have died. One of the most common phrases my wife Ashley and I hear when talking with married couples who are facing struggles, boredom, the aftermath of infidelity or any other type of challenge in marriage is something like, “I just don’t feel the same anymore. I’ve fallen out of love with them. I’m not sure I want to stay married.”
Maybe you’ve had thoughts like this, and perhaps you’ve even said them out loud. Feelings are fickle, so chances are, you’ve had moments when you haven’t “felt” like being married to your spouse. Those moments can become defining moments in your marriage. How you choose to respond when you don’t feel “in love” could have lifelong ramifications for your life and your legacy.
In those moments when you’re feeling frustrated in your marriage, please remember these five truths:
1. Statistically, “unhappy” couples who stay together are likely to be “happy” within five years
I recently read a study of married couples who identified themselves as “unhappy” in the marriage. Many of those couples divorced, but for the ones who stayed together, 2/3 (67%) of them said they were “happy” five years later. The process of working through difficulties together tends to eventually bring a deeper sense of satisfaction and contentment to both spouses. I don’ t share this to encourage you to chase whatever you think will make you “happy,” because that’s a fickle emotion, but EVERY couple has seasons of struggle and those who persevere together tend to become the happiest and healthiest. Sometimes “keep going” is the best marriage advice of all. Your feelings will catch up eventually.
2. Having an affair is NEVER the answer
Our culture has romanticized the idea of having a steamy fling, but this is ALWAYS a bad idea that will create emotional wreckage for everyone involved. It might seem enticing because a whole different set of “feelings” are involved when you’re trying to seduce someone, etc., but those feelings will betray you. If you want to have a lifelong excellent sex life, it won’t be found outside of marriage. For additional resources to help you build sexual intimacy within your marriage and to safeguard your marriage from infidelity, check out our new book and audiobook, The Naked Marriage.
3. Choose what’s valuable in the long run instead of what’s easy in the moment
Walking out on your marriage or having an affair may “feel” enticing but think of it this way…Let’s say you had a bag full of pennies in one hand a bag full of $100 bills in another. The bag full of pennies might “feel” more substantial, but the real question is “Which one is more valuable?” A marriage that endures the seasons of life and provides a richness to the husband and the wife (and their children that far surpasses what either of them could have possessed had they left the marriage.) The easiest choice is seldom the best choice.
4. Remember that lasting love is based on commitments, not feelings
When we base our choices on how we “feel,” we will never experience real love. All through the Bible (which is a remarkably practical marriage manual), God commands us to love. For love to be a commandment, it means that love must also be a choice. After all, you can’t command someone to do something that’s out of their power to do (like commanding them to “feel” a certain way). We tend to think of love is just a feeling, and the fickle nature of it enslaves us. When we “feel” no love, we assume the marriage must be dead, but love is always a commitment. It’s a choice; not a feeling. When we make that choice to love, serve, and encourage our spouse daily, our feelings almost always have a way of catching up.
5. Your spouse needs your love the most in the moments when they “deserve” it least
“Unconditional love” is a redundant phrase, because unless love is unconditional, it isn’t love. Do we only love our children on days they’re “lovable”? Of course not. We love them on their best day and their worst because they’re our kids. Our commitment to a husband or wife should be every bit as strong and sacred. Give your best even when they are at their worst, and eventually, both your hearts will soften toward each other in the process. God gives us love even when we don’t return it, and He calls us to share that same love. If you want your marriage to work, don’t treat your spouse the way your spouse treats you; treat your spouse the way that God treats you.
If you are one of the countless couples who feel the love has died in your marriage, please don’t lose hope. Better days are ahead! We are praying for you, and we encourage you to apply these principles to your marriage and seek help. For tools to help you move forward, please consider getting into Christian marriage counseling, contact our marriage mediators at xomarriage.com/help and/or attending a marriage intensive. God is with you in this. Keep going.