When Your Marriage is on Autopilot


The instant you hit the autopilot button, your marriage is in danger.


A couple of years ago, Karen started accusing me of something. I was walking through our bedroom and Karen looked up at me and said, “you pulled the covers last night and you actually pull them a lot.” She was accusing me of being a cover puller. To me, cover pullers are on the same list as murderers and thieves, so without hesitation I said, “no I’m not, and I am not responsible for what I’m doing when I am unconscious.”

I was put out by Karen’s accusation, but decided to move on and forgive her. Not long after this, we had one of our worst nights of cover pulling wars. Even though I was only half conscious I remember thinking, “Karen has been blaming me for being a cover puller when it’s been her all along.” When I started to confront her about this the next morning, I noticed that there was a pile of covers by my side of the bed. The proof was right there: I was a cover puller.

I’m writing today, not about cover pulling, but about a dynamic in marriage called autopilot. This happens when we get comfortable in a relationship and begin to take our focus off our marriage and place it on other things. The instant you hit the autopilot button, your marriage is in danger. Here are three harmful effects of remaining on autopilot for long periods of time in your marriage:

  • You lose the skills of flying.

You may be surprised to learn that many commercial pilots with thousands of hours of flying experience do not know how to fly very well because they have relied on the autopilot feature for so long. The skills that suffer in our relationships are sensitivity and empathy. Did you notice my first response when Karen brought the cover pulling to my attention? I automatically denied it and said that I could not be held responsible for what I was doing when I was unconscious. Well in marriage, we really should not ever be unconscious. I was not concerned with her experience or how she was sleeping. This worried me, because I knew I had started to go into autopilot in this area of our relationship. I decided to do two things about my cover pulling: to roll toward Karen instead of away from her and to push the covers her way instead of pulling them towards me.


  • You become easily distracted.

When you’re newly married, you’re highly focused on your spouse. There are couples who have been married one year with better relationships than couples who have been married for forty years, simply because they are proactive in making sure their spouses needs are being met. When you have been married for a while, your focus shifts to other things and you can even become defensive or annoyed when your spouse shares their needs. We cannot let the career goals, hobbies, outside friendships, or children distract us from engaging with our spouse.


  • You endanger the lives of those on board.

Think about how you would feel if you were a passenger on the plane and the pilots clicked on the autopilot feature and came out of the cockpit to hang out with you? This is how our children feel when we have gone on autopilot in our marriages. They sense that we are not in control, and we are unknowingly placing them in harm’s way. When we prioritize our marriage, we are actually protecting our children.

I want everyone reading this to turn off autopilot right now. Outside of Jesus Christ, our spouse has to be the number one focus of our lives. The truth about the flight of marriage is that no marriage can fly itself; it requires the input of two engaged human beings.


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