In the marathon called life, marriage often comes in last. Like our health we often ignore it until the danger signs ramp up to near disaster. “Oh,” we seem to say, ” does our marriage need attention?” Like people on fast food diets we do not attend to the needs of the organism, our bodies, until the organism starts to fail.
I know a man who consistently avoided all signals that his marriage wasn’t working. Recently his wife announced that she ‘was through.’ She wants a divorce. He is shocked. “A divorce?” he asked. “I thought we were happy.” He actually said that.
His first response to this announcement was diagnosis. He wanted to tell his friends all about her faults. He has a list. She spends too much. She’s cold. She’s involved herself in several failed business ventures. She’s on the phone with her mother all the time. She’s …. well you get it.
When he sat down with me with his litany of theories about women, his complaints about family life, his analyses and diagnoses, I told him this: “none of this interests me.” He responded with hurt and then confusion.
“I thought you helped couples,” he said. “I do,” I said. “But I’m not interested in your superior stance and your stonewall approach to this conversation. Whether your wife is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ whether she’s tuned in or not, whether she makes many mistakes or only a few – doesn’t interest me – yet. What interests me is whether you are willing to look at your own loving.”
Loving, not whether you are ‘loved,’ is at the center of a meaningful conversation about the quality of your marriage. I would say the same to his wife. Loving is about moving from victim to proactive partner. Loving is about claiming the love that got you started in the first place. Loving is about showing up and growing up.
Moving your marriage to the top of your ‘to do’ list gives you the opportunity to create a marriage that sings. Here’s how it might sound: “I’m not happy with how I walk around complaining about you. I’m sad that I’m cold and unloving. I don’t seem to be interesting any more and I’m going to change that. For example, regarding your various business ventures, I haven’t shown much interest. Instead I let you fail and then I criticize you for failing. I withdraw my love for you instead of partnering with you. I do not collaborate with you about money or parenting and I show little or no interest in your love and relationship needs with your mother.”
A partner, man or woman, just might hear your intentions differently if spoken with integrity and from the heart. That would be the beginning of an intelligent and loving conversation that would open to making your marriage your art form.
Your marriage deserves it. You need it. Your children were promised it as their birthright.
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