By Nathan Cobb, Ph.D.
One question I am asked is, "Can our marriage be saved?"
My answer: most marriages can be saved if both spouses in the marriage want to save it and are willing to invest the work, effort and time it takes to nurture it.
When marriage gets difficult, dull and disagreeable, some people give up too easily or too quickly, assuming that “if my marriage is this hard, I must not be married to the right person.”
Most people understand, at least on an intellectual level, that successful marriages are never as easy and effortless as the initial courtship was, but I also think that people are caught off guard by just how much energy and effort it takes to sustain a stable and satisfying marriage.
It is important to accept the truism that successful marriages are built with conscious effort and work, and that much of married life can be dull, routine and unexciting. It is precisely because of this fact that couples need to make the time to nurture their love and friendship on a continual and daily basis in order to foster all that is special and satisfying about married love and companionship.
You will be much more likely to remain in love and connected to each other when you make time to be alone together on a regular basis. It is important to keep talking about personal things, and to make your relationship a priority the way you did during your courtship.
Habits such as keeping laughter alive, having fun together, touching each other tenderly and acknowledging the good in each other are all part of the regular commitment of time and energy that love and friendship requires.
One statement I often hear from people that I see in my practice is, “I love my spouse, but I am not in love anymore.” Many people believe that once they have fallen out of love they cannot fall back in love anymore with the same person.
It is essential to realize, however, that married couples do sometimes fall out of love, and that couples who fall out of love can also fall back in love with each other again.
You may know couples who have been married thirty, fourty, even fifty years. Some of these couples have strong, vibrant marriages. When you watch them, you can see clearly that they love and adore each other. They seem to have led a charmed life together.
Know, however, that quite a few of these couples, still in love in their twilight years, struggled to like each other at different points in their marriage, and had to learn to fall in love with each other all over again, maybe more than once.
Research shows that couples who are committed to their partners and who are willing to work on their marriage can significantly improve their feelings of satisfaction with their relationship over time.
In one study, two-thirds of married couples reported improved marital satisfaction over time, even though these same couples had reported feeling unhappy in their marriage years earlier. These were couples who were committed to their relationship and were willing to work on it.
Marriage can be hard. To have a successful marriage requires that we have self-discipline, humility, and a willingness to grow and change.
It is common to hear of people talking about the benefits of a new and exciting relationship, how it makes them feel alive and meets their needs, but it is essential to know that deep and abiding relationships require something from us in order to keep them deep and abiding over the long run. They don’t “just happen” naturally.
I often hear this sort of statement in my work with couples. “I feel I have to give up too much of myself for this marriage. It isn’t worth it.” Many times spouses are reluctant to engage in the work of marriage because they fear it means having to change their personality, preferences or identity.
My response to this concern is to suggest that the type of changes that marriage requires of us are not necessarily changes in our personality or preferences, but rather they are changes that involve personal growth. If both of you are willing to grow together, and to stretch yourselves beyond what is comfortable and “easy” then it is likely that you can both save your marriage and keep it strong throughout the years.
I hope that what I have said here has given you some hope. Hope is strength. Hold on to hope when you are feeling discouraged. Few things are as discouraging and disheartening as being in an unhappy marriage. But take heart that things can improve if you are willing to work at it.
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