Five Ways to Revitalize a Plateaued Marriage
D Charles Williams, Ph.D
Licensed Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist
“Those who refuse to change cannot help but change for the worst.”
Marriages in which one or both spouses have stopped trying to make the relationship better are common place. These couples may refer to each other as difficult, disengaged, unwilling to change or set in their ways. Perhaps your spouse has ignored your requests so long that you have resorted to just criticizing him or her regularly out of frustration. Maybe you bicker with each other without ever resolving any of the things you both complain about. Inevitably partners at impasses like this will fall into a state of apathy and co-existence.
Your love life may be infrequent or non-existent. You may become intolerant and impatient with each other’s habits and idiosyncrasies. Your impasses will eventually deteriorate into ignoring one another. You may feel like you are living separate lives. Your marital bliss has become the marital blahs. How long will this state of apathy continue? Eventually one person may separate, have an affair or divorce when the kids leave.
How does a marriage that is plateaued, languishing or on life support become healthy and vibrant again?
There are several catalysts that can shake these relationships from remaining entrenched and get them out of their rut. These may cause a couple to begin the process of repair and revitalization.
The most common catalyst that can turn around a plateaued marriage is a life crisis. A life crisis can bond a couple together as they unite to deal with the problem. It can also tear them apart making the relationship even more unstable. Life crises include job losses, health problems, the death of a family member or problems with your child.
The second catalyst that can change a plateaued marriage is an affair. When one spouse discovers the other is cheating, everything changes from “business as usual” to questioning the future of the marriage. Similar to the life crisis, the marriage will either get better or worse, possibly even ending.
The next catalyst is the ultimatum. In some unsatisfactory marriages, one spouse or the other eventually becomes “sick and tired” of being “sick and tired.” Perhaps they feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, used and abused, mistreated or marginalized. They can’t or won’t take it anymore and levy an ultimatum…….“change or leave.” This is another point at which many couples enter marital counseling.
The fourth catalyst that can change a plateaued marriage occurs when one spouse decides to make personal changes within themselves. They are tired of the status quo and want to be a better person in some specific way. Perhaps they want to get more education, a better job, change unhealthy habits, lose weight or deepen their faith. Maybe they want to quit participating in unhealthy behaviors or change their associations with friends or family members who have had a negative influence on them.
These types of changes will almost always help a marriage unless the other partner resists them. Sometimes, however, even positive changes can be threatening to one’s spouse. We have all seen spouses who have lost weight and become more fit, only to have their partners become critical or disapproving of them. In most healthy relationships, when one person begins changing for the better, their spouse will follow suit.
The final and most effective catalyst for improving a plateaued marriage is making one’s spouse a priority. There is nothing more affirming for a marriage then to put your spouse first. Making them more important than your job, kids, parents, friends, and interests is what makes a marriage grow. This means putting your spouse even before yourself.
The happiest marriages are “mutual admiration societies.” This occurs when both people in a relationship are proud of each other and feel it is a privilege to be with one another. They are one another’s biggest fan. They also protect each other from the discouragements of life and are one another’s greatest ally. These are the marriages that deepen over the years and grow as each individual becomes the best person that they can be together.
Some of these catalysts cause a “point of order” within the relationship so that change is required if the marriage is going to survive. Sometimes the marriage ends because one or both partners won’t do the work needed to improve their relationship. The other catalysts influence us to want to change for the good of the marriage, and in the process we generally become a better person ourselves.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Author: WHAT’S DONE IN THE DARK: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity-A Self Help Guide for Couples (2017)