Troubled marriages: I normally would not openly advertise our marriage is having a problem, but it is right now. My hope is that I learn and help others at the same time.
My struggle is figuring out how to express appreciation to my wife. We have the Love Language book and many others that help, but they only help if you continuously put the principles in practice. So having and even reading books and workbooks are only as good as what you two actually consistently put into practice. A church sermon, bible series, and small group curriculum are also only as powerful an influence in your marriage as you two allow them to be.
To start, we have always been too busy of a family and every day is full of Tatana getting pulled by four kids and managing their education, entertainment, health, and preventing fights. At night, with scouts and church, I am pulled away almost immediately when I get home from work. Sometimes we have food ready, sometimes we are eating or grabbing some bread and meat on the way out of the door.
She feels so overwhelmed and exhausted and there seems to be no break.
I am certain this is not only our struggle, but many of you out there are probably also struggling with the same thing. One, or both, are just drained and have nothing left at the end of the day. Yet you must still clean, cook, get the kids ready for bed, and then get ready to do it all over again the next day. What is worse, many couples also have classes, second jobs, and other responsibilities that are on their plate.
In our lives, we have needs for recharging, for calming ourselves down, taking a break and getting some rest. As a married couple there is often pressure to fight for air and time away. There is the struggle for, “I just need some time,” which sadly appears as selfish because there is still more to be done. When children are involved there is even more pressure on the couple because someone “has to stay home with the kids” if either of them are to get away.
So, to bring it back to the personal, I get up early and go to work and come home. That’s about it. On Monday’s we have a Cub Scout event once a month, the rest of the month I try to do a movie night or something with games as a family. Tuesday is taken up with Boy Scouts that starts at 7pm, so there are about 2 hours from the time I get home to clean, eat, and get ready for the meeting. Wednesday is church night and that seems to be doing ok by all signs, the only pressure we have on Wednesday is getting to church early enough for the student leaders to get there in time for prayer at 6:30pm. Thursday is Cub Scouts (which thankfully is ending in a few months). Friday is the only night we get a “break” and try to keep free from requirements. It is however, the night when I leave, if I am going on a scouting event (camping or such). I have not been able to go to many of these lately due to my requirements at church on Sunday. Saturday is often taken with a scouting event, school event, cleaning the house and we end the day with our Life Group (small group). Sunday, we are working in the Stafford area at a campus church that is a start up from the church we have been attending for the last 4 years (plus). We help out in any and all areas or setup and teaching and pack up. This works out well except for right now I do not have enough of support in hospitality so I have been there nearly every Sunday now without the ability to take a day off.
So that is the current snapshot of my week, the turns into month after month. We have cut back in some areas, thankfully, but there is still a tremendous amount of time that we are not spending it together as a couple. I come back from meetings exhausted. Look at it like this, Tatana stays at home all day, I get home as another mouth to feed and attitude to deal with just to have me leave her again alone with three of the four while I get a break going to scouts (her viewpoint). My wife’s week is a never ending cycle of waking up, corralling the children, teaching, feeding, inserting various shopping trips, doctor visits, etc. and ends with her passing out knowing the next day it will be a repeat of the same cycle.
So what does this do to us? Well let’s see.
For one, we develop a habit of survival, and not just survival, but independent survival that alienates the other spouse. She needs time to herself, she needs a break, so she has to take it since the schedule that you see above does not really provide the flexibility. I also develop a habit of survival and that means that I also love getting out of the house and staying out as long as I can. It has not made me stay late at work, or take the long way home, but I can see that on the horizon if I do not watch for it. These are the seeds of discontent, the seeds of selfish dreams and desires that ultimately isolate and drive married couples apart and even into someone else’s arms.
The second thing this environment creates is the stressful attitudes and unspoken expectations of “this is your job” or “you did not tell me I had to do this”. With all of the running back and forth, things are not completed or are completed haphazardly and without care. Or, like Tatana does, you stay up (or wake up) at 2am and clean and scrub what has been missed and do laundry. So this then simply appears to be a me versus you relationship and we start to assign jobs or ignore jobs for that matter that we feel are not ours. On and on this goes just driving another wedge in between the couple.
A third thing this does is wear ourselves out so that there is no energy left. I will say this, we make time and save energy for what we feel is most important. In my mind that would be me. Tatana should put aside the laundry and put aside the needs of the house and spend it with me. See how selfish that sounds. But what is it? It is my love language crying out for attention, for my wife to legitimately sit with me and spend time with just me, give me some of that time. She lays down asleep, and I know she is going to wake up to do work, but I too am exhausted and I do a few things and I too just collapse. This is putting a wedge in our marriage.
What does that wedge look like?
It is a wedge of unfulfilled hope and a desire to meet each other needs. You may not believe this but your spouse, more often than not, really does want to please you, wants to meet your needs as you have expressed them. And when you struggle to make your spouse happy, you feel like you are failing your spouse. You feel that nothing you do is working and then you being to resent the work that you ARE doing for that person or to keep the house or family together. So it makes us scale back and just do whatever it is we feel we can do. Some it is cleaning, we know we can do that. For others it is working more hours to make more money and to feel accomplished. We begin to look outside of the marriage for appreciation and comfort. The wedge blocks all open and transparent communication as well. You begin to close your mouth because you are tired of the arguments and just “suck it up”. There is no way healing can take place when you are not even open enough to discuss your hurts.
I have a few suggestions and they are very simple and you have heard them all before. Do the simple little things that you did before you were married. Leave a love note somewhere for your spouse to find. Send some flowers or bring some home with you if your spouse likes flowers. Find out what their love language is and speak to them in that language. Love languages can change in focus depending on what is going on in their environment, so you have to occasionally revisit the Five Love Language materials. Even without that material, it is never a bad thing to start with an apology and acknowledge your distance and affirm your desire to get closer. Date your spouse all over again. It is true, you WILL make time for what you think is important. Carve out at least an hour each night to talk and share with each other what happened during the day, without children. Maybe it is while the kids are eating a meal or maybe it is on a short walk outside after dinner to the corner and back. Just do something together that is for you two only. Show that they are important by giving of yourself and of your time for them.
These are only a few quick suggestions to jump start the repair. It took you months to build this wall or wedge between you, it will not necessarily crumble by a few simple steps like Jericho. Commit yourself to love your spouse, even if they are not responding right now. You love them with the love of Christ and show your commitment and your change, even if they are not returning with the same intensity as you think they should be. It will come in time. Pray together and pray for each other. Remember, you are setting an example to your children and other people who are watching you walk through this. People know you are struggling, and they also know you profess Christ, so what a better testimony then living out His love to each other as people are watching.
As always, my wife and I are here to talk with you. Find us on Facebook Matthew Todd and Tatana Todd or just leave a comment. My desire is that your marriage is successful and is growing. We should be thriving in Christ, not just surviving. You can begin again today.