One of the toughest things in a marriage is when one spouse wants to work on the relationship but the other doesn’t think there is a problem, or worse, doesn’t care.
(Also recommended from Noah Filipiak: How to Love Your Spouse When They Don’t Love You Back)
The spouse who wants to work on the relationship can only push so far before they get tuned out altogether or they make their spouse angry.
I knew a couple where the wife was trying to communicate to the husband that there were problems in their marriage and she wanted to go to counseling together. He was too busy to make her requests a priority and assumed it wasn’t a big deal. Eventually she couldn’t take it anymore and separated from him. At this, he realized the seriousness of things, was broken and humbled, and committed to do anything to make the marriage work. The problem was, it was too late. She had been empty for too long and her heart had dried up and moved on from him. She no longer wanted the counseling she once did and filed for divorce. It turned out she had also had an affair during the long drawn out process of her needs being ignored by her husband.
My question today is, how do you avoid this happening to you? You might be in the shoes of the dried up wife or of the busy, minimizing husband.
The most important thing to internalize is that you are not entitled to anything from your spouse. Entitlement is the biggest enemy of your marriage (Read more here).
The response to entitlement is appreciation of God’s mercy; your spouse being one of those mercies (Read more here).
If you don’t get those two things, nothing else you try in your marriage will matter.
The question then remains, what do you actually do on a day to day basis to improve your marriage without becoming the nag?
- Recognize you’ve already tried talking about the issue and have been ignored so bringing it up in the same context isn’t going to help. Your first temptation may be to do so louder or with a drastic ultimatum. Don’t do either. The issue might be something your spouse never changes in. You have to realize that potential reality and not feel entitled to them changing. Allow the void left by this unresolved issue to draw you closer to Jesus. Do not let it become an idol in your life.
- If your spouse has refused to want to work on the marriage, show him/her that you are trying to work on it. Read books like Sheet Music or Fit To Be Tied in the presence of your spouse. This is a gracious and subtle hint without being a nag. Pray that this sparks your spouse’s interest to engage in conversation about what you’re reading and inspires them to want to read along, or at least read a chapter or section. (Use these books as tools to help you become a better spouse, not as research to make you feel more entitled to your spouse changing for you)
- If your spouse refuses to go to counseling, go by yourself. This will help strengthen you personally and will possibly inspire your spouse to match your proactive efforts.
- Pray for your spouse.
- Love your spouse even if it feels like they don’t deserve it. Do tangible things to express this love and persevere with it.
If you are the busy, minimizing spouse, it’s doubtful you are reading this blog post at all because you don’t think there is a problem! If you have managed to stumble upon this article somehow (maybe your dried up spouse left it open on your computer as a gracious, subtle hint!), here is what you need to do:
- Utilize this rule: Whoever is hurt is the one who is right. Stop focusing on who is right and wrong and focus on the fact that your spouse is hurt. This is your spouse, not your sibling.
- A person unwilling to go to counseling is a stubborn, prideful person. Marital counseling is not solely for people on the brink of divorce. It is for any married couple who cares about their marriage being healthy (Jen and I have gone together several times and go individually regularly). You may not need invasive surgery, but you should still check in with your doctor or dentist periodically to get checked up on. Remove the stigma you have about counseling and go. All a counselor really is is an anonymous friend who can help you grow more mature as a person and as a follower of Jesus.
- Don’t wait until it’s too late. Realize that your spouse is the most effective tool for discipleship that God has placed in your life. The act of swallowing your pride, humbling yourself, and seeking counsel (that you don’t even think you need) will only draw you closer to Jesus. Ignoring this will not only fester into a possible divorce, but will callous your heart to a great opportunity God has to grow and mature you.
IN THE COMMENT SECTION…What other advice can you give to the dried-up spouses who find themselves with a minimizing-spouse not interested in working on their marriage?