I think a lot of spouses have this question. Whether the relationship is lacking in quantity or quality of sex, communication skills, budgeting, or whatever. Typically there is one spouse that is more “high drive” in that area. They want to push this aspect of the marriage forward. In marriage, both spouses need to work together to get the full benefit of any improvement, however, often the other spouse is either content to leave things where they are, or content to let their partner do all the hard work.
Many times the driving spouse is left to wonder “Why am I, alone, responsible for making our marriage better?” usually the next thought it “It’s not fair!”
It’s not fair!
No, it’s not. I agree. But, we didn’t sign up for fair. We signed up to give our all to our spouse and our marriage. Many of us have heard, or said these vows:
I [insert name] take you [insert spouses’ name] to be my lawfully wedded [husband/wife], to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
This is a very common Roman Catholic wedding vow in North America, and has been adopted by a great many denominations, sometimes with some additions or modifications. My point is…you’re in the “worse”, “poorer” and “sickness” category right now. I don’t know of any vows that say “I vow to give my all….so long as you are doing the same…or else I give up.” (Though this is becoming the common attitude towards marriage I’m afraid.)
Both spouse have made a covenant, between each other, and God, to continue to move the marriage forward and to serve each other, regardless of circumstance. Now, there are four scenarios I see:
- What you are trying to improve doesn’t need improving. This is rare, but it does happen. I’ve seen spouses accuse their partners of flirting with members of the opposite sex, even of having affairs, when none exists. In these cases, they generally need to work on themselves, because this is an issue with their own insecurities. (Note for new readers: Text in purple are my wife’s contributions) Sounds like there is a lot of baggage here that needs to be dealt with in someone’s past. If the spouse that is being accused of flirting or cheating asks, “why don’t you trust me?” often, perhaps you need to ask yourself why don’t you trust them and see if maybe there is something to work on. I’ve also seen couples who have sex every day (or more), and one spouse complains it’s not enough. Again, I think they need to work on themselves, particularly self-control. I don’t see being able to make a case for sexual abandonment here. Why do they feel that once a day isn’t enough? What’s lacking that makes them feel this is where the improvement is needed? Somehow they got confused as to what needs improving.
- You are trying to improve something out of priority. This tends to happen a lot when dealing with sex. You see, sex is an interesting thing. It often works as a barometer for the marriage. It is a great indicator, most of the time, for how the rest of the relationship is going. Unfortunately, people tend to mistake it for being the measure of how the relationship is going. For example: If you are trying to work on improving sex in the marriage, but you haven’t got the basic communication skills, trust, or intimacy in the marriage to discuss your sex life, then you are putting the cart before the horse. Work on communication, trust, intimacy: then you will be able to talk about your marriage and sex life in order to resolve conflicts there. That said…marriage is holistic. For those low-drive spouses out there: try a week of daily sex. You might be surprised at how much your relationship improves outside the bedroom as a result. I have to say a big turning point for Jay and I was when we decided to do the sex challenge from One Extraordinary Marriage a few years ago. There is something to be said about giving of yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone to just give yourself back to your spouse and recommit to your vows.
- Your spouses priorities are not yours. You want to work on sex, they want to work on budgeting. There is no reason you can’t work on both (not simultaneously). What’s that joke? Sex is like math: Add two people, subtract the clothes, divide the legs and multiply. Oh goodness Jay, that’s bad!! I think a lot of our problems were here; I wanted to work on communication and just understanding each other better, he wanted a better sex life. Turns out they went hand in hand. When she understood me better, she understood why I wanted sex more often. When I understood her better, I understood how to make it easier for her to want to engage in sex more often.
- Your spouse doesn’t want to change this aspect of the marriage, or doesn’t want to put in the effort. This happens in all aspects of marriage, and it’s fairly frequent. Perhaps your spouse doesn’t want to improve it. Often this is because they have some personal issues they need to work through, and that can be painful or difficult. Perhaps they are just lazy and don’t want put in the work. And it’s quite possible that they are acting lazy, but it’s masking some internal struggle or pain that they aren’t ready to deal with yet. Pretty sure I looked like the lazy one. I was suffering from depression that I had no idea existed. I was more angry then depressed. Angry about what, I don’t know but it was masking the real struggle I wasn’t dealing with.
In all of these scenarios, you have the opportunity to say “It’s not fair!” And sometimes you might be right, sometimes you might not be. Double check what you are trying to improve. Make sure you aren’t trying to improve things out of priority. Make sure you don’t need to improve yourself first. Have a good conversation with your spouse to figure out what you are both looking for in your marriage, or what you think needs improving. Maybe you can work on a couple of things together. But remember not to fall into the ineffective communication behaviors. Or, it might be that you need to take the lead in one aspect of the marriage until your spouse comes on board. By showing that you are working on yourself and improving your relationship with God you are being a Christ-like model, and that can go a LONG ways in helping your marriage.
What if they never want to improve it?
For, wife, how can you be sure of converting and saving your husband? Husband, how can you be sure of converting and saving your wife? Only, let each one [seek to conduct himself and regulate his affairs so as to] lead the life which the Lord has allotted and imparted to him and to which God has invited and summoned him. This is my order in all the churches.
– 1 Corinthians 7:16-17 [AMP]
This passage is talking about non-believing spouses and how to deal with them, but I think we can extrapolate a principle here: If your spouse is not behaving properly, that does not permit you to do the same. We must all hold true to our beliefs. We must seek to conduct ourselves and regulate our affairs. You are responsible for your own behavior, you can’t just think, “well my spouse is behaving badly, so it’s okay, I can too”. This way our spouse can see, by our actions, how good marriage can be. Even if only one spouse is working on the marriage, the other will get some benefit, and with that small benefit, the hope is that they will come to their senses and work with you, so that you may both enjoy even more benefits. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a hope. And it could take quite a bit of time. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t expect it to be a quick thing for the other to realize you have changed. They have to see that this is the new you, and trust that your new behavior is not just temporary. It will take a lot of prayer and dedication on your part. I don’t know how long Jay kept saying to me, “I feel like I got my fiancee back.”(our engagement was very happy time) after realizing my own sin of sexual refusal. I think it was years before he thought this was me know, I wasn’t going back to the old ways. Actually, I wrote a post about how badly I handled this sexual “awakening”.
There are cases when you cannot just “live your life” by following this kind of plan and hope they come around. If your marriage is suffering from abuse: verbal, emotional, or physical. Seek qualified help. Please.
Have you experienced this in your marriage? How did it turn out? Are you still working on it? Which of the 4 scenarios can you relate to the most?