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Dr. David Hawkins
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What to do When Your Marriage Grows Stale

Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor Just like the body needs oxygen to survive, marriages cannot live without encouragement. Encouragement is the life-blood of the healthy marriage.

Think about it. Many of us are guilty of putting on a wonderful show for our prospective mate. During courtship we wine and dine our dates, dance into the wee hours of the night and exclaim their virtues—at least until the marriage deal is sealed. And then we lapse into mediocrity, believing the marriage can continue to flourish on leftover words of interest and encouragement offered during dating.

And we wonder what happened to the spark, the zing of romance? The problem is we’ve left the grandstands of celebration for the trenches of everyday life.

Relationships cannot live without new infusions of excitement. We cannot survive without daily encouragement and delight. We never lose the need to be encouraged and championed by our mate.

Consider our plight -- being caught up in what has been called “the tyranny of the urgent,” we expend our energies on work, getting kids to soccer practice and dentist appointments, or perhaps sprucing up our homes so they are the nicest on the block. We climb our way up the corporate ladder. None of these activities, of course, are bad. But, when they become our sole focus to the exclusion of championing our mates, our marriages suffer.

I clearly remember a phone call from Debbie. She inquired about an appointment for herself and her husband, Kerry. During our brief conversation, she said they needed something to bring back the spark in their marriage. Several days later they came in for their appointment.

Kerry was a tall, well-built man with a graying goatee. My initial impression was that he might be loud and forceful, so I was surprised by his soft voice and passive manner.

Debbie was a petite woman with long, blond hair. She wore jeans, tennis shoes and a sweater. She appeared tense and tenuous.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries, I got things rolling.

“Debbie, when we talked on the phone the other day, you mentioned that you and Kerry need something to put a spark back in your marriage. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your relationship?”

“Well, I don’t think anything is really wrong with us, at least nothing major. But, we don’t talk much. I think we’re the classic couple that has grown so comfortable together that we don’t really know each other anymore. I’ve noticed we’ve been doing more criticizing lately. I can’t speak for Kerry, but I am getting discouraged about how things are going.”

“How about it, Kerry?” I asked.

Kerry stroked his goatee. “Well,” he said slowly, “I don’t think it’s all that bad. We’ve been married fourteen years and have two great kids. I work hard and enjoy the chance to play golf. Debbie works and likes to attend outings with her friends. I guess I didn’t know things were so bad.”

“So, things are okay as far as you’re concerned?” I asked.

“From my perspective…yes. But, Debbie says she’s not happy, and I’m having trouble understanding what she has to complain about. I’m definitely not like the guys I work with who spend every night at the cocktail lounge.”

Debbie became noticeably more agitated.

“See what I mean,” she said, looking at me. “This isn’t new news. I’ve been asking him to go to counseling for months. Our marriage is dying a slow death. Kerry doesn’t tell me or show me that he cares about me. He doesn’t ask about my day. And to tell the truth, I’ve quit asking about his day. He does his thing and I do mine. We haven’t spent a weekend away alone in years. I don’t want our marriage to end up like our friends’. Things have to improve.”

Over the next several weeks we explored Debbie and Kerry’s marriage. Together we outlined some of their patterns of living in the trenches, instead of the grandstands. We discovered these “trench-like” habits:

• They talk sharply to each other;
• They take one another for granted;
• They make demands instead of requests;
• They rarely offer praise and encouragement;
• They fail to get excited about each other ideas and dreams;
• They spend little time simply conversing;
• They forget to encourage the other when they’re feeling down.

Fortunately, Debbie and Kerry caught their problem early enough, and were willing to change. They made a deliberate decision to clear out some of the “urgents” that came between them and replaced them with positive activities and encouragement. Specifically, I gave them the following instruction:

• Notice and encourage the things about your mate you appreciate. Make it a point to see the small things they do every day that are worthy of praise;
• Listen carefully and encourage your mate to talk about the hidden hurts and fears in their life;
• Refuse to carry grudges. Insist on small issues remaining small, not allowing them to contaminate your daily relationship;
• Check in with one another every day. Spend ten minutes sharing what you feel, think and want with one another;
• Create adventure in your marriage. Travel, dream, read out loud, delight in life together;
• Experiment with different activities you have never done before. Take some chances. Be surprised.
• Listen carefully for areas of concern with your mate which need encouragement.

Finally, I encouraged Debbie and Kerry to memorize and apply Psalm 139: 14-15. Let this passage come to mind when you interact with your mate.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.”

How are you doing in your marriage? Are you spending too much time in the trenches? There is no excuse for a marriage turning stale. God has created a wonder-full universe for our exploration—a universe of ideas and possibilities inside our creative minds, and outside in His wonder-full creation. Share it and explore it with each other.

Grab your mate's hand and get out of the trenches and into the cheering grandstands. You’ll love the difference. Send along your comments and ideas about adding excitement to your relationship.

About the author: He is known as The Relationship Doctor. With more than 30 years of counseling experience, David Hawkins, Ph.D., has a special interest in helping individuals and couples strengthen their relationships. Dr. Hawkins’ books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You and When Trying to Change Him Is Hurting You, have more than 300,000 copies in print

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