We all know that marriage can be tough. Just look at the stats—half of marriages end in divorce and between half to a third of the remaining marriages are unhappy. But, does getting mad at your spouse and having challenges in your marriage mean that you should give up? Nope, not necessarily.
Researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier than those who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who remarried were no happier than spouses who remained married. And, about half of divorced individuals report wishing that they or their ex spouse had tried harder to work through differences.
But even if you choose to stay married, how do you continue to feel love towards a spouse who disappoints and often frustrates you? There is no easy formula but here are 11 touchstones you can use to ground yourself. Remember…
1. He Still Has Good Qualities: Everybody has good qualities. In couples therapy I see that the same things a couple initially loved about their opposite partner are the same things that they later want to change. Often in dating we idealize our mate and later in marriage we become their toughest critic. Even if our points are accurate, we can lose sight of what makes them special and great, and no one wants to be around someone who only sees their negatives. So, make a list of your partner’s charms and try to at least equally focus on those to keep some perspective. Don’t they make him loveable?
2. He’s the Father of Your Children: You made children from your love and chose to be a family. Research shows that there are negative effects upon children with divorce so this affects more than just the two of you. Does trying to work things out get easier when thinking of building a solid foundation for them? It is a higher purpose for you both to be parents and to model loving communication and respect.
3. You Committed & Chose Each Other Above All Others: You made a commitment to each other for life and at that time you had reasons that you chose your mate above all others. Have those reasons faded? What about your level of commitment? It is easy to commit when things are great. One study found that 73 percent of couples divorced due to a lack of commitment.This was the biggest reason to divorce. Scott Stanley once said, ‘Commitment is making a choice to give up other choices.’ Many couples want to leave when it gets tough. I came across a sports site that explored some aspects of commitment. They say commitment is a solemn promise, a full investment, willingness to sacrifice, a long-term obligation, a pact to persevere and an agreement to act! Take some time to meditate upon those six components and see if they reflect your level of commitment to loving your spouse.
4. You Can Practice Choosing Love Over Lower Emotions: We have automatic reactions and feelings but we can choose to upgrade those automatic emotions and responses, from fear to love.When feelings become a conscious choice,we are responding more out of who we are than reacting to another person. We are being love instead of just feeling it.Frank Pittman once said, “Love is not something people feel, but something people try to express no matter what they feel.” As a therapist, I often hear one spouse say they aren’t romantic and don’t plan a date night because they ‘aren’t feeling it.’ What if they are never just swept away by that passionate emotion again? Commitment is a choice about who you are being in that relationship, instead of being at the effect of it, or feelings. It is a commitment to do loving things to benefit that relationship because you can only do your part to become the change you want to see in the marriage.
5. Learn How to Communicate & Compromise as a Team: It’s easy to love someone who worships you and always supports you and your decisions. It’s harder when a spouse continually disagrees and feel that your freedom is curtailed. Love can go out the window when you feel judged, disrespected or confined. But this is an opportunity to truly love another by compromising and making room for both people’s identity, needs, and desires. There needs to be enough love in the relationship for both of you to be okay. Sometimes love means being willing to be a bit uncomfortable to meet half-way.
6. It’s An Opportunity to Love Yourself + Self-Soothe: When we feel that our spouse is mean to us and doesn’t love us as we deserve to be loved, it’s easy to want to trade him or her in for the newer, more improved model. We imagine someone else will be kinder and will make us happier. We are being called to love ourselves and to self-soothe in order to make ourselves happy in that moment. When we feel loved again, we can more easily and unconditionally love the other. Joseph Barth said, “Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.” So, help yourself.
7. You Promised God to Keep the Faith: If you are spiritual or religious, you may have chosen to get married under God. You may have promised in some fashion to keep the faith and to allow Spirit to guide your marriage. There are many biblical stories and tests of how it is darkest before the dawn. In fact most dark nights of the soul involve long periods of pain, confusion and periods of lack of faith. When the person finished that difficult journey, they regained their faith one hundred fold. Some say faith means the ability to keep believing without proof. Is this something you’re willing to do regarding your marriage and spouse?
8. It’s An Opportunity To Be Bigger Than Your Problems: When we are in a very painful fight or embedded in a problem it feels like it’s everything. We can remind ourselves of the larger context for our marriage, ‘To be a family,’ or ‘To have a soulful, loving union of our highest selves.’ This then puts that issue in that light and can give you positive energy to transform it. It allows you to see your troubled spouse through loving eyes instead of seeing him as a jerk who just wants to hurt you.
9. It’s About What’s Good for the Relationship, Not Whether You’re, ‘Feeling It’: I’ve heard many couples say they no longer feel in love so they should find someone else. The truth is the initial hormones that come with falling in love often decrease and partners form a more compassionate love. At that point, marriage becomes work. You may have to get a babysitter and plan a date night or even schedule sex when you are tired with kids and not ‘in the mood.’ Just like in other areas though, work usually pays off, leading to improved conditions, a feeling of efficacy and increased confidence and better teamwork. Love can become a verb as well as a feeling and love will help your relationship thrive, instead of waiting till it does to take corresponding spontaneous action. As Lori Gordon from pairs.com says, “Love is a feeling, marriage is a contract and a relationship is work.”
10. Love Karma: What Goes Around Comes Around: There will be times when you will say and do something horrible and out of character and you will want your spouse to forgive and love you, yes? Has this already happened? Part of loving is accepting the whole person, including their shadow parts, within reason. Hopefully if you are generous with this, your partner will do the same when you are especially triggered.
11. Learn to Give Things Time to Grow: In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice is “the magic number of greatness.” Here again is the idea is that everything takes time, patience, and practice. To bear this out, researchers found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happy five years later. Are you willing to practice loving your spouse and give your marriage time? Who knows what you will create together…
My intention for this article was to give you tools and faith to keep loving your spouse and working on your marriage, even during those moments when you don’t want to.
I need to put in the caveat that if you are being physically or emotionally abused or are in a very unhealthy situation, it can be best to get a separation and remove yourself and your kids from the situation. I am just talking here about marriages that sometimes feel painful, challenging, and disillusioning. There are times that those relationships can be the right laboratory for optimal inner growth, a more mature relationship and the birth of a more spiritual, unconditional love.
Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman is an award-winning author, relationship expert, a licensed psychologist / life coach, specializing in singles and couples therapy. She is the founder of Paulette Sherman Group, a psychotherapy and relationship coaching practice in Manhattan and the author of Dating From the Inside Out, When Mars Women Date, and five other books on relationships. For more than 20 years, Dr. Sherman changed the lives of thousands of clients, and shared insight with millions more through expert commentary on 77WABC radio and over 30 media outlets including MSN, USA Today, The New York Post, The New York Times, Crains, Newsweek, Lifetime.com, More, Match.com, Fox News, Fox Business, Better Homes & Gardens, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, Glamour, Forbes, Woman’s Day, Every Day Health, Metro newspapers, Men’s Health, True Story, Seventeen, Elle and Complete Woman’ magazines, and The Huffington Post. She’s a regular dating expert on JDate, writes a monthly column for EligibleMagazine.com and pens a column for LittlePinkBook.com.
Dr. Paulette Sherman
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