This post, however, is an exception. Please find it in your heart to forgive me. It’s preachy. I’m not sure precisely why. It just is.
When I started writing it, I did not intend for it to be preachy at all. Then the words flowed out of my fingertips. Soon I’d finished the post and I thought, “Dang, that’s preachy.”
I thought about going back and trying to soften the thing, but then I thought that maybe this is the post that I was supposed to write today. You can let me know if you agree. And, now, here comes the preachy part.
My Preachy Take on Why Marriages Go Bad
Often, when a marriage is bad, both partners start to compete for the Let’s See Who Can Be Nastier to the Other Award. One partner might decide not to put his empty beer bottle in the recycling—where his spouse has repeatedly asked him to put it. He’ll just leave it on the floor because, “she’ll just find something else to complain about anyway.” She decides she’s not going to even think about getting in the mood for sex because, “the house is a mess and he’s not doing anything to help.” This type of a situation can spiral into a regular appearance of the hairy eyeball, lots of loud “I can’t believe I’m married to you” sighs, dirty looks, and frowns. At its worst, any notion of eye contact or a kind gesture-–a smile, a hug, a stroke on the arm, a compliment—is gone. All that is left are two people who occupy the same space and who are doing everything they can to make the other person’s life as miserable as possible.
I know because I’ve been there. I didn’t pull the above examples from the ethers. I lived them.
When you are mired in this type of a cycle, it’s difficult to move your marriage to a better place. You’re both stuck in a protective mode that prevents you from embracing change. Let’s say your partner makes a very reasonable request. Perhaps she would like you to help her put clean sheets on the bed. You resist that change, though, because resisting is part of the game of what has become your bad marriage. Rather than giving love, your marriage has become a game of withholding love instead.
To move the marriage to a better place, the first step is often the hardest. You must allow yourself to become vulnerable again. You have to allow yourself to feel. You have to allow yourself to love that good-for-nothing-excuse-for-a-spouse—that very person you married because—at one time in your life—you loved very deeply.
This isn’t easy to do, because the protective part of your being is going to give you all sorts of very valid-sounding excuses for not doing this. Most of them will start with the phrase, “If I do that, then he/she will…” Others might go more like this, “He/she doesn’t deserve…”
You need to ignore those excuses—because they are not going to get you to a better marriage. If anything, they will only work against you. In place of them, you need to continually tell yourself this:
Someone has to be the big person here. That someone is me.
Sure, it’s not fair. Sure, you deserve better. Sure, it’d be nice if your spouse got hit by lightening and suddenly became the big person instead.
But complaining about how it’s not fair and how you wish things were different hasn’t gotten you anywhere, has it? If someone is going to be big—if someone is going to get you out of this place—it’s going to have to be you.
So Here is My Challenge to You
During the next week, embark on a Big Spouse experiment. By that, I mean this: for the next 7 days, you’ve agreed to be the big person (aka The Big Spouse) in your marriage. You will be the one who hugs your spouse for no reason other than the fact that your spouse needs a hug. You will be the person who compliments your spouse for looking good in whatever shirt he or she is wearing. You will rave about your spouse’s cooking or yard work efforts. You will do little favors—perhaps joining up all of your spouse’s socks or replacing your spouse’s conditioner that is almost empty.
You will stop withholding your love. Whenever you feel that tense feeling—the one that comes when you are trying to protect yourself from pain and hurt—you will overcome it and you will reach down into a reservoir of compassion. Instead of withholding love, you will give it freely.
You will do this because you can. You will do this because there truly is no other option. You will do this because the alternative—protecting yourself and withholding your love—has not been working, so you might as well try Alisa’s crazy idea instead.
And, heck, I’m only asking you to do it for 7 days. After 7 days, if your spouse is still a Good-for-Nothing-Excuse-For-A-Spouse who does not deserve an ounce of your love, you can revert to your previous tactics and you can come back to this blog and leave a comment that says I don’t know a hopping thing about how to save a marriage.
But, I’m guessing that you won’t. I’m guessing that your small acts of love will thaw the ice that has formed around your marriage. And once you make the first move, your spouse might start making other moves, too. And slowly, one compassionate gesture at a time, you will move back to a more loving marriage.
Let me know if you are up for the challenge, and please let me know how it goes.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.