Leslie Mann, female lead of This is 40, the Judd Apatow comedy about a couple whose marriage has drifted and is now nearing an emotional cliff, has this to say about turning 40 in real life:
“My girlfriends and I talk about turning 40 and at some of the dinners everybody’s crying and everybody hates their husbands, and everybody wants to run away to a foreign country and just escape. And then sometimes we get together and everybody’s happy. I don’t know if that ends or gets worse.”
It seems to happen often enough. One day you are out with friends for dinner or take a vacation together. They look happy enough. And now, suddenly, you hear that they are splitting.
No one plans on having their marriage disintegrate. Standing under the chuppah canopy, each couple promises that they will be different. Too many husbands and wives before them did not make it to their fifth or tenth anniversary. Way too many children have grown up in single family or blended homes because their parents could not live together in peace. And so we vow that we will not make the same mistakes.
But often, we do.
We can break the cycle of negativity and strengthen our marriages.
If we could only go back in time and put our fingers on some of the early symptoms, perhaps we could prevent some marriages from falling apart. Many times we wake up when it is too late to turn back the clock. Words were spoken that shot daggers into the heart. Actions were taken that left imprints on the soul. Or an insurmountable distance has been created between husband and wife. The gap that remains is wider than the love that is felt. A bridge of understanding would unite and bring comfort but all that is left is a deep and gaping hole. Sadly, the couple falls off the marriage cliff.
After meeting with countless couples through the years, I have found that there are unhealthy patterns we fall into as husband and wife. If we open our eyes to these patterns, we could break the cycle of negativity and strengthen our marriages.
The FADE Pattern
One of the greatest dangers to lasting love is living life on autopilot. We begin to take each other and our relationship for granted. We perpetuate the behaviors that we know, deep inside, are hurting us. We have a nagging sense that this is not good but we let it slide because we can’t begin to imagine how bad this really is. It is only with time that we wake up one day and realize that we are not in a good place. We are not joyous, we feel lonely and we do not recognize ourselves or our spouse.
These behaviors can continue for years, chipping away at the sacred bond of marriage. But because it happens slowly we do not understand how harmful our negative patterns really can be. Imagine living with emotional carbon monoxide that is seeping in to the very air that we breathe. Our marriage begins to fade away right before us; yet we go on, clueless as to what is happening in front of our own eyes.
There are four common missteps couples make that contributing to the slow weakening of their marriage. Recognizing them and making a conscious decision to reverse them will strengthen a marriage.
F – Fighting about the same issue over and over again
There are some couples who find that they keep on arguing about the same thing all the time. Instead of resolution, this couple just keeps putting the subject on hold until the next time. For some its money matters, for others it’s how childcare and household responsibilities are shared and yet others are always arguing about in-laws.
It doesn’t really matter. As long as you cannot find peace this issue will be casting a shadow and coming back to stir up trouble. After a while, the argument feels tired and old. After all, how many years can you argue about the same thing?
If you find yourself in this fighting pattern, recognize that you need to discover resolution and put the matter to rest. You can either: talk together in a calm moment and seek a compromise, ask a professional third party for help (never confide in family members or friends and request that they take sides) or decide that the time has come to grow up, let it go, and find real resolution. By continuously fighting about the same subject you should realize that there is a negative undercurrent in the relationship that is tearing the two of you further apart after each disagreement.
A – Always bickering
This pattern brings us to a couple who cannot get through the day without constant little squabbles. It does not have to be about anything important; it does not even need to be about anything at all. But somehow, almost every interaction leads to tension. A drive in the car, going to a PTA meeting, reading a story to a child, pouring a cup of coffee-as soon as you make a move, the bickering begins.
The danger here is that you do not enjoy each other’s company anymore. You know that being together leads to tension and hurt feelings. Somehow, you have lost the feeling of pleasure and instead you have fallen into behavior that causes you both to swat at each other emotionally.
It is time to start giving positive words and complements again to your spouse. When was the last time you expressed admiration or gratitude to each other? Do not wait for your spouse to begin; you take the lead and decide to break this sour pattern. Try not to initiate the bickering and do not fall into a constant game of negative Ping-Pong. You can decide to change the tone in your home and in your life.
D – Distancing yourself physically
The Torah gives us many beautiful laws of family purity because physical touch is such a major part of married life. It is not enough to be there for each other with kind words, though of course, words help build a relationship. But at the same time, we should recognize that all human beings need a physical bond with their spouse in order to feel loved and cherished. Often, with years or with the pressure of running a household and keeping the hours of long workdays, we are understandably stressed and tired. Our physical relationship suffers. We even forget to give each other a hug or a warm smile. We don’t remember to make time for the one who has always loved us most-our partner in life; our spouse.
Remember to set aside time for your husband or your wife. A lack of physical intimacy is a negative pattern that can easily lead a marriage to chill and finally cool off.
E – Emotional detachment
When your spouse expresses discomfort, sadness, or pain, what do you feel?
If you are annoyed, freeze up inside, or don’t really care, then you are reaching the point of emotional disengagement. It is important for us to feel for each other even if we do not always agree or understand each other. When we lose the sensitivity that we once had for our loved one, we begin to travel a different road. Somehow, we end up at different destinations. We can live in the same home but feel lonely. We can raise the same children but walk in different worlds. We do not feel connected and with time, we lose our way.
Let’s try to see things from our spouse’s point of view. Next time your husband or wife expresses emotion, try to put yourself in their place without judging or turning yourself off. Offer an encouraging word or reflect understanding.
If we could take even one of these warning signs to heart, we could break the negative pattern that brings too many marriages to fade away.