In our work with couples we have seen an alarming trend where one or both persons aren’t “all in” regarding their effort to build their marriage. The end result of not being “all in” is a marriage that is disconnected and dissatisfying at best, and eventually divorced at worst.
Why People Hold Back
While the reasons for withholding from one’s spouse can be complicated, there are some general underlying reasons that we have identified:
Hurts. We all carry wounds from the past, but some of us have been hurt intensely. It may be wounds from before marriage–abuse as a child, or from a parent, or someone in one’s dating history. It could be that there were wounds earlier in the marriage and withholding feels like a way to protect one’s self.
Fear. Sometimes we hold back because of fear of the future. What if we commit to being “all in” and our spouse dies, or leaves, or rejects us one day? Holding back can seem like a safe hedge against an uncertain future.
Guilt. When we have transgressed our marital relationship, broken trust, or hurt our spouse, we can hold back from being “all in.” We don’t feel worthy of our spouse’s love. In fact, investing 100% in the relationship can feel hypocritical now, so we give less effort.
Control. By holding back we retain some level of control in our lives. This closely relates to fear, but it gives us some security by being able to establish how much we are going to invest in our marriage relationships.
Selfishness. We want things our own way and on our terms. To be “all in” means we have to serve, be attentive to our spouse’s needs, and become responsive to them. Frankly, we’ve seen many spouses who simply choose not to contribute what their mate needs because they don’t WANT to.
What People Hold Back
Praise. By withholding praise and encouragement, we are refusing to give our mate the nutrients they need for health personally and maritally. Some spouses withhold praise because they think it is their job to keep their spouse from becoming conceited. Verbal and written appreciation provided over time draws our spouse TO us. They desire to be around us more and over time, the tone you set by initiating praise will be reciprocated in a variety of loving ways.
Sex. We’ve known spouses who have withheld sexual intimacy for years. Sometimes it’s to punish one’s mate. Or a spouse refuses to participate because they don’t feel like it. You can look at any of the reasons listed above and realize that it could be one or several different reasons for withholding sex from one’s spouse.
Affection. A touch. Reaching out and holding a hand. A hug or arm around the waist. A gentle kiss on the lips or face. Affection is critical for a marriage, and yet spouses hold back, often because they are afraid it will lead to sex or draw their spouse closer relationally than they want. In other words, keeping affection from our spouse enables us to keep the relationship at arm’s length.
Time. Many spouses stay busy so that they don’t have to be with their mate. They fill time with friends, work, kids activities, serving at church–all as an escape from building their marriage.
When People Give Back
When we make the decision to be “all in” in our marriage, the potential benefits FAR outweigh the perceived gains by holding back. Here are a few of the wins:
Integrity. Knowing that you are truly investing into the marriage as you should—doing the right things—provides peace of mind and conscience.
Satisfaction. When you are “all in,” your heart will follow your actions. You begin to see your spouse with greater honor and value. You appreciate the marriage at deeper levels than before.
Reciprocity. As you draw near to your spouse and invest in them, they will draw near to you. Your connection grows stronger and you become a united front against all that seeks to divide you.
Freedom. You no longer try to figure out who has given more. You no longer try to predetermine your spouse’s response. You simply do what is right and trust the results to God.
Blessing. By investing into your marriage fully, you position yourself to receive God’s blessing on your life. You will draw closer to Him and your faith will increase exponentially!
What do you think? Have you struggled with being “all in?” How have you benefited by giving your all?