There are plenty of aggressive attacks on marriages today—pride, porn, promiscuity, power, prestige—and quite a bit written on how to address these enemies of marriage. But there’s another threat to your marriage that settles into relationships with such a quiet presence we aren’t even aware of it until the damage is done. Can you guess what it is?
After the initial excitement of the wedding, weeks, months and years into a marriage the subtle attack of complacency can take up residence in a relationship. Things seem to be going well, conflict is at minimum, life is busy with work, kids, schedules and all the other duties of a home. And yet our marriage is often one of the last places we give serious attention until it’s broken and in need of immediate care.
Here are four ways to break out of the grip of complacency and re-focus on your marriage:
1. Stretch instead of Status-quo.
Many marriages become stagnant when they stop growing and learning together. Often couples get into a rut of sticking with the same routines and activities they’ve always done. We’ve learned that some of the greatest discoveries and best opportunities for us have come when we’ve ventured outside of our comfort zones and explored something new.
Several years ago I (Heidi) was looking for a new job and one of my girlfriends suggested that I substitute teach in a local high school. I had never thought of that before, but it sounded interesting so I submitted my application. Within a few weeks I was substitute teaching – and loving it! I continued to substitute teach and enjoyed it for many years. I liked interacting with the students and helping them learn important concepts and skills. If I hadn’t stepped out of my box and tried subbing, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity and blessing from God.
What would you like to do as a couple that would stretch you beyond your comfort and the status-quo? Is there a new activity you would like to try together? Maybe attend a concert or sporting event? What about a camping overnight? Dance or cooking lessons? Leading a small group or Sunday School class? Perhaps the two of you would like to cross country ski, hike, kayak down a river, rent Segways, travel to another country or go on a mission trip. You can even pursue a new hobby like reading, bird-watching, coin collecting, fishing or hunting.
Don’t let your current opinion stop you from trying something new. It can be that same thinking that led you to complacency in the first place. Even if you discover you don’t enjoy something, that’s not all bad. You have attained a greater understanding of your spouse and probably made some memories.
As you stretch yourselves together and pursue similar interests, you’ll be learning not only about a new interest but you’ll also discover more about your mate. Why do they enjoy this activity or interest so much? If they don’t enjoy it, why not? Take that first step away from complacency and stretch yourselves!
2. Compliment instead of complain.
Gravitating toward the negative is common. If someone says nine good things about us and one negative, what do we tend to dwell on? The negative! In the same way, once we start seeing things in our spouse that we don’t like, our mind can start drifting in that direction. After a while, we start complaining about what they don’t do instead of what we appreciate.
Breaking out of complacency means a re-focus of our attention to the good in our spouse. Several years ago I (Brad) began to write Heidi a love note every day. I write them in a journal (red with a heart on it!) so she has them pre-bound for future reference. Each day I would reflect on character traits or things I appreciated about who Heidi is or things she does that are important to me. Over the years it has re-trained my thinking to look for and appreciate her with new awe and wonder. We’ve been married over 35 years and I still find new things about her that thrill me!
Give yourself a 30-day goal of only complimenting your spouse and not complaining—at all. You can do it and it will open your heart to new things or remind you of former things you love about them.
3. Interest instead of ignore.
Remember when you were dating? You and your spouse loved being together and hung on every word the other said. Complacency settles in when we go through life with our spouse, but fail to show much interest in them. We end up passively ignoring the very things that are of interest to them.
For example, sometimes we can hear our spouse talking and even give verbal assent (a grunt or a uh-huh) without really listening. Five minutes later we wouldn’t be able to pass a quiz on what they said!
Instead, the next time your spouse is speaking to you—actively listen to what they are saying. Set down you phone (face down) and give them your full attention. Invite them to tell you more by saying, “What else?” Ask questions of interest like, “What did you think about that?” or “How did you feel when that happened?”
Watch your spouse. Ask God to help you see them with the love and enjoyment He has in them. As you re-engage with them you’ll find freshness sweeping into your heart and marriage.
4. Pray instead of pity.
When marriage becomes complacent and stale, it can be easy to fall into self-pity.
- “EVERYONE ELSE has a better marriage.”
- “Why can’t my spouse be like him/her?”
- “Things will NEVER get better…it’s ALWAYS going to be this way!”
Choosing the “Eeyore mentality” will only drag you into the despair in which the Enemy wants you to wallow. There’s a better way.
Choose to pray for your marriage. Pray for your spouse. Ask God for His protection over the two of you. Be consistent in asking for his blessing on your spouse. Choose to trust Him and to find your strength, joy and hope in His power to make all things new.
As you take the four proactive steps to break out of complacency, you’ll experience greater joy, life, and connection as you build your marriage.