We love watching marriages thrive, but sometimes all marriages struggle. These struggles may be readily apparent, but sometimes the struggles are more subtle and come as the result of the something we refer to as passivity in marriage. Passivity is “acceptance of what happens, without active response or resistance.”
In marriage this happens when couples accept that the marriage they have is as good as it is going to get and stop trying to make it better. Passivity can silently erode a marriage, because it lulls a couple into a false sense of marriage stability while causing us to fail to recognize the threat of growing instability.
As small group facilitators in re|engage, a marriage enrichment ministry at ALIVE, Carol and I have seen how passivity leaves couples unprepared for the hardships that they will inevitably face in marriage. As you take a few minutes to evaluate the condition of your marriage, consider these eight marriage warning signs.
- You speak but don’t communicate. If not intentional, communication can become superficial. Failure to share the stuff that is going on inside your mind and heart creates disconnection in marriage. Reflect on when you were dating, when you could spend hours talking about anything. You wanted to know everything about the other person. Contrast that with your communication today. Being able to communicate meaningfully is a key to understanding your spouse, and what’s going on in their head and heart. It’s crucial to a successful marriage.
- You disagree about whether to have kids, or how to raise and discipline them. Parenting is hard enough when both people are “on board” and share the same goals and aspirations for raising kids. When there is not agreement on either of these matters, then the door is open for conflict and resentment to creep in. Effectively communicating your expectations with each other is a great place to start gaining ground if this is an area of conflict in your marriage.
- You’re spending less time together. Marriages that thrive have one thing in common; both spouses want to spend their free time with one another. This doesn’t mean being attached at the hip 24/7. It does mean creating intentional time together without distractions – and making this a priority. When one spouse, or both spouses, look for opportunities to do more things on their own, that is a sign the marriage is in trouble. Having fun together can deepen the emotional connection between spouses.
- You’re not putting in the work to improve your marriage. As stated earlier, passivity is a silent marriage killer. It is caused by an acceptance of the current state of the marriage and a failure to take action to improve it. Improving your marriage is like buying an ‘insurance policy’ for future trouble (that you know will come). Perhaps you’ve heard people say, “marriage is hard work.” What they really mean is both spouses need to put forth an equal effort (work) to make the relationship a success. One person can’t go it alone. If you lack the motivation to work on your marriage and address your relationship issues, then take some time to figure out ‘why’. If you feel like you’ve lost motivation, it doesn’t mean you can’t get it back.
- You lack respect for each other. This is a warning sign that your marriage may be headed towards failure. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been married three months or thirty years. If one spouse, or both spouses, constantly puts down their partner, or constantly criticizes one another, they’ll find it extremely difficult to like each other, let alone love each other. Lack of respect leads to resentment and contempt. These attitudes are marriage killers. Overcoming a lack of respect starts with a heart change. The good news is Jesus is still in the ‘heart change’ business.
- Your partner has been unfaithful. Many couples recover from marital infidelity – whether financial, emotional, or sexual. Post-recovery, some marriages may even become stronger after one partner has been unfaithful. A betrayal of these types destroys trust in a relationship, which is essential for a healthy, thriving marriage. Professional help may be required to deal with this situation - for both spouses. Occasionally we are asked; “how can a marriage survive the crisis of betrayal?” We are reminded that God’s grace, and Jesus’ blood, extends to all our sins when we ask for forgiveness. Yes, considering what God has done for us, it is possible for a betrayed spouse to forgive and an unfaithful spouse to receive a ‘heart transplant’ through salvation.
- You’re no longer intimate. Over time your desire in marriage for physical intimacy may lessen; however, a total lack of intimacy is a marriage warning sign. A lack of physical intimacy in marriage could stem from a lack of emotional intimacy in the relationship. Emotional intimacy is not required to enjoy physical intimacy; however, God designed us to uniquely respond to a deep emotional connection, thus directly benefiting our physical connection. Are you truly trying to connect with your spouse at an emotional level, and are they doing the same? If you don’t feel connected emotionally, start there first. Talk about it together and take action to reconnect emotionally and physically.
- You argue about the same things over and over. Some couples may argue about the same issue throughout their marriage. We did this for years before realizing that this was caused by poor communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as unmet expectations. Arguing over the same subject(s) doesn’t necessarily indicate a marriage will fail; however, over time these issues can cause a couple to disconnect with each other and one spouse, or both, may stop working to improve their marriage.