Question:

Are there as many successful marriages out there that came from hard work verses the “hes the man of my dreams and we are so in love” types? I feel we have had love but my husband says all our struggles are due to the fact he doesnt have those deep feelings and perhaps never really did? I am scared to death. Its been 17 years and hes exhausted and, I think, wishes he had married a “trophy wife.” I am trying not to be devastated but be hopeful instead. However, he thinks we need to separate. I think it just opens the door to more thinking in that direction. I know there are things we can change to have more love and peace in our home, but can he be convinced of that?

Answer:

Successful long-term marriages dont just happen. They are forged in the fire of hard work, sacrifice, and adversity. It is a myth to believe that if you just feel “in love” all the time, youll have a good marriage. That is fairy tale fiction that wont create the conditions for enduring marriage. Your husband isnt feeling a deep connection to you anymore, but getting rid of you isnt going to fix the problem.

I remember hearing marriage educator Tamara Gilliland once share her thoughts about fairy tale endings. She said that when she gets to the end of a fairy tale book with her little girls, she always makes them repeat after her, “And they lived happily ever after.with lots of hard work, tolerance, and mutual respect.” Im sure her children had no idea what those big words meant, but I guarantee they knew there was more to a happy ending than just riding off into the sunset in love.

Your marriage needs marital CPR as soon as possible. Find a marriage counselor who isnt neutral about marriage and commitment. You want to work with someone who will support the commitment you made to one another 17 years and teach you both how to find each other again.

Dr. Bill Doherty, marriage and family therapy professor at the University of Minnesota warned that not all marriage therapists are created equal. He said that some therapists are so individually focused that they will encourage the dissatisfied partner to “do what makes them happy.” This is a recipe for divorce and has never helped a struggling marriage stay together.

Dr. Doherty compared the cycle of long-term marriage to living through the seasons in Minnesota. He continues:

You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point. We go to a therapist for help. Some therapists dont know how to help us cope with winter, and we get frostbite in their care. Other therapists tell us that we are being personally victimized by winter, that we deserve better, that winter will never end, and that if we are true to ourselves we will leave our marriage and head south. The problem of course is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. Do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season? Thats the moral, existential question. A good therapist, a brave therapist, will help us to cling together as a couple, warming each other against the cold of winter, and to seek out whatever sunlight is still available while we wrestle with our pain and disillusionment. A good therapist, a brave therapist will be the last one in the room to give up on our marriage, not the first one, knowing that the next springtime in Minnesota is all the more glorious for the winter that we endured together.[i]

The instructions on priesthood leadership found in D&C 121:41-42 contain some of the best marriage counsel Ive ever read. The Lord instructs us to interact with others using “persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” If I take the phrase “long-suffering” seriously when it comes to working with others, then my spouse will get my best efforts for the benefit of our relationship.

Your husband can experience renewed feelings toward you as he turns toward his promises and patiently works with you to restore what has been lost. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that these struggles “can end up being like excavations that make room for greatly enlarged souls.”[ii] In that space, he will have more room to remember the truth about your relationship.

Let your husband know you want to repair the connection. Tell him you want to feel connected to him and that you trust he can learn to feel connected to you again. I believe that the term “soul mate” should only be reserved for couples that have been married longer than 50 years. Our souls are mated to our partners when we pass through the challenges of life together and keep holding on to one another tightly.

I think its a dangerous myth to believe that there is someone out there who wont require any self-sacrifice and hard work. Even the best matches in partners still require hard work, tolerance, and mutual respect. I hope your husband decides to face his marriage and build something beautiful.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St.


George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a masters degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

 

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT