Do you ever feel discontented in your marriage–but you know you have no real reason to?
Every Wednesday we talk marriage here at To, Love, Honor and Vacuum (and usually we talk marriage other days, too!). And this week, while we’re talking about aging, I thought I’d highlight one of my favourite marriage movies.
A few years ago I posted the 50 most romantic movies, as voted by my Facebook fans at the time, and one of those movies was Shall We Dance, with Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and Jennifer Lopez. It’s about an accountant (Gere) who is married to a teacher (Sarandon) and they have a great life, a great house, and great kids. But every night, on his way home from work, he passes a dance studio where Jennifer Lopez is looking out the window.
And so, without telling his wife, he signs up for ballroom dancing lessons.
For a while you’re scared he’s going to have an affair with JLo (he doesn’t). His wife, though, thinks he’s having an affair, and hires a private investigator to find out. He discovers that the husband is simply dancing. And in one of the conversations between the PI and the wife, you see one of the best explanations of the meaning of marriage I’ve ever seen in a secular film (she gets into it at about the thirty second mark):
When the husband and wife finally have it out as to why he’s been keeping this secret, he admits,
“I just felt so badly about being so unhappy when I had every reason to be happy.”
I think that’s the definition of a midlife crisis for so many people. They just feel badly about feeling unhappy when they have every reason to be happy.
I’ve gone through that a bit. Life simply gets a little, well, boring. It’s not that you want a different spouse, or different kids, or anything like that. You just need a little bit more adventure!
The mistake that Gere makes in the movie is that he pursues that adventure without her, when she would have been more than happy to take dancing lessons with him (and that’s what they end up doing together at the end; the ending is really quite a satisfying one).
So when we’re feeling a little restless, and a little in need of something MORE, how do we make sure that we don’t pursue that without our spouse?
Let me start with some typical advice, which is actually true, if a little bland. And then I’ll tell you what really worked for me.
Learning something new can spice things up
But if you’re not into dancing, finding something else that’s new is still a great idea. I’ve got a list of 79 hobbies you can try as a couple. See if one of them sounds more like you.
Plan adventures to look forward to
Plan some vacations. Make some 5-year financial goals. Do something different, like buying an RV, if finances permit. Change life up a little!
Revive some old dreams
Did you used to dream of writing a book? Finishing school? Starting your own business? Sometimes midlife is the best time to bring out those old dreams, because the kids’ schedules have settled down, finances often aren’t as tight, and you finally have the opportunity. Instead of letting yourself get comfortable in a settled down life, try reviving something that once gave you excitement!
But here’s the thing. We did all of that. And we still felt a little distant.
And do you know why? My husband was working hard, and I was working hard, and I got in the habit of not sharing the things that were most on my heart. I shared about this period of our life here, on why we grew apart. But I just want to elaborate a bit today, because I think this is the root of a lot of the distance of midlife crises.
It started with work. I’ve always felt a little bit embarrassed by this blog. Keith’s got the “real” job, and I’m just at home typing into a computer. So when things would go wrong, it would seem silly to fuss about. Or if things went well, it seemed equally silly. I’d get excited about something on the blog, but to explain it to him at dinner would take too long, because he wouldn’t know the context. Or, conversely, I’d get worried about something, and to explain the problem with HTML code would be cumbersome. And he’d suggest solutions, all of which I’d already tried, and it just got easier to not tell him stuff. Instead, I’d tell my daughter (who understood blogging) or I’d tell my mom (who understood marketing), and then the stuff that I spent 95% of my time thinking about ended up being a mystery to him.
Then over the last two and a half years I’ve been on a weird ride with God. I feel God’s been impressing certain things on my heart to pray for, but it’s hard to explain to other people. And so I’ve kept it inside.
And slowly I’d start to resent him because he didn’t know what was going on in my heart. But the simple truth was I wasn’t telling him.
Then, similarly, he wasn’t telling me things because it would also take too much time. Plus there’s that whole patient confidentiality thing. And then there’s the issue that Keith feels the responsibility of his patients very heavily on him. He didn’t want to burden me with that.
We had this great relationship where we did things together and we loved each other, but we stopped understanding what was going on in each other’s hearts. And it was simply because we stopped opening up. It seemed easier not to.
A funny thing happens when you start to really share your heart, though. Life gets exciting again.
If we keep plugged in, life isn’t boring. What God is doing in our hearts is never boring. Emotional growth is always exciting! New revelations from God are always really cool. When we feel as if someone else understands our hearts, that’s when we start feeling truly alive again. I think it’s because vulnerability is always exciting. When we bare our souls to someone, it’s never boring, because it’s not predictable. We’re sharing what God is doing, and God is always doing something new.
If you want to keep things fresh and new, then, you have to share the fresh and new stuff that is happening in your heart, even if that fresh and new stuff is a downer.
So many marriages become so polite, because you care about each other, you don’t want to burden each other, and you really enjoy being comfortable.
But polite ends up being boring after a while. And when you get bored, it’s all too easy to get resentful.
Don’t just be polite. Let your spouse in, to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Never hold back. Ultimately, there is no other way to keep the excitement alive than to simply keep plugged in to your heart.
I’ve got a FREE 5 lesson email course to help you reconnect emotionally with your spouse. Each lesson builds on the one before, to help you slowly start to open up again and share your heart. We start small, then we build to something big!
Let me know in the comments: Can you relate to “feeling badly about being unhappy when you have every reason to be happy”? What did you do about it? Let’s talk!