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Are you doing marriage on hard mode?

In a few weeks Keith and I will be taking a two week vacation down east in our RV. We’re heading to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and we’re going to do some hiking and I’m going to eat a lot of seafood chowder!

Whenever we go out in our RV, we tend to play a computer game at night. We start on our first day there, and we just play that campaign throughout our vacation. Keith runs the computer and the mouse while I knit, and we decide on moves together.

Right now our favourite game is Stellaris (if anyone cares). When you’re starting a new campaign, you have all kinds of decisions to make, and one of them is the level of difficulty you want to play with. You can do super easy or super hard or anything in between. Do you want your enemies to always be technologically superior? Or to tend to win in fights? Do you want your planets to have more resources or make it harder to find what you need?

We used to always play on Easy, but I’m slowly letting Keith make it a little bit more challenging.

Making things more challenging is great for games. It isn’t for marriage.

There is no point in making marriage harder than it needs to be.

And that’s what we’re going to be talking about this month in our series on Doing Marriage on Hard Mode. We’re going to look at whether we’re inadvertently making marriage more difficult than it needs to be, and causing ourselves unnecessary and avoidable stress in our relationship.

As Rebecca and I talked about last week on our Bare Marriage podcast, we often say in Christian circles that “marriage is hard.” And we agree that life can be hard. And relationships require us all to be less selfish for them to work well. But that doesn’t mean that marriage needs to be hard. And as we’ve been talking about this on social media and on the blog, many of you have agreed. Marriage can, and should, be something that makes your life easier, that makes it easier to handle the ups and downs of life.

Yes, you will have trouble when you are married that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Had I not been married, I would not have had a baby die. Some people have challenges that make life more difficult. We may have difficulty with sex, or with in-laws, that certainly do contribute to stress in our lives.

But marriage should not be a long hard slog that you have to get through. It should be something that helps you get through the long hard slog of life. And if it is difficult, that’s often a sign that you need to seek help.

So let’s look today at the different ways that we can do marriage on hard mode that we’ll be looking at throughout the month!

Sometimes how we view marriage can make marriage harder:

1. We can have a faulty view of marriage

As Rebecca and I talked about on our podcast last week, when we believe that marriage is automatically hard, then when we experience hardship, we can think, “this is just the way things are,” and we’re less inclined to actually try to get help or work through something.

We’re trained to think that things are going to be hard, and if hard is the default setting, then we may not realize that this isn’t something we have to chronically live with. Believing that all relationships are hard can also encourage some people to make poor choices in mates, because we don’t realize that our mate should make our life easier, not harder.

2. We can have a faulty view of gender roles

What do you believe about gender roles? As we’ll look at later in the month, if you believe that the point of marriage is for a husband to make decisions when you disagree, then your assumption going into marriage is that there will be lots of times when we disagree, and disagreement is normal.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the point of marriage is to follow God together as a team, then you’ll assume that the default is for you to agree. When you don’t agree on something then, or when you feel distant,  you’re more likely to realize that this is something to be dealt with and fixed, rather than just the natural state of things.

Or if you believe that men should be the primary breadwinners and women should always stay home with the kids, then if she starts earning more money than he does, you can make marriage harder than it needs to be because your marriage will be viewed as “wrong”. Often the things that we believe about roles can either cause conflict or cause us not to properly solve conflict.

Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

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Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

Sometimes we can overextend ourselves and make life more stressful

3. We can overextend ourselves financially

Do you spend more than you earn? Have you bought a really expensive house, perhaps too early in your marriage? Do you just live in a very expensive city and find it hard to make ends meet?

We’ll look at how sometimes our financial decisions, including just where to live, can make marriage harder than it needs to be. (But this post is not for those who are just getting by and are doing the best they can, but rather for those who have made some decisions that perhaps weren’t necessary! We know that many people truly have little choice).

4. We can get too busy

Marriage is just going to be hard if you have little down time together. You’ll grow apart, you’ll always feel stressed,  you’ll always be exhausted.

So when we make decisions, especially in the fall as school is starting up again (which is why we wanted to do this series in September!), let’s remember to keep a lot of our calendar clear.

And this can even include shift work! Some people work opposite shifts and then never see each other. This may make sense for the kids, or financially, but is it doable long-term?

Sometimes we can ignore problems in our marriage that are fixable

5. We can fail to get help

I was talking with a woman on Instagram yesterday who has put up with sexual pain for nineteen years in her marriage because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do. It’s made her resent her husband and resent marriage. But after listening to our podcasts and learning about vaginismus, she’s finally getting help both from a counselor and a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Sometimes we’re dealing with things in our marriage where help is available, whether with medical issues or trauma or relationship issues. But getting help can be hard. How do you know where to look for help? How do you know how to tell if someone is good? And what about the cost?

But if help is available, it’s often the very, very best investment in your marriage  you can make!

6. We can fail to deal with the issue, or issues, that is driving our marriage apart

Often when our marriage feels distant it’s not because everything is bad. Instead, there’s often one thing that we haven’t dealt with that is coloring everything else.

Maybe it’s in-law issues. Maybe it’s housework issues. Maybe it’s sex.

That one issue then blows up and affects everything else.

What would happen if you could isolate what the root issue is that is hurting your marriage–and then deal with it?

Now, there are some of you for whom marriage is hard but there isn’t a simple reason like these.

In fact, that’s one of the big lessons that I want people to learn: How to identify when your marriage ISN’T normal-hard, but that something bigger is actually wrong. I have heard so many women in abusive marriages say things like:

The idea that “marriage is hard” kept me trapped in a toxic marriage with an abusive narcissist for far too long. I accepted toxicity as normalcy. I always thought I could just try harder, pray more, be better. Thankfully I am no longer in that situation.

One of the things I’m hoping that this series can do is to help us all recognize the difference between normal-hard, where there’s something we just need to sort out and deal with, and hard-hard, where there’s actually a character or maturity issue with your mate that you can’t solve which is undermining the marriage itself.

You can’t fix another person. You can’t be so submissive and so kind that someone stops being mean to you or starts considering your feelings. If someone truly doesn’t care about you, you can’t make them care. That’s terrible to type and even worse to hear, but it’s also true. And I’m hoping that by dispelling this idea that marriage is always hard, people who are in truly difficult marriages can see that they have a real problem.

You may also enjoy:

6 Ways to Do marriage on hard Mode - 6 Ways You May Be Doing Marriage on Hard Mode

So that’s what we’ll be looking at this month! As you look at the list, is there one particular that stands out to you today that is hurting your marriage? Or is there one that USED to hurt your marriage, but you overcame it? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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