For some people, marriage honestly is hard.
We’re concluding our marriage on hard mode series this week. All month we’ve been looking at whether or not we’re doing marriage on hard mode–or making marriage harder than it needs to be. We looked at how our beliefs about marriage can make marriage hard; how gender roles can make marriage hard; how financial decisions can make marriage hard; and so much more. We even did a podcast on doing sex on hard mode!
And all along, I’ve been assuring you that it’s not normal for marriage to be hard.
Life is hard, yes. But marriage shouldn’t be something that makes life worse for most of us. Yes, someone can get sick and then we need to care for them, and that’s hard. Yes, when you’re married, you inherit their side of the family, and that can be hard.
But these things are about life. Sometimes life is just hard, and when we get married we have more life things that can be difficult–life with kids is busy, in-laws are frustrating, or you both get job offers in different cities and have to make a tough decision about whose dream job to pursue. But again, these are not issues with the marriage–they’re just life.
These kinds of “life” things can make marriage hard, though, when they aren’t handled well because of really bad relationship dynamics. Bad relationship dynamics in a marriage can definitely make life harder–and we’re concerned that when some people say “marriage is hard,” they really mean “life is hard, even if you’re married” but people in bad marriages here, “What you’re going through is normal.”
Your relationship dynamics should not be something that makes your life harder, and if they are, that’s a sign that there’s some attention that needs to be paid so that it doesn’t remain like this.
But what if relationship dynamics seriously are hard? What if marriage really is rough?
Let’s look at five questions to ask if your marriage honestly is hard:
Is marriage hard because you’re in an abusive situation?
If you find yourself always walking on eggshells trying not to set your spouse off; if your spouse never admits any wrongdoing, or makes you feel like you are crazy; if your spouse blames you for everything in the marriage–it may be a sign that you’re in an abusive relationship.
If you feel in danger, please call a domestic abuse hotline. Otherwise, please see a licensed counselor who is trained in abuse issues by yourself to decide on next steps (you shouldn’t seek couples counseling when abuse is involved).
2. Is marriage hard because you need to deal with some stuff?
Sometimes what makes marriage hard is our own expectations.
I’m not talking about expecting fidelity, expecting an equal partner, or expecting your spouse to care about you. These expectations are entirely reasonable and right! Not all expectations, after all, are bad.
But sometimes we’re miserable because we have our own issues. We notice what our spouse does wrong, but we don’t notice what we do wrong. If your own attitude could be causing your marriage to falter, please read 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage!
And sometimes one or both of you have deep seated issues from childhood that haven’t been dealt with that are taking their toll on your relationship. If you’re just not connecting, or you always go around and around about the same issue and never get it solved, then it may be time to see a licensed counselor. If you have untreated mental health issues in your marriage, then talk to your doctor and a therapist about medication and therapy options to help treat whatever issue you or your spouse is facing. Whatever the help is that you need, there is no shame in seeking it out–and it can make a world of difference.
Many times marriage is hard when there are personal issues that need addressing because you simply don’t have the tools–whether relational, emotional, or psychological–to cope in a healthy way, relate in a healthy way, or communicate in a healthy way. This does not need to be your life forever, you and your spouse can learn these skills, and there is help for you.
3. Is the difficulty in your marriage something temporary?
When my husband was in residency for pediatrics, life was just hard. He was barely home, and when he was home, he was exhausted.
We knew, however, that this was only temporary. So I made an effort to build things into my life that gave me friendship and fun outside of Keith, so that I wasn’t just sitting around waiting for him to get home. I kept busy with the girls anyway. And we made it through those years just fine.
However, I could not have sustained that long term. What kept me going was that it was only temporary.
If you’re going through a temporary season that’s hard–say a military deployment; living in two different cities; job or education demands that are abnormally high–have grace for both of you. Realize that this will be rough. If you can, spend some money on things that make life easier, like hiring a cleaner or ordering in meals more often. Prioritize the time you do have together.
But most of all, build some fun things into your life, even if you’re having fun by yourself. Doing nothing and waiting for when things get better only builds resentment.
4. Could big life changes make your marriage easier?
If you’re in a situation that is untenable in the long term, like I talked about in my post on how Keith and I grew apart, then do something about it as soon as possible. If life is untenable now, it isn’t going to get any better by seeing how long you can keep going like this. You’ll only wear each other out.
If you need to make a job change, then it might mean one of you going back to school for a few years. That may cause even more problems in the short run, but perhaps it gives you a better life in the long term.
It may mean moving to a different city, either one where you have more child care and support, or one that’s cheaper where you can work less. It may mean moving away from family that’s toxic.
Just remember: If you’re going to eventually have to make a change anyway, it’s often easier to do it sooner rather than later!
5. What if you feel that it’s just gotten too hard, and you don’t know if you can keep going?
We hear from spouses all the time who are in marriages without abuse or infidelity, but who are not sure their marriage is going to last–or if they even want it to last. They’re exhausted and have felt that the entire responsibility for the household is on their shoulders, and they’re not sure they can keep going any longer. They’ve tried talking to their spouse, tried to get them to see, and every promise that things will change lasts about a day or two and then things are back to normal.
It’s like their spouse has emotionally checked out of the marriage and takes no responsibility for the household–and these spouses (most often women) tend to see it as, “Frankly, life would be easier if I were a single parent because at least I wouldn’t have to pick up after my spouse, too.” They don’t want to get divorced, they still love their spouses, they just don’t feel like they can stay married like this.
If that’s where you’re at, here’s a suggestion: look at how your life would change if you weren’t married, and implement some of those changes now. Often what happens is couples split up and then all the changes happen at once: she gets a job, the kids go in daycare, they start swapping babysitting time on weekends with friends so the errands get done, etc.
But if you’re struggling in your marriage because of emotional burnout, carrying the entire mental load for the household, or feeling like you’ve lost all joy in your life and don’t know how you’re going to find it again, it’s prudent to figure out if this is a “grass is greener” kind of situation. If your options are either stay married and have the kids at home or get divorced and put them in daycare, why not add a third option: stay married for now and put your kids in daycare and see if that gives you some emotional breathing room to be able to deal with the deeper issues in the marriage.
If you communicate to your spouse that you are at your breaking point and so you are starting to make changes now, that may be the wake-up call your spouse needs, and it also gives you a chance to recoup some emotional energy to be able to figure out what you want long-term and give your spouse a clear view of what needs to happen to save your marriage.
Marriage isn’t supposed to be hard; it’s supposed to be life giving.
Yes, adjusting to living with someone can be difficult, and it can be a refining experience. But marriage should be a blessing, and if it’s really, really hard, that should be a sign that things need to change, not a sign that “well, this is just what everyone goes through.”
Sometimes the change is in us–we have personal issues we need to deal with. Sometimes we need to do life drastically differently because we’re way too burned out and disconnected. And sometimes we need to address deep-seated issues.
But I hope that we can start talking about marriage in a more nuanced way, after this series. Telling everyone that marriage is hard can prime people to marry people that aren’t good matches–because relationships are difficult, after all. And they can prime people to put up with difficulty instead of trying to get to the root of the problem.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the LIFE. Living in Jesus is life-giving. That means that our closest relationship, when rooted in Him, should also be life giving. Let’s prioritize that, and then maybe we’ll help people see that marriage at its best doesn’t need to be hard. And instead, it can be one of the biggest blessings to walk through inevitable hard seasons of life with someone you love beside you.
Posts in the Marriage on Hard Mode Series
- Podcast: Are We Making Marriage Harder Than It Needs To Be?
- 6 Ways You May Be Doing Marriage on Hard Mode
- Identifying the One Thing that's holding back your marriage
- Are You Doing Too Much as a Family?
- Why Downsizing Can Be Worth It
- Podcast: Are We Doing Sex on Hard Mode?
- How Gender Roles Can Make Marriage Harder than it Needs to be
- Dealing with the Primary Breadwinner Stereotype so it doesn't hurt your marriage
- What if Marriage Honestly is Hard?
- 10 Red Flags about Marriage and Sex
And SIGN UP for my emails to get our end-of-the-series activity to work through this with your spouse!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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