Four Ways to Fix Your Marriage When it's Gone Flat

I've been with my husband for fourteen years.  We've had our ups and downs, but overall, we've stayed on the same path together.  When a relationship goes sour, that means the people involved have ended up on different paths.  My last marriage was like that.  We were never on the same path because we didn't marry for the right reasons (I was pregnant...that was our only reason).  But my second husband and I got married for all the right reasons, and here we are, fourteen years later, still going strong!

So, what are the right reasons?  First of all, wait until you know the person really, really well.  My husband and I were together for two years before we got married.  We didn't involve anyone else in the planning of our wedding, either.  That way we got exactly what we wanted, rather than everyone putting their two cents in.  But if you have others help, just make sure it's what you two want, and not what others want for you.  And secondly?  Make sure your relationship is right before jumping into a marriage.  If you're fighting all the time before you get married, know that won't change.  My ex and I had gigantic, sweary, evil fights before we ever stepped foot down that aisle (only four months together before getting hitched and already having battles!).  We continued to have them until six years later when I left him.  Marriage is not a magical band-aid that will fix your issues, neither will having kids (it will actually make things worse).   Love is not the only indicator of a good marriage, but also the willingness to work together, listening, and empathy for one another.  If you're missing any of those things?  Well, try hard to find them.  Because without them, you will have a hard time trying to fix something that may not be fixable.

But what if you have those things and things are still not exactly right?   

You have to remember something: marriage and long-term relationships are not just about being lovey-dovey.  It's about making a choice every single day to love, nurture, and grow your relationship.  Think of it as a garden.  If you let the weeds creep in, you have to clean them out regularly or else they will overtake everything and will become hard to get rid of.  You can pull them out after they've gone to seed, sure, but they will creep back because they already laid seeds for more to grow.  You have to tend to them before they lay their seeds.

The weed-seeds in a relationship are resentment, doubt, blame, anger, and mistrust.  And anger?  You may not know why you're angry, but if you dig deep to its roots, you'll see it's covering up all the other seeds that have been left to grow without you noticing.

To have a great garden, you need nourishment, care, fertilizer, compost, etc.  To have a great relationship you need love, care, understanding, safety, attention, and freedom to be yourselves without judgment from one another.  But how do you put these things into action?

  1. The first thing we have to do is stop playing the nitpicking game.  Stop complaining about everything they do.  Stop getting triggered by their actions.  Unless they are making the same mistakes to hurt you over and over again, then you have to learn how to let the little things go (and with enough healing, the big things, too).  It's not easy, I know.  But it's necessary to the health of your relationship.  Let's start with the little things.  Do they forget to put the TP roll back on the holder daily?  Do they leave their clothes on the floor constantly?  Do they forget to put the towel back up on the shower?  Ask yourself this: do you want a clean, tidy house/space or do you want a relationship?  What is more important to you?  Learn to let it go.  Just do it yourself if you want it done so badly.  Once you learn to give up the nit-picking?  Oh wow.  I can't even tell you how much happier and better you'll feel.  Let me let you in on a hint: a person is more willing to do what is asked of them if they are asked by someone they know loves them.  And also remember that some people's brains are not wired like yours to keep track of things or to keep things organized.  It's not being a slob, it's an issue with executive functioning.  So just accept that and let it go.  And don't play the martyr either.  Don't go around and complain "I'm the only one who does anything around here!"  Instead, learn how to help the people in your house be more organized.  And when you do ask them to do something, ask lovingly and nicely instead of commanding and angry.  Show respect, get respect.  If you show respect to your family members, you'll be able to see that their actions have nothing to do with you and you won't feel disrespected, which is all that matters.
  2. Learn that not everything is about you.  What I mean is, stop taking the actions of others personally when those actions have nothing to do with you at all.  Don Miguel Ruiz, who wrote The Four Agreements, even states this as an agreement.  If your husband doesn't do what you ask, it's not about you.  It's about them.  When you stop being offended by the actions of your spouse/SO, you can learn how to see things properly in the right perspective, instead of being angry with them all the time.  Check below for a great book that will help you understand this one more. 
  3. Stop blaming your spouse (or significant other) for everything.  Stop blaming them for their mistakes.  Stop holding grudges.  Even if they did something horrible, like cheat on you.  I get being angry and taking time to heal.  But you can't punish them forever.  Here is a truth-bomb: you made the choice to stay, did you not?  So own up to your choice and do the work to heal yourself so you can let it go.  Let's head back to #2 here for a moment.  Know, that all actions by your spouse have nothing to do with you at all.  If your partner cheated on you lots of times?  And you stay anyways?  That's on you.  That was your choice.  You can't marry a jackal and expect them to all of a sudden act like a loyal labrador.  You have to make choices in life and you can change those choices if you wish to do so.  But you can't blame them for the choices you made.  You can only blame them for their actions.  If you choose to stay in a relationship after infidelity?  You are making the choice to heal from their actions.  So work on healing.    But let's back up to a lesser degree of issues here.  Say you gave up your dream job to stay married or maybe you could have done this or that with your life and now you're here, playing house with a guy who leaves his socks all over the place.  You can't blame him for that.  You made the choice to be with him.  No, you didn't choose to be with a person who doesn't know where the laundry hamper is.  But you did make a choice to be with them.  So, instead of blaming him for your choice, instead, come up with some solutions together on how to battle what's actually bothering you.  Your spouse is your teammate, not your opponent.  Remember that.  And instead of blaming, accept responsibility for whatever part you played in what's going on in your life and work on your unhappiness, together.  
  4. KISS: keep it simple, stupid! (not that you're stupid LOL)  When you're overwhelmed and annoyed, keep it simple and strip everything down to the bare bones of things.  Remember why you made the choices you did in your marriage.  Remember why you married them.  If you've gotten off-track?  Look back to where the track split and you each started walking a different path and try to see if you can make it back there.  In order to do this, you have to do the above: stop blaming, stop nit-picking and see what truly matters in life, and stop taking things personally.   You made the choices you made in your marriage for a reason, did you not?  So remember why you made them.  Remember why you need to show up every single day for your marriage to make sure they know they are loved.  If you're too angry to do that, then do some visualizing: What would their life look like without you?  What would your life look like without them?  If you died tomorrow, would you be happy with how your marriage has been going up until this point?  Or does the thought of what you'd leave behind make you want to scramble to do better?  If it's the latter, then get to remembering why you chose to marry this person in the first place.  Think about, in the grand scheme of things, what truly matters in your life?  If your life had a disastrous event tomorrow, what would matter most in your life right now?  Keep that in mind when you want to start nitpicking, blaming, or start taking things personally again.  
  5. Don't share your personal life with people you both know.  Eeek.  I know this is hard one.  But your marital problems are to be worked out with your spouse, not your friends or your parents.  That's what your therapist is for.  Or a support group.  Or an online group.  But sharing private, personal information with your friends or family will only put a wedge between you and your spouse.  (I am not referring to abuse here...PLEASE SHARE with everyone about your abuse so they know what's going on and you get out of there!)  Now, the exception to this rule is if your spouse is okay with these people knowing their personal business.  I have two boys, and if they marry one day, I'd like their spouses to know that they can both come to me with any issues they have and I will help them work it out.  BUT, if their spouses are not comfortable with me knowing their business?  Then it's really not okay to share that.  My ex used to go to his parents with ALL of our marital issues.  His entire family then knew I refused to have sex with him.  That was really fun.  Especially the day my in-laws cornered my mother in a parking lot and asked her why I refused to have sex with their son.  That is some invasive shit.  In my marriage now, I never share my issues with anyone, other than people who don't know my husband.  Having people know your spouse's business without their consent is humiliating.  Once my husband complained to our shared therapist (not a marriage counselor, but an actual therapist) about something that was bugging him about me.  I felt awful and hated that she knew something about me that she shouldn't, since she was also my therapist.  So we stopped sharing a therapist (because that wasn't fair to either of us to not be able to share what's bugging us with them).  I told him to communicate with me directly when he has an issue with me, and I would go to him if I had an issue with him, rather than tell someone I know something about me that I may not want them to know (honestly, I don't even remember what it was, so it wasn't super important, just embarrassing).  So skip telling your BFF, your sibling, your parent(s), etc. and talk to a professional or, better yet, talk to your spouse.  If they won't listen to you or shut you down, then talk to a professional about what to do about it.  Or, do what I used to do when my husband and I were having a very hard time for a bit, I kept an online journal that was only open for me to see and he didn't know the password to.  This way I could work out what I was actually angry about and I could talk to him about it after working out my feelings in my journal.  After we were done going through that part of our marriage, I deleted the journal.  That way, if something were to happen to me one day, he wouldn't stumble upon it thinking all the horrible things I said were my actual feelings (they weren't, I was just angry).  I am not saying go it alone, especially if something big is happening in your life, but if you want your marriage to last, don't spread personal information with people you know, either.  That's how rumors begin and how everyone ends up knowing your business.  
  6. Don't put other people above your spouse.  Sometimes your kids will come first (if you have them), and sometimes your spouse will.  But if you're always putting others above your spouse (even your kids), ask yourself:  Is this a bad habit?  Or is this because I don't really like my marriage?  If it's just a bad habit, then you need to learn to do better by them.  If your spouse has an issue with the way your parents treat them, take a step back and see it from their perspective.  If you're constantly taking your parents' side in things, are you coming from a place of codependence and willful ignorance of their behavior?  Or is your spouse aggravating the situation and making things up?  Many in-laws treat their children's spouses like crap.  You have to be prepared to fully and wholly take your spouse's side in things if you want your marriage to last.  Because if you don't, eventually, they will realize they do not come first in your life and may leave you (if they don't, then they will suffer greatly for the duration of your marriage).  Maybe it's not your parents, maybe it's your friends or your siblings or someone else.  It's okay to sometimes choose someone else over your spouse at times, but those times should be extenuating circumstances and there needs to be a good reason.  The thing we all need to realize is that our family (which is our spouse and children) is a unit that should come first always.  Everyone else is second.  If you want a strong marriage and family life, then that's the way it needs to be.  If someone wants you to do something that your family doesn't agree with or would like you to do something else, then you need to weigh what matters to you most.  Being a workaholic is another way to put something above your family life.  Again, you have to ask, what matters to you most?  Being married to an awesome person and/or being a parent or working?  You can have both, sure, but you have to level it out.  Or find someone that shares your passions and can take your journey with you.  My husband and I are both writers, and we both walk the same path much of the time.  Our marriage works because we understand each other AND we put each other first (along with our kids).  Nobody else gets top billing above us.  My ex used to do whatever his BFF told him to do, even leave his family on father's day to go to strip clubs.  He also put his parents first and his brother.  All above me and our kids.  That marriage didn't last, and neither will yours if similar choices are made.  

So, how do you get there?  How do you stop blaming and nitpicking and taking everything personally?

Number One: 

Remember this important fact: Your spouse should be your best friend.  If they aren't, what are you even doing?  I once had a male friend say "Your husband watches that show with you (meaning a show meant for women)?   My wife has friends for that sort of thing.  I am not her friend, I am her husband."  I was stunned (though not really, this was typical bullshit that came out of his mouth regularly).  But I was stunned because so many men (and women) believe this about their marriages.  That their male spouse is meant for bringing home the bacon, sex, and taking care of things like fixing stuff around the house, and female spouses are meant for taking care of children, cooking, cleaning, and sex.  I am shaking my head as I write this.  What year are we in?  1952??  A real and lasting marriage IS NOT about gender roles!  If your marriage is, maybe you like it that way and are happy?  If so, why are you reading this?  I assume you don't want that kind of marriage (because if you do, I cannot help you).  I assume you're here to have an actual relationship with your spouse/SO.  If so, then your spouse needs to be your best friend.  Period.

Think about it: what qualities does a best friend possess?  They want the best for you.  They are a safe space to be yourself around without judgment.  They care about your thoughts and ideas and problems, no matter how big or trivial.  They will go out of their way to help you when you need them.  You can be honest with them without them getting upset and judging you or taking what you say personally or getting defensive (well, this part is the goal, anyway, but they are open to having this type of connecting with you).  And you love spending time together because you share so many things in common.

In order to have your spouse be your best friend, you have to become their best friend, too.  How can you incorporate these things into your relationship with them?  You can work on actively listening to them without judgment, help them when they need help, you can learn to respond to them instead of reacting when they tell you something that's hard (you do this by stopping and thinking before speaking and empathizing with them).  You can stop taking things personally and do all the things above I previously talked about.  Building a deep bond with your spouse starts with you, but also incorporates them as well.  You can make the choice to do this and then talk to your spouse about it and together you can come up with a plan to get there.

Remember, it's you and him (and your kids) against the world.  Your family is your team, with you and your spouse at the helm.  It's your job to steer your family in the right direction by not only setting a good example for what a good marriage to your children (if you have any), but also it's your job to be happiest you can in life.  And it all starts with your marriage and whether or not they are your best friend.  So make a plan to get there.  It is one of the most important things you can do in life.

Number Two:  

Be a safe space for your spouse, as they should be for you.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.  If you feel unsafe in your marriage, how will it ever work?  I am not just talking about feeling safe from abuse (which is, of course, important--if you feel unsafe in this way, then please find help or get out of there!).  But more so I am referring to feeling unsafe expressing yourself for fear of them getting defensive or upset, or feeling unsafe being able to talk about things without them trying to "fix things" for you.  Or feeling unsafe sharing parts of your life they don't understand.  In order to feel whole in your relationship, you need to both feel safe enough to be able to share everything you feel like sharing with one another without judgment, fixing, getting talked over, being touched without permission (something you agree upon together, if needed), ignored, blamed, etc.

There is this amazing technique called "holding space" for someone when they are in need of someone to listen to them.  Here is a link that teaches this technique wonderfully.  You can use this when your spouse has come to you with something they need to share, whether it be from work, their personal life, etc.  When you can learn how to "hold space", which means to actively and deeply listen instead of solving, or giving your two-cents about their situation (unless they ask your opinion).  But even when they ask your opinion, you have to learn how to give it without judgment or blame or anything else that will drive a wedge between you and them.  The more you hurt your spouse with your words, even unintentionally, the bigger that wedge will get.

Being a wholly safe space for another person, whether it be your child, a family member, friend, or spouse, can mean the difference between that person suffering or instantly feeling better.  And it creates a bond between you and that other person like no other.  But the trick is in a marriage, you need to both be a safe space for each other.

Being a safe space for your spouse means: 

  • when your spouse messes up, you don't judge, you use empathy and understanding and hold space for them as needed
  • when your spouse needs an ear to listen, no matter how big or trivial the issue is, you listen without interrupting or judgment
  • when your spouse having a hard time, you are there for them, asking them what they need, and if they don't know, you just support them as best you can without trying to fix it (unless they ask you to)
  • they can be themselves, completely, without judgment from you
  •  they can talk honestly about anything with you, without fear of defensiveness, anger, or hurt feelings, even if they are angry with you (you can empathize with one another without taking things personally...seeing it from their side is the most helpful thing you can do in all situations, even conflict)
  • your actions stem from real love for the other person (which is selfless love), instead of selfish love (which is all about you)

Number Three: 

Pay attention.  Your partner wants to connect with you, as you do with them.  So when they ask you to connect by holding your hand, hugging you, asking you to share something with them, or some other way of reaching out, try to meet their connection as much as you can.

Physical connection by the way of hugs, kisses, and hand-holding are sometimes the first things we push away when our relationships go flat.  This is because of that contract we had when we were first together that said "I am yours and you are mine, so therefore we can touch each other any time we want".  But not all relationships stay in that territory of "my body is yours".  Sometimes we need to a new contract, especially after years of being together that states "I will honor your personal space by asking first".  My husband used to get really annoyed with me because he was constantly hugging me and I was constantly pushing him away.  This made him feel unloved and unwanted.  But in reality, he was just choosing, in my eyes, the wrong times to need a hug from me.  So we made a new contract together.  We both agreed that if we were going to hug or kiss each other when we were busy doing things, we'd just ask instead of assuming it was okay.  This solved the entire issue!  He will ask me "Hey, can I get a hug?" and I'll either stop what I am doing and give him a hug or I will say "I am busy right now, just a minute."  When I am done with what I'm doing, I will then give him a hug.  It's a simple change in how we do things that changed our entire lives.  And this created an even more safe space for me, because I stopped feeling like I was always bombarded by hugs I didn't want to get in the moments I was getting them.  When you touch another person physically when they do not want to be touched, you will get a negative response.  This will annoy the both of us.  So instead, just ask!  It's as simple as that.  And if the person says no, don't act like it's a big deal, just say okay and move on.  Not all people need the same amount of physical affection as others.  Don't take it personally.

When your partner wants to connect with you, they may want to take a walk with you, sit outside with you, sit together on the couch, watch a sunset together, etc.  Things you may see as trivial are actually very important when it comes to building up your love together.  The little moments count.  They always have.  And always will.   So pay attention and connect.   Throw enough pennies in a jar and eventually, it'll add up to a dollar.  But without the pennies, the dollars will never manifest.  If you want the whole package with your spouse, then start with the pennies, the little acts of love that add up to the big stuff later.

Number Four: 

It's not about the sex.  Not really.  In a healthy relationship, there is no certain amount of sex you should be having in order to be considered healthy or normal.  You could be doing it once a week or once a year.  And you could still be happy or struggling.  Remember two things:

  • Unhappy couples heading towards divorce could still be having lots of sex.
  • Happy couples could be having very little sex, if any at all.

Each couple has their own version of their sex lives that has nothing to do with what other people are doing.  Keeping this in mind may also remind you that how much sex you have is nobody else's business but yours and your spouse's.  There is never a need to share with others what goes on in your bedroom (or wherever you have sex) unless you have no issues sharing it.  Never feel obligated, and always be careful who you share these intimate details of your life with.  Not everyone has your best interest at heart.

So throw away everything you've ever learned about sex in a happy and healthy marriage and invent your own.  Because there is absolutely no "norm" that matters when it comes to this subject.

Another point to remember is that love does not equal sex.  Period.  Sex is a frill of being in a relationship (or with casual sex when not in one, if that's what you like).  That's all.  Sex is not something people need in order to survive (well, unless we're talking about the human race's survival, but we're not, so let's move on LOL).  Sex is fun.  Despite Maslow's Hierarchy of needs placing sex with food and breathing, it's really not a base need.  Sex is an urge.  That's it.  We get turned on and think "Hmm sex would be good right now" and turn to our spouses.  But we are thinking humans with the ability to control our urges.  We don't need to act on every urge we get just because we feel it (despite the fact that many men and some women would like you to think otherwise).  If we gave in to an urge every time we felt it, we'd become addicted (which is why sex addiction is such an issue in our society today).  Urges are not drives, either.  Saying "I have a high sex drive" means "I get turned on a lot and give in to my sexual urges on a regular basis".  But one can control these urges in order to match the urges of their spouses if you have one person who has a "high" sex drive and one with a "low" one.  In order to have a good marriage in every single way, this is an issue that needs to be worked on together.

There are many reasons for a "low" sex drive.  It could be due to medication, past sexual abuse, having a type of asexuality, lower amount of hormones than those who have "higher" sex drives, or even just someone who normally doesn't give in to their sexual urges as much, so therefore they get less urges.  Despite what society would have us believe, a "low" sex drive is actually more normal than a "high" one.  The reason we think that a "high" sex drive is normal is that people with "high" sex drives are the ones who speak the loudest.  Their messages are conveyed through movies, music, books, articles, etc.  It becomes normalized, so we all think it's normal.  But it's really not as much you think it is.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with wanting lots of sex when you first get with someone.  That's normal.  All sorts of chemicals are being produced in our bodies when we begin relationships.  But that "honeymoon" phase wears off, and many of us are left with either feeling like there's something wrong with us because our sex drive has gone with it or, especially for those with sexual addiction, are left wondering why we still want to have sex all the time, and our partners don't.  But you can control your constant sexual urges by just not giving into them (rather than thinking being constantly turned on is normal) or, if you feel you have a sexual addiction, visiting this really helpful website that can help you turn over a new leaf (or if you suspect your spouse is a sex addict--there's a really great couples area, too!).

Since the dawn of time, people with a "low" sex drive are taught they are the problem in the marriage.  They are taught that they are the ones who need to seek help and if they don't shape up, their partners will ship out.  If that's the case, the partner is not actually in love with their spouse, because sex should never make or break a marriage.

Sex drives (again, not a thing...just urges) are shameful on both parts though.  If you have a low one, you're frigid.  If you have a high one, you're easy, a whore, slut, player, etc.  No matter your sex drive, it's seen as shameful.  Sex itself is seen as shameful as well.  So instead of worrying about sex in your marriage, if you're wanting too little or too much, just erase it completely.

No.  I don't mean erase sex.  I mean, erase the idea of what sex should look like in a marriage and instead concentrate on intimacy.  No matter if you've been married 1 year or 10 years or 50, you should still hold hands, hug, cuddle, kiss (no necessarily making out), rub each other's backs and heads, and do kind things for one another.  Intimacy should always come before sex, when it comes to what's most important.  Sex can take a backseat and happens when it happens.  Who cares?  Intimacy is what's most important in a relationship.  Sex will naturally happen when both parties are open to communicating about it, and that can only happen when you've built a safe space together.  Open communication is natural when both partners feel completely safe and secure together.  So work on that and the rest will happen as it will.  Don't force it.  Don't fret about it.  Don't get upset about it.  Just relax.

If you love your spouse, sex is just a perk of being able to love them.  It's not the reason you're together, so it should not be a reason you break up, either.  If either of you got hurt and could not have sex again, would you cheat on your spouse in order to have sex?  Would you leave them over it?  If you said yes to either one, you need to rethink your relationship to sex.  And you're in the wrong relationship.  The whole point of this article is to build a relationship that could withstand that kind of issue and still be able to go on strong despite having to deal with something like that.

Love does not equal sex.  So if your marriage has gone flat and sex is your only issue?  Your marriage isn't flat, your intimacy is.  So work on that and lose the idea of "normal" amounts of sex and find your groove, together.

Having a great marriage is hard work at times.  But by setting the right foundation, you can weather any storm together in your safe haven, which is built on respect, listening, caring, and intimacy.

Here is an excellent booklist/linklist that can help you achieve all the awesomeness in this article so you can find your way to the best relationship you've ever had!

  • The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • (free sex addiction recovery)

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