As springtime fast approaches nature blooms around us with new life. Yet for many, their marriages appear to be stuck in the dead of the winter, too cold for much too long.
This post is for those folks who have quietly, and sometimes loudly, wanted out of their marriage on more than one occasion. For those that have said to themselves or to their spouses, “If it weren’t for the kids I would’ve been out of this mess of a marriage long ago.”
I understand. This is the first post in a series about marriage that I will write and it’s about you. As in, how well do you really know yourself? How well do you truly understand what makes you, you and how does this impact your marriage daily?
During my nearly 19 years of marriage it became clear to me that if I wanted to save it I had to first grow, and no amount of finger-pointing at my dear wife was going to help.
Some of you may not like what I’m going to say next, but your marriage may never unthaw unless you focus more on you and less on your spouse.
Unfortunately, I discovered this the hard way. I grew up in a home with alcoholics. Even today, I feel a sense of shame, fear and disloyalty admitting in a public forum that alcohol abuse occurred in my home. To be clear, I loved everyone in my home, but the experience left an indelible mark that I didn’t realize was having a major impact on my life and marriage until many years later.
Growing up in a home with alcoholics, I dealt with an unpredictable environment. To provide more structure and stability to my life, I became super-responsible and very organized. I was the eldest child and routinely looked after my younger sister, serving more like a father figure than an older brother.
Being responsible and organized felt natural to me and I was very good at it. I carried these “skills” into my adult work life and enjoyed success. I was extremely “responsible” with company assets and I was very adept at “organizing” ideas, people and plans.
However, when I attempted to apply these well-honed “skills” in my marriage I failed miserably. Why? Because my wife didn’t need a father to help organize her life. She needed a husband who was supportive of her life and our life together. I had absolutely no clue that my ability to be both highly responsible and organized was taken to an extreme and was NOT helping my marriage.
This caused constant conflict and I unwittingly exhibited controlling behavior. I just thought that my dear wife simply didn’t get it. I realize now that I developed these coping skills to survive as a child. But these skills were not useful to the same extent in my marriage. This was an epiphany that helped me become a more self-aware person and therefore a better husband and father.
Now back to you. Do you know what your role may be in your marital ice block?
I encourage you to use the following questions to aid your self-discovery process:
- Write down the environments, activities and moments that brought you joy as a child and then later, as an adult. How are they the same or different?
- Write down the environments, activities and moments that brought you stress as a child and then as an adult. Again, how are they the same or different?
- Examine the differences in how you behave when you are experiencing joy vs. stress. Are there any “Aha” connections that you can make?
- Talk with your spouse about what you discovered. Then ask them if they are open to answering the same questions for themselves. Let it be entirely their decision to answer these questions.
- If possible, come to an agreement on how you are both going to make the environment more joyful and loving and less stressful for you and for each other. But most of all, do the work to understand WHY you feel joy and stress.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small first, then add more. Reward yourself and your spouse with something you both enjoy as you achieve success. After you make a few important, personal discoveries accompanied by an appropriate behavioral shift, you may be pleasantly surprised. Your marriage will begin to unthaw just in time for spring.
Darryl Cobbin is an accomplished, award-winning marketing executive, entrepreneur and author of ‘Before You Wed…Read This!’ He loves his family and his work.