I Felt I Was in a Dead Marriage After Having Kids, And Here's How We Fixed It
Like many Millennials, I delayed getting married until I found my ideal partner. But I realized it took more than that to have a happy marriage. As a marriage coach, here are eight things I learned can help couples build a strong foundation.
"I don't know if I'm built for marriage." This thought has crossed my mind more than I would like to admit. The beginning of marriage was not what I expected and far from the emotional bliss we had when we were dating. Then one child came along, postpartum depression hit, another kid came along, and I couldn't quite recognize my body.
This is not what I envisioned in my head as a young girl desiring her own family, excited about the future. Instead, marriage stretched me in ways I never could have imagined. Without a frame of reference of what a healthy marriage looked like, it was as if I was walking through a desert unsure of my direction. It was lonely and I often felt defeated. The journey before me seemed long and honestly not fun. Was I in a dead marriage?
When I got married at 28 years old, I wanted it to be for the long haul and I'm not alone in that thinking. Experts found Millennials are driving down the divorce rate by 24 percent. Unlike previous generations, we are delaying getting married and once we do, we are deciding to stay married for longer. This is due to taking the time to find the right person along with having financial security higher on our priority list. At the same time, a study from the Pew Research Center found only 44 percent of Millennials were married in 2019. That compares to 53 percent of Gen Xers, 61 percent of Boomers, and 81 percent of Silents "at a comparable age."
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So, does this mean Millennials who have taken the leap into marriage are actually happy? The short answer is not always, especially because modern societal pressures can be a root of why many couples feel dead in marriage. With social media uplifting the perfect looking couple that seemingly has everything like money, a beautiful Pinterest worthy home, and well-behaved kids traveling around the world, Millennial couples fight with wondering if that is the goal or status to reach. That discontentment really erodes at the beautiful, oftentimes simple moments, that happen in everyday life with everyday couples.
Yet, it is even deeper than that. After my husband and I became marriage coaches in 2015, we learned there are many ways that death can be felt in a relationship. Here are five common issues we see in couples: Lack of attraction to your spouse; lack of emotional connection and intimacy; lack of passion and desire for one another; lack of effective and respectful communication; and lack of financial stability.
The list can go on and on depending on the struggles each couple may experience. With a few hard shifts in perspective, we believe every troubled marriage can live again. Call us hopeful, but if we could see life again in our marriage which felt dead at one point, we know others can too. Here are a few ways we know (and have seen ourselves) that marriages can live and thrive again.
Pursue your spouse like it's the first date.
Truth is, we are all growing through life. We are changing and learning new things about the world around us and even about ourselves. Thinking that you know everything about your spouse at all times doesn't allow for the pursuit to happen and we believe pursuit ignites passion. In our book, The Eden Experience, we list 52 weeks of activities on pursuing your spouse, including making a list of questions that you would ask someone on a first date, telling your spouse to meetup at certain location like a park or coffee shop, and simply getting to know one another again. Another idea? Write a letter to each other and go on a dinner date where you can read aloud what you both have written.
Disregard what is popular in our culture about relationships.
Even though our culture makes it seem like the person you get married to should know how to be a perfect spouse, that is just unrealistic. While yes, there are some basic things you should understand before marriage, don't let anyone make you feel bad if your spouse is still learning how to be a great partner. Social media does play a role in this. We typically are influenced by what we see, and we know Millennials spend a lot of time on social media. The challenge we notice is making sure people view social media with the understanding that this only a glimpse of the whole story. You never know what a couple is going through or smiling through in a photo or video.
Let yourself feel true love again.
This is a vulnerable place. It is even more vulnerable if you have ever been hurt by someone close to you. Our emotions are what make us human. The pain, joy, or passion is a great indicator that life is being lived. The reality is, whenever you are dealing with your spouse or people in general, you are dealing with imperfection living and breathing around you. The beauty of true love is having someone embrace you in spite of your imperfections. Feel that but also give that.
Know that marriage will challenge and change you.
When you decided to commit your life to someone the expectations have to be clear. If you have unspoken expectations, it is important to communicate those to your spouse and allow them to be molded into something that works best for you both. It is a life both of you are living together; that requires communicating truth with love and grace.
Get to know yourself.
The one thing that will increase the passion in your marriage is self-awareness. We truly believe knowing yourself, how you are coming across, and what you are giving off is a starting point to real intimacy. What is the point of getting to know your spouse when you are unsure of who you are? This is key! We've found a fun and easy way to get to know yourself is to take the CliftonsStrengths test online. This test goes deeper than just your personality, it reveals your natural gifts. We recommend all couples to take this test and to share with their spouse.
Deal with financial pressures together.
This is a common topic of discussion during coaching, and what we really want couples to focus on is working together to reach their goals instead of venting about them. We see that the core of the problems is not the finances themselves but the ability to communicate in the midst of the pressures. At times, it can be overwhelming, so take care of the immediate financial needs first and then make a plan as a couple to figure what needs to happen so that everyone is working toward a common family goal. We advise couples to have a family vision plan. First write out the vision and then identify the players on the "team" and how they can contribute to the overall goal.
Identify negative patterns in your family.
This can be found in a genogram, or a detailed diagram of family history that includes hereditary and behavioral patterns, as well as psychological factors over several generations. This can uncover negative patterns that act as precursors of what could possibly happen in your relationship if not addressed properly. Some negative patterns in your family are voluntary behaviors that can cause emotional pain or hardship on the family unit in present or future tense. When you are aware of them you can work to break them.
Go to therapy.
Counseling is becoming more mainstream as the stigma around mental health issues dissipates. We tell couples to go to counseling even when nothing is wrong. It is like getting a yearly check physically, but mentally to make sure you are OK individually but also as a couple. When you allow things to build up internally, they become like bricks around your heart not allowing or giving space to that sweet spot marriage needs to thrive. This is also a great place to discuss any negative patterns found on the genogram.
Was I in a dead marriage? No. But my unhealthy perspective had to die. And I soon realized that this death was necessary to allow myself to embrace a more real, alive, healthy, long-term perspective, and together with my husband, we are still growing in this beautiful challenge we call marriage.
Bridgette Reed co-leads MarriageAndGrace.org with her husband, Deon and together they are on a mission to break negative patterns in marriage and relationships and increase passion and intimacy. Get your copy of 10 Steps to A Healthier Marriage and Family.