You are 20 years in and your spouse feels more like a roommate or business partner than a spouse? Or are you only 15, 10 or 5 years into your marriage and feel this way?
It really doesn’t matter — finding yourself in a marriage that doesn’t feel much like a marriage can happen at any stage.
At the beginning of most marriages there’s a feeling of excitement for new horizons to be explored and adventures to be taken. After a while, however, many couples fall into a rut and begin just going through the motions. It’s not uncommon. For many couples at some point to say they live more like brother and sister and don’t really feel like they’re in marriage at all anymore.
What Is A Marriage Supposed To Feel Like?
Before we can talk about how to make your marriage feel like more of a marriage, we should probably discuss what a good marriage is supposed to feel like.
While every marriage is different and everyone’s definition of what being married feels like will vary, there are certain things that they all seem to have in common.
• Active attention and sharing. When you are married to someone and vested in your happiness together as a couple, one of the things you do practice active attentiveness. In other words, you look at your spouse when they talk, listen to what they have to say, and notice when something changes. That means if they look down, anxious, worried or happy, you ask them about it. It also means this goes both ways.
• All relationships should have respect, but people in a healthy marriage voice their respect for their partner and ensure their partner knows how much they are valued.
• Being married shouldn’t mean you lose your identity. So, each partner maintaining their own interests and activities is important. It keeps you interesting to one another and gives you a source of happiness other than your partner and marriage. This will make you a more satisfied person and better mate overall.
• Both physical and emotional intimacy are crucial in a marriage. Sadly, this is one of the areas that usually suffers first. Partners become busy, distant, and disconnected and things go south in both arenas. Keeping this part of your marriage healthy takes active attention and effort.
• You’re not perfect and neither is your partner, so being in a marriage that feels good and grows strong requires understanding and patience. Neither of you is more important than the other, so practice forgiveness and acceptance of flaws.
• Ups and downs. Things will go wrong, you’ll get off track, fall into a rut and eventually climb back out. This is natural and really should be embraced. If a marriage is status quo all of the time, then you actually have bigger problems. Stagnation and indifference are the enemies of a strong relationship. The marriage that never experiences highs and lows is more likely to fall into the roommate zone.
Each marriage will have their own personal mix of these attributes as well as some that are uniquely their own. But if you’re wondering what a marriage is supposed to feel like overall, consider this description given to me by a close friend who’s been married for over 15 years.
“Marriage feels like being connected to someone you can count on in any circumstance. Like having made a pact to face life together, to know that no matter how bad the fight there’s no choice but resolve it, and no matter what happens that person has your back. And that you can confess your fears and not be laughed at. And that there’s always someone who will tell you can do it, and cheer for you when you’re down. It also means having someone who still wants you even when you’re not wearing make-up or sexy lingerie (wink)*”
Not everyone has this experience, but it’s a good target to aim for.
How Do You Bring Back That Lovin’ Feeling?
Not to gratuitously quote the Righteous Brothers, but if your marriage feels more like a business arrangement than a marriage then you’re probably longing to bring back that lovin’ feeling. But how?
At a certain point it can feel for many like there’s no way back. You’re so far into the roommate zone that there’s no point in even trying. This just isn’t true. If you’re interested in making things better, there’s always hope and usually a distinct possibility that you can succeed.
The first thing you’ll need to do is consider the list above. I suggest sharing it with your partner and having a frank conversation about where you each think you fall as a couple on each of those points. There’s a fair chance that your opinions will differ, and this can provide a good starting point for a conversation.
The second thing you and your partner should do is agree on which of those areas you need to work on as a couple and as individuals. After agreeing you’ll need to determine how you’ll go about doing it.
And lastly, you’ll need to practice. It will be awkward at first, but the more effort you make the more natural it will become. If all goes well you and your spouse will begin to remember what it all felt like when your marriage worked and actually felt like a marriage.
If you’re asking, “Is it really that simple?” the answer is, no, of course not. But it’s a good way to start. Be prepared that these efforts can fail on the first few attempts and you may need to restart. It may also be that it’s just too much to do on your own and you need help and support. This is where marriage counseling can be extremely helpful. It’s not uncommon that you’ll need to clear some baggage first.