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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Do You Stay in Love With an Unhappy Spouse?

It’s a remarkably common circumstance; trying to make the best of a marriage where one partner is unhappy, depressed, or living in some sort of hopelessness. Indeed, it could even be seen that all marriages feature such seasons, with both partners having their turns.

So this is not so much about putting a blinding spotlight on the despondent partner.

But, the longer these seasons last, the more we’re perhaps tempted to question our love, or their love for us. And the longer it goes, the more frequent these questions can bear themselves over us.

Sure, we can soon get to a point where panic sets in: “What if things don’t change?” or “What if I don’t love him/her anymore?”

First, Don’t Panic

A longer term view is always advised when the polarity of love reaches present-held extremes. The more we think certain ways, the more those ways become the way we see. Our perceptions adjust and these shifts are not always healthy.

Our unhappiness at their unhappiness—and lack of response to our love—is beginning to unravel our commitment, for we begin to see that our love mightn’t any longer be ‘good enough’ for them. But usually it has little to do with us directly.

Besides, panic can be a good sign. It’s love that pushes us to action; to restore the imbalance.

Yet, whilst panic might compel us to consider acting, it can soon find us making erroneous decisions. At some point we’re advised to switch from panic to reason.

Remember Your Collective History

A couple’s history is tantamount to their world—the epicentre of their lives together. History is the meaningful twine that ties couples together in both good times and those not-so-good, but it can have an affect, too, in polarising us.

Comparisons are quickly made—“he/she never used to be like this”—and these, from a bad place, are not productive.

It is better to appreciate the history, just being plain thankful for the good memories. These were the best times of your lives.

There are most probably good times like this, and better ones, to come. Indeed, reflecting over your history can reveal other not-so-good times that you got through together.

Understanding the Ebb and Flow of Life

No couple goes through difficult times without reason. Likewise, not one couple ventures through their lives together unscathed.

Moreover, the successful negotiation of tough periods of marriage characterises that both ‘stuck it out’ when it might’ve been easier at the time to quit. They didn’t, so they both know just how much the other is committed. That’s marital gold right there!

De-Romanticising the Marital Relationship

“Staying in love” with an unhappy partner is not so much about romantic nuances—for the romantic phase passed long ago—as it’s about empathy.

Empathy has no time or reach limit. It doesn’t quit and it doesn’t add burden for burden, for when we’re invested in our partner’s life so much as to ‘become them’ the timeframe and level of empathy we show isn’t really the point. Does love have a limit?

This is the test of love: how much will we sacrifice for the other?—recalling Christ’s sacrifice for us had no limit.

Answering the Question

We started with a premising question: How do you stay in love with an unhappy spouse? The answer is perfectly simple.

Create a reasonable and realistic vision of what life will be like on the other side, cling to it, and create a process to patiently support them all the way there, in spite of the forgivable rough days that must just be endured.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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