Question: My marriage isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. I often think I married the wrong person and that I would be happier with someone different. How do I learn to love the person I married instead of always dreaming of what might have been?
Answer: Believe it or not, your situation is not all that uncommon. I’ve talked with many women who do not have a bad marriage but are unhappy with the person they are married to. The love they once felt toward their husband, they no longer feel. Or, as they look back, they realized that they married their husband for the wrong reasons like wanting to get out of their parents home, or to have children.
That said, you are married so what do you do? You have a couple of choices, none of which may feel very appealing to you right now. One is you can continue to regret your choice, live in “what if” and be unhappy. Sadly, if you continue to do that your marriage will get worse. You cannot change the past. You cannot relive your decision. Living in regret is a waste of time and energy. You did it, it’s done. Move on.
That brings you to your next two choices. One is to give up. You can choose to end your marriage. I don’t say that lightly, nor do I believe that is the best choice but it is a choice. God allows us a free will, even if we choose poorly. But divorce is not an easy decision and is not without serious consequences, relationally, spiritually, emotionally and financially.
I’m glad your question is really about the third choice. How might you learn to love the person you married? I have some friends who are in an arranged marriage. When they married they were virtually strangers. But they have learned to love each other. Probably not the Hollywood, romantic version of Valentine love, but a deep trust, a safe harbor type of love which endures over the ups and downs of family life.
Here are some things you can do which will help you come to better love the man you’re married to. I call them the five A’s of relationship revival. Acceptance, Attention, Affirmation, Admiration and Affection.
1. Acceptance: No one has a perfect marriage or perfect spouse. Learn to be content with the person you married instead of trying to remake him into the person you think he should be.
You said that it is not a bad marriage. What’s good about it? Is your husband faithful? Good with the children? Does he provide for your well-being financially? Is he handy with house repairs? No one gets a full deck when they get married. All of us have strengths and weaknesses and the things that bug us the most after marriage are often the things that we loved the most while dating. For example, I love that my husband enjoys doing things with me and talking, however he hates to work around the house. I can dwell on that and quickly forget to give thanks for all the good things he does.
2. Attention: If you don’t maintain something, it deteriorates. This true with your nails, your body, your home, your car and your marriage. Make time for your husband and marriage. Make time to talk, to play, to have romance together. Even if you’re not always in the mood, being intentional about giving attention puts the structure in place to build in the other things in your marriage.
3. Affirmation: Think about the things that drew you to him in the first place. Was he a strong leader? Perhaps he was very kind and generous. Funny. A good money manager. Let your mind remember those good qualities. When he gets home tell him how much you like those qualities in him. Each day think about the things that he is good at, things that are admirable, things that are worthy of praise.
4. Admiration: Affirmation is more external, it is something we do. Admiration is more internal. It is something that we feel towards another person. But our feelings are linked to our thoughts and so we must train our mind to give thanks and dwell on our husband’s good points, not his weaknesses. The apostle Paul tells us to think on the positive things in life, not the negative things (Philippians 4:8). He’s not negating that there are negative things, but if we dwell on them we will make ourselves unhappy.
5. Affection: Every human being needs touch. Put your arm through your husband’s arm during a movie or church service. Hold hands. Rub his back. If you’re wary that you’ll be giving your husband the message you want sex, (and do not) then do it in a more public place or at a time when more romance is not possible. However, good sex is a way to improve marital intimacy. Remember, talk and touch are the primary ways we build intimacy.
I challenge you to faithfully work on doing these things. Let me know how your feelings toward your husband and your marriage improves.