4 Critical Questions to Ask When You and Your Spouse Feel Like Roommates
You’re feeling half- numb as you walk into the kitchen after your night shift. An unexpected emergency on your ward in the hospital and the adrenaline rush that went with it now subsiding, your body could melt onto the floor on the spot. Your kids see you and shout, “Daddy!” “Daddy, come!”, and your wife says ‘hi’ without even a glance in your direction as she wipes milk-soaked flakes off the table.
You lie on the floor as one child climbs on your belly and the other snuggles into your chest. Soon enough, your wife corrals them off to get ready for the day and you drag yourself up off the floor and down the hallway. Soon you’re snoring. On-duty will start soon enough, once it’s your wife’s turn to leave for work and you’re back to your labour of love – parenting.
You are head-over heels for your kids! They bring you the highest of highs, and sometimes the lowest of lows. Parenting young kids can be so all-consuming that your relationship with your spouse gets squeezed to the margins.
I’ve heard many stories of marriages ‘drifting apart’ The couple married, saying their vows with every intent of following them through. They also threw their hearts into having kids and being hands-on parents. But after several years, they had lost the desire to make their marriage work.
Why? They lost touch with each other. Maybe one was building a business or a career and had no margin. Or maybe as they worked opposite shifts at the hospital so that one of them could always be home, they had no time to connect with each other. They felt like roommates.
And after the love was gone, they decided it was best to move on.
Many of these stories have a common thread. The marriage drags behind the family transaction train.
A marriage that feels empty may be starved – starved for time. Not enough time to create safe emotional space for each other, or to be playful. Not enough time to have meaningful conversations about ways they were unintentionally (or at times, intentionally) hurting each other. Not enough time to pursue healing through forgiveness. Not enough time for sex. Not enough time to air complaints sensitively. Not enough time to discover new delights together.
If time starving resonates with you, consider this: what in your life is more time-worthy than love?
What Do You Really Want?
If you feel like the love is gone, you may start to panic. It’s confusing and disorienting because it’s so unlike the hyped-up romance when you started out. That contrast leaves you disappointed and disillusioned.
What you really want is love for your living. You need that person you can turn to for refuge, for comfort, for nourishment of body and soul and lifting of your dreams.
But, you find yourselves living parallel existences without all of that. What now?
Please know that if this sounds even remotely familiar to you, I’m here with empathy. I, too, have had the experience of fearing that I’d signed up for a lifetime of loveless, transactional living. It’s dispiriting to say the least. What I want you to realize as you dare to contemplate the years ahead, is this: your marriage can change. Dramatically.
If you see yourself on the trajectory I described above, here are 4 questions to explore. They may help you discern how your love started to fade away, and how you may bring that vibrancy back again.Your marriage can change. Dramatically. Click To Tweet
Are you willing to invest yourself in this relationship – really?
To answer this question, I encourage you to try to separate how you’re feeling about your spouse at the moment from your values and intentions.
Love is an act of the will.
Although that sounds very unromantic, trust me, once you’ve given attention to and solved some of your relational problems, it is possible to move from ‘cold’ to ‘hot’ again.
To learn to love well will take time. Will it be worth it?
As you step in the direction of healing, release your need for a guarantee on the results. I think all you need is a sufficient level of curiosity. You simply need to be open to the idea that taking one positive step for the sake of love will at the least, benefit you.
In other words, extend yourself in love. Take a chance. Even if it doesn’t work, you will grow. Taking the risk to love even when you’re not sure of its influence will grow you into a more loving version of yourself.
Are you sharing experiences that are different from what you did last week, and the week before, and the week before that?
When you feel like you are stalled out in your relationship, you have the choice to disrupt it.
I believe couples who feel stuck in a rut perceive it as being neutral. That being stuck is like being on a plateau, like a desert with an endless horizon. But, it’s not neutral – it’s a negative position for your relationship.
Why do I say this? Because like people, nature, organizations and institutions, your relationship is either growing or it’s deteriorating. Maybe it’s doing so very slowly, but it is heading in one of these two essential directions.Intimacy is made up of shared experiences. Click To Tweet
If you truly have life-giving growth, you have curiosity. If you have life in your relationship, you’ll be internally motivated to grow and explore what life has to offer together. You and I both know that there is way more to discover on this earth than can be achieved within a lifetime.
If your relationship feels stale, try making it a habit to discover a new experience together. Start a new hobby or activity or expand the limits of those pursuits. Try cooking a new style of cuisine. Pick up a new game. Learn something new. When you do this together, you’ll likely discover that these shared experiences grow you closer.
Intimacy is made up of shared experiences.
As far as sharing love goes, are you aiming primarily to give or to take?
You will have a tendency to express love in the ways you like to receive it. That will be your default.
Do you and your spouse have a basic understanding of your love languages? If you haven’t heard of this, check out www.5lovelanguages.com.
Maybe you feel skeptical about the potential impact going out of your way to express love the way your partner receives it.
While you feel disconnected, it may be a challenge to agree to have sex when you’re not really ‘in the mood’. There’s a significant portion of people who don’t experience arousal until sexual activity is already in motion. Are you actively pursuing solutions to any problems you’re having with your sex life? If this means you need to open an awkward conversation, take heart and open it anyway.
Giving up on sex raises the chicken-and-egg question: did you lose your bond because you stopped having sex, or did you stop having sex because you lost your bond with each other? Perhaps it’s yes and yes.
Are you noticing and appreciating your partner’s strengths and inherent worth?
What you focus on expands. The research shows that successful couples communicate to each other in positive ways 5 times for every one time they share complaints or negatively communicate with each other.
Positive communication doesn’t necessarily take the form of a compliment. It may also include validating your spouse’s emotions, or affectionate touch or an attempt to connect. It might be sharing a joke. Maybe a racy text.
What’s your ratio? Take an audit to see where you stand with your spouse.
Keeping our focus on each other’s strengths is vital as we do married life together. Otherwise, we tend to pay more attention to our spouse’s weaknesses and to lose sight of their inherent worth and virtues.
All of us—without exception—have ways we fall short and mess up. Yes, your spouse doesn’t always get it right. He keeps on avoiding that topic that you need to discuss but often ends up in an argument. She keeps wanting to talk when you feel your word well is empty. A lot of us have grand scale personal messes that had their genesis before marriage to sort out.Let the love you’re seeking be found in the loving you offer. Click To Tweet
But what if you could see the inherent differences between you and your spouse as part of the glory of who they are designed to be? You have inherent worth, and your spouse does too.
Let the love you’re seeking be found in the loving you offer.
 Brent J. Atkinson, Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships (New York: WW Norton, 2005), 82
 Taken from my book: Nieuwhof T, Before You Split: Find What you Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage. (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2021)