What Causes a Stale Marriage?

The short answer is--stale couples. So let's look at what makes people stale.

1. Preoccupation with the process of living. When a couple first dated, they spent a great deal of time talking with each other and seeking to win and please each other. After they were married, they felt that time spent this way was a luxury. After marriage they didn't work on the relationship, but each went about their separate preoccupations, raising their kids, paying on the mortgage, and accumulating things.

2. Lack of communication and intimacy. It isn't that husbands and wives don't talk at all. They talk about many topics--children, money, social responsibilities, repainting the house, caring for the garden. But they do not talk to each other about how they feel toward each other and how their goals and aspirations are changing. They aren't sharing the things the other person does that makes them happy or causes them to be uneasy.

As long ago as 1943, David L. Cohn wrote in a book entitled Love in America. "It is the rare husband and wife" he wrote then, "who pull up the chairs and spend an hour talking for their own pleasure about non-utilitarian things. . . . Their intellectual and spiritual lives remain personal and separate, with the result that . . . it involves no spiritual communion and no completion of minds. This is a large factor in the loneliness of people. . . . "

We all need to have intimate relationships with other people. We need to have at least one person with whom we can be open. We need to talk about who we really are--our joys and anxieties. Most people expect that their marriage will provide that kind of intimacy. When they don't find it in marriage, they feel they have made a mistake. They begin looking for some other person who may be able to provide that intimacy.

As communication and intimacy begin to disappear in marriage, each person becomes more aware of the other's failings. Any intimate communication that does take place now tends to center on criticism and blame fixing. This negative communication and false intimacy tend to spiral the marriage relationship into disaster.

3. Unmet personal needs. The problem of not having needs met had its roots during courtship when the couple didn't understand themselves and didn't ask if this relationship could meet their needs. So now they go to a counselor--reporting unhappiness in their marriage; an unfulfilling sex life, and that they just don't love each other any more.

Winch, in a book entitled Mate Selection, shows that people are drawn to each other in the courtship stage through unconscious needs being met by the other person. A man may say, "I'm in love with you," but what he really means is, "You meet my needs and make me happy."

People reporting that they are dissatisfied or that they have fallen out of love are really reporting that their needs are no longer being met. The tragedy of the situation is that one or both partners are unable to verbalize to the other person that they have needs which are not being met--they simply say, "I don't love you anymore."

4. A lack of personal growth. Old problems from adolescence may still be present. These personal inadequacies can be covered up in the busyness of the early years of marriage. But if there is no growth or changes in the problems, then they will likely resurface in the middle years.

A man may have wanted to be married to escape problems--he was lonely, came from a bad home, or felt inadequate and inferior. He hoped marriage would cure these problems. Unfortunately, marriage is made up of the two people who are married to each other. We each bring to the marriage the problems we have within ourselves. We do not escape emotional problems through marriage. If we were unhappy people before we were married, we will likely be unhappy people after we are married. The unhappiness may not be visible while we are busy pursuing a career or raising children, but unhappiness will certainly reappear during the middle years if there has been no growth.

Boredom with marriage is a common report. Boredom is often directly related to a lack of growth. The word bore means to "tire with emptiness or tedium." The human personality needs variation, novelty, and change. These dimensions stimulate and cause the personality to grow.

God has designed the human personality with a great potential for growth. If both people in the marriage are growing, there should never come a time when they know all there is to know about each other. Their relationship will remain fresh, and there won't be the likelihood of boredom.

Some individuals complain that they have lost their identity--they no longer feel like persons who are individual and unique. One man said, "I actually had zero-identity apart from her. . . . I just instinctively did it her way because I was part of her and she was part of me."

Occasionally one of the partners will not allow the other one to grow because the first one feels insecure. One wife during midlife felt she needed to return to school and become more involved in community activities as a leader. The growth and aggressiveness of the wife caused her husband to feel very insecure. He selfishly forced her into a role of caring only for the household, the children, and his needs. The pressure from the husband caused greater marital friction and, ultimately, resulted in a breakup and divorce.

Each person needs to grow and encourage the growth of the other. They each need to work at communication and meeting their mate's needs, so their marriage can become a source of strength rather than a negative endurance contest.

Conway / Farrel Articles ~    Reprint by permission only,  ©2011

Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com


The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.

Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.