Gratitude in marriage
Marriage vows are a powerful set of words. When a man and woman state them at the altar, some get teary and emotional. Some are filled with a tremendous feeling of devotion and loyalty. The vows are arguably the most important part of a wedding because they offer a look into the future- the marriage. And in the early months and years of the marriage, spouses treat each other as the most important person on the planet.
Men feel like kings and women feel like queens. The couple married the love of their lives, after all. However with time, it’s not uncommon to hear couples fell out of love, desire divorce or feel cheated by marrying their spouse. We could diagnose several reasons for this drastic change in tides in the marriage. It could be that the couple’s foundational beliefs about marriage were divergent. It could be that the couples hardly took time to get to know one another and had not developed a strong friendship. It could be that there was little investment in premarital counselling. It could be a fundamental difference in the individual core-values of the couple.
However, there is another diagnosis that we often leave unchecked- ingratitude. In my time ministering to couples I have noticed that many unhappy spouses live in marriages where they have taken each other for granted. As a result, the days seem bland and the love of your life seems like another casual friend; one that you hardly take time to host properly whenever they visit. An ultimate result is that either one or both partners become ingrates.
Alice wrote to my wife and I. She was frustrated with her husband. They had two children- a three-year-old, a one-year-old and she was pregnant with their third born. Her husband, Eric, would come home from work and sit on the couch and go online for two hours. She told him that those two hours were vital for her. She needed his help in the house. The babies needed to be fed and bathed. Dinner needed to be prepared. The dishes needed to be done. She needed to rest and unwind after a long day at work. Eric didn’t budge.
In his defence, he had a more demanding job and his evenings were his me-time. He did not understand since she got home an hour before him. Why couldn’t she do many of those things before he arrived? Alice argued that the time was not enough. Eric countered by asking why they have a house-help. To which Alice replied that the house-help only works in the day and leaves in the evening. They couldn’t afford to have a stay-in house-help. Their combined income was not sufficient. Eric would then get into a frenzy stating they had to work with what they had. To Alice this meant that’s he had to just do what needed to be done and stop complaining.
Alice began to grow resentful towards her husband. They talked less. They smiled less. They made love less. An invisible wall of indifference grew between them. Alice regretted having their third born. She saw this as added responsibilities without any help from her husband. When we met Alice, we asked her what she wanted.
“I just want him to treat me the way he did when we first got married.”
“What do you mean?” we asked.
“At first he was so kind and supportive. We didn’t have any children but he would help around the house. He would do it for me. There are days he would ask me not to cook and we would eat out. I really felt like he cared for me. But now, all he does is go on Facebook and Instagram until his food is placed before him. And after that, he wants sex. After sex, he goes back to his phone and then retires for the night. Meanwhile I have to feed both the babies, bath the babies, tuck the babies to sleep, wash the dishes, neaten the house and be up in time to do breakfast for us before our help arrives. I wish I had 15 minutes to sit and do nothing but enjoy a hot cup of tea. We don’t even talk about our days. And I have grown resentful; I don’t even want him to touch me. I only do it for him; I don’t want some other woman out there to replace me.”
I called Eric for a man to man meeting and asked him his side of the story. He didn’t contradict Alice. But he insisted that his evenings are sacred resting times.
“What makes you so tired during the day that you cannot help your wife with at least one of the chores?” I asked.
“Well for starters, my job. It’s not physically tasking but it’s mentally exhausting.”
“Do you carry work to do at home?”
“No, I don’t. It’s not that tasking.”
I challenged Eric to do something. During one his leave days he would switch house roles with his wife. For just one day while he was at home, he would carry out the chores his wife carries out. He was unwilling initially but for the sake of the marriage he consented. Eric had an experience that shook him. He only did half the chores delegated to him that day. He realised what his wife was saying. She must be Wonder Woman to have done all that she did. And to think that she did it every day made him feel shame because he remembered how often she asked for his help.
He realised that his sacred evening times were really selfish. Eric admitted how he had always thought he would be a different kind of husband. When he was dating Alice, he would consider himself someone who would be her knight in shining armour. But now he was married and he seemed to be the dragon that imprisoned the damsel in distress. Eric admitted that he had taken his spouse for granted. He began to appreciate her whenever he found the house clean. Eric also found out that the social media and TV time did not make him relaxed; they made him more lethargic. He helped around the house more and the end result was a closer bond with his wife and with his children.
Eric’s change and effort gave Alice some time to do self- introspection. After Eric’s improvement we asked her if she had some things to work on. On her own accord, she too admitted that she had taken Eric for granted.
“As we have been spending time in the evening bathing the kids together, I noticed I hadn’t been there for my husband,” she admitted. “He had been going through so much stress at work and I never asked him even once how his day was. He had no friend to talk to.”
Alice continued to express how she realised that Eric could have easily gone to a bar after work or taken a detour instead of coming home directly. Instead he came home faithfully every day. She had taken for granted the fact that Eric was physically available. The more she became grateful, the more her resentment faded. Coupled with Eric’s newfound resolve to help her, their marriage experienced a renewal. Eric and Alice feared that they could easily slip back into ingratitude and taking each other for granted. We gave them some practical advice to help them stay afloat. Any married couple can employ these:
Go on weekly dates religiously
Set aside an evening in the week where you jealously spend time with each other. If you have children, getting a baby-sitter or dropping the children off at a friend’s house or a relative’s house for the brief period. During the date, focus on each other and on the state of the marriage. Ask each other questions: How are you? How can I improve in our marriage? Are you happy? Ensure that you have the dates outside the house. A change of environment is as good as a rest. The more money you spend on the date, the happier you will be with the result.
Limit social media and TV time
A lot or research shows that the more time is spent on social media and TV the more the chances of depression, unhappiness and less frequent intimacy in a marriage. You spend most of your time in the day with your workmates. You have very few hours left in the day for your spouse. Don’t waste them scrolling through the lives of people you do not know. Use that time actively in the house to get closer through shared tasks.
You can get into a perfunctory routine in your marriage and forget to check on one another. Talk often. Don’t simply wait to talk at the end of the day. Call each other during lunch hour breaks and talk. It is easier to invest in talk time when you are dating and courting because you do not live together. Once you get married you can take it for granted. Spend sufficient time checking up on each other and sharing good news about your day so far with your partner.
We started this article by mentioning marriage vows. He is a generic set of them. I ____ take thee _____ to be my lawfully wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward while forsaking all others, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give you my vow.
In them we declare three powerful promises to the person we vow to spend with the rest of our lives. When we claim to take our spouse to be ours, we are saying that the relationship is exclusive. It’s not any other relationship; it is a special club with the membership of two; you and your spouse. The second promise is when we declare to forsake all others. In this we vow to make our spouse a priority. And the final promise of contrasting good circumstances and bad circumstances vows to be vulnerable to our spouse. Keeping these promises can be doused by an attitude of ingratitude and taking each other for granted. How is your own marriage doing?
*Not actual names of people used in this article.