“Is it worth it?” This question arises often when I talk with individuals in marriages that are struggling. They come into see me to unpack their stories, work through problems, and find solutions to relationships. I get it. Marriage is hard. It takes two people working together. I’m often asked why couples stop trying.
There are several answers to this question, many I have addressed in previous blogs. Today I want to focus on something I see often when it comes to “trying”. In my view, it is the number one reason why couples stop trying.
The #1 reason is the fear of the unknown. The unknown is uncertain. It can feel scary. Lurking in the shadows is the potential heartache of rejection, abandonment, and unrequited love.
For this reason, couples unconsciously agree to stay stuck together. The “known” is a familiar, predictable, safe play. It goes like this–we are close enough to keep things functioning but not too close to get hurt. The fear of the unknown is avoided, but the relationship suffers potential intimacy.
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four common assumptions about the unknown
It’s not worth it to try if my spouse won’t try too
It can feel quite foolish to agree to work on something together, only to find you are the only one trying. The letdown hurts. It can leave you wondering if you really matter to your spouse. For this reason, some fear trying because in the past a spouse broke a promise to try too.
It’s not worth it to try if it’s never going to be good enough for my spouse
This is a common reason why men stop trying. A husband will try to work on things only to hear a criticism about his effort. He may make improvement in one area only to find his spouse unhappy about another. Her complaints become a drumbeat of failure. He feels like a loser and concludes, “No matter how much I try, it will never be good enough for my wife.”
It’s not worth it to try if my spouse stops trying later
This is what keeps many woman from trying. She is worried that the guy will try initially and quit later after she seems content. This is an awful strategy and it does severe damage. Not only does it break a woman’s heart, but it also destroys her trust in the man.
It’s not worth it to try and risk my heart being broken again
Some marital problems develop into hurtful patterns. Over the course of time, one spouse may romantically shut down on the other. They settle for companionship and let’s say a good partnership in parenting and maintaining a household. However, to avoid the painful experiences of rejection or abandonment they keep the relationship at a safe distance.
three things to consider about the fear of the unknown
Assumptions are not 100% accurate
Based on intelligence gathered, US officials conducted the Iraqi War. They assumed they would find weapons of mass destruction. We know now their assumptions were inaccurate.
For reasons I cannot go into here, couples become ripe for change. It can be frustrating especially for a spouse who was advocating for change only to have it fall on deaf ears. It is easy to assume that change is not worth trying. In many cases it is true, but not all.
Acknowledging your spouse’s fear and doing something about it may help
The four fears I addressed above are legitimate. It is up to you to find out what fear(s) your spouse has and deal with it. If you failed to hold up to your end of an agreement to try, you are in a bad spot. Your word is meaningless and trust is broken. You have to decide if you are going to be serious and change. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Understand the road to recovery is long. If you genuinely love your spouse then stay the course.
Perhaps you have been guilty of being overly critical of your spouse. You point out mistakes and rarely if ever acknowledge the effort. This behavior defeats a spouse and weakens their will. In order to give the relationship a chance of succeeding you must regularly acknowledge your partner’s effort to try.
The unknown can produce a surprisingly good outcome
Intimacy is scary good. It meets the basic need of love and belongingness. What makes it scary is the risk of loss of love. We all deal with it. However, when two people enter the unknown with honest intentions the outcome is surprisingly good. Often I have witnessed this with couples who risk the fear of the unknown and try together. It may take some time, but by sticking with it and doing what each other needs, their combined try gives them a surprisingly good outcome.
Now its your turn
Share your ideas and suggestions. Do you have a story with a surprisingly good outcome? We would like to know what worked for you. Feel free to leave comments below or on one of my social media sites.