From the day you said “yes” to marriage, you had big dreams for your future together. First was the wedding with every perfect detail, then came the purchase of your first home, then the babies. After that you nailed the promotion at work and achieved a fulfilling career followed by the addition of a fancy new car for the family. And the whole time your marriage was working.
But after a few years, where you successfully unlocked each level of your destiny, the marriage inevitably stopped working. It ran out of milestones, out of goals, as if they were stepping stones across a creek becoming more and more spaced out. And without the rock solid foundation underfoot, you started going under.
The fights got bigger and more frequent. The dense layer of tension and irritability settled all around. Resentment festered behind every dirty coffee mug, random pile of loose change, or unmatched sock. In every sense, the rosy hue of newness faded out and reality bled into every corner of life; there was literally nothing left in your marriage but the two of you.
So what do you do when you and your spouse are no longer moving in a linear direction toward common goals? When you’re just suspended, floating aimlessly, in the middle of an ocean of bills and kids?
You tread water when you can’t swim anymore.
Whatever you do, you keep paddling and kicking and moving, even if it’s in circles for a while. Because when your marriage stops working and won’t carry you any farther, you have to work for your marriage.
First and foremost, you set new goals to work toward. Sure, you may have passed up all the big rocks in the river of life, but there are still smaller stepping stones to find; renovate your kitchen, overhaul your diet and exercise routine, get your kids involved in a new activity, pick up an activity yourself! They may be minute changes in comparison, but they’re something to focus on and a new direction to head with your spouse. Pick a point on the horizon and push towards it,
And don’t be fooled; there are still plenty of big rocks down the road. Retirement isn’t a dazzling topic when you’re in your twenties and thirties, but it starts to sound more and more enticing as the years tick by, and there will come a time that it’s a major goal. Kids will keep growing, constantly evolving into new people. So will you and your spouse. And most importantly, so will your marriage.
Secondly, you must stay in sync with your partner. This is synchronized swimming we’re talking about, not an individual race for the gold. The two of you have to keep heading in the same direction in order to maintain a successful relationship. It’s perfectly okay if you want to doggy paddle and your spouse wants to try out a backstroke, but move at the same pace. If one of you gets ahead, remember to slow down and wait for the other to catch up. No matter what kind of waters you’ll weather, you’re in it together.
Finally, it’s okay to stop if you need to rest. When you’re getting overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted, you can take a break and just float. Nobody said marriage was easy, like literally no one. In fact, I think “It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” is the first line written under the marriage chapter in The Big Book of Life. So when you hit the drowning point (please note, there is no “if” here), stay where you’re at and just tread water. Don’t worry about speed or style. Don’t worry about the spectators. Don’t worry about winning or losing, because that’s not what this is about. Just worry about keeping your head above water and let everything drift on by, because it wasn’t worth drowning over. You will regain your strength and you’ll be able to start moving again as soon as you let yourself catch your breath.
No matter what people say, you won’t be the same person that walked down the aisle years ago, but that’s okay. You’re not supposed to be. Your marriage is equally dynamic and will sometimes be smooth sailing with the current, but will also become choppy, shallow, winding, even completely dry at times. The best you can do is be prepared for it, because your relationship can’t carry you the whole time; you will have to get your paddles out, get wet, and swim like heck.