My wife and I used to have a great time together but now our marriage is a drag and I’m thinking about getting out while I’m still young and have the chance to find someone else. She’s not a bad person but I do all the work and get nothing in return. Maybe some time off would help. What do you think?
As I read your question, I can’t help but think how much it sounds like you’re considering a new job. A better job. One with a shorter commute and better benefits.
While it may be tempting to think of marriage this way, allow me to describe why this is not an effective analogy:
Your Offer Letter or Employment Contract
You may have signed some kind of offer letter or employment contract when you accepted your most recent job. These documents usually stipulate in very plain language what employees are going to do in return for a certain title and stated salary.
Like most, these contracts are designed to ensure that both parties meet their obligations but instantly become null and void if this does not occur. Contracts are meant to protect the signers’ individual interests but not the two parties as a whole. A prenuptial agreement, for example, protects two individuals from each other in the case that they decide to part ways when the marriage “contract” is broken.
Some treat marriage this way, meaning that they are willing to stay in it as long as they’re getting what they believe they were promised at the outset.
In contrast, thinking about your marriage as a covenant instead of a contract is much more motivating and meaningful because it’s based on two people who promise to care for each other, “no matter what”.
Traditional marriage vows reflect this notion when they ask both husband and wife to commit to remaining married “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part.”
Is this what you meant when you married?
Your Job Description
Anyone who has been married more than 10 minutes knows that marriage takes work. It’s not something you can put on autopilot if you want to arrive at your destination safely. Using another metaphor, it’s not like a candy machine where you put a quarter in and you get two (maybe three, if you’re lucky) gumballs in return. Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it, but it isn’t a perfect equation.
Just like your overtime or great ideas at work aren’t always rewarded commensurate with your effort, there will be seasons of give and take in your marriage where one of you will give more than the other.
And just like you probably won’t get a raise at work by walking into your boss’s office and giving him or her an ultimatum, you won’t get from your wife what you want from her by demanding it. You’re more likely to get a raise if you cheerfully prove your worth to your boss and you’re more likely to get what you want from your wife if you’re willing to first meet her needs. All the things you do – big and small – to accomplish this goal constitute the “essential duties” of your job as a husband.
You mentioned that you are “doing all the work” and “getting nothing in return”, which may suggest that you are genuinely striving do this already. However, the fact that you feel the score is so uneven makes me wonder if you might be missing the mark on what her needs are . . . or perhaps begrudgingly doing things for her in order to get something back.
Which she can probably smell a mile away.
Pay and Benefits
Most individuals who work for an employer receive some benefits such as medical insurance, life insurance, or paid leave. Some may even accept a job on the basis of the benefits package alone without worrying about the position description. This may go well for a while but is difficult to sustain as the everyday demands of the job mount. Some may even begin to look for another job with better benefits.
Some partners are so focused on the benefits of marriage—companionship, sex, friendship, and the like—that they forget about the everyday role they will need to play as a spouse and partner in order to earn these things. And yes—“earn” is the key word here. If you quit your job, your compensation and benefits cease because you’re no longer earning them. Similarly, if you divorce, you will cease to accrue all the benefits of marriage.
While we should never think that our spouse has to “earn” our love or vice versa, we should likewise never forget that the sweetest moments in marriage are achieved by building on (or “earning”) a strong foundation of trust, respect, and mutual care, which only happen if you stick through thick and thin.
Promotion (or Resignation)
Did you know the average person in the US has 10.5 different jobs in the course of their lifetime? While some people remain in the same job for 45 years and then retire with the proverbial gold watch, the vast majority of us bounce around a bit, often to obtain a promotion or some other type of advancement. In essence, there’s no more loyalty to employers.
Some treat marriage the same way. They see divorce as simply “resigning” from their role as a husband or wife and seek to advance themselves (financially, emotionally, or physically) by finding another partner they believe will be a better fit for that particular season of life.
Unfortunately, this usually turns out to be a lateral move or even a demotion. Studies have shown that the happiest couples are those who are still in their first marriages who have worked through the hard times and come out on the other side even closer and more in love than ever. You can do that too.
Some of us loved our jobs at first, when things were new and challenging and every day was different and exciting. Over time, however, as routine tasks become monotonous and problems arise, we lose interest and start looking around for something else that would be more interesting. We blame this on our jobs (or our spouses) instead of looking at ourselves.
This may start with secretly asking around or quietly submitting resumes to other companies and almost always ends with packing your worldly belongings in a box. You mentioned “taking some time off” – perhaps to do this kind of looking around. In the same way, people often think a “trial” separation is the answer and will result in jump-starting their marriage in some way.
In the extreme, this happens too when people have affairs. We start giving to someone else other than our spouse in the hope that we will get an even bigger and better return. But what looks like something that will make life so much better is usually just a mirage that makes life even more confusing and miserable.
Need more concrete ideas about how to keep your love burning strong?
Check out this article on 17 Ways to Prevent Burnout in Your Marriage.
The reality is that this kind of time away from your spouse almost always leads to growing more distant and can introduce more problems. Think about it: of course, living separately is easier! You can do your own thing, make your own decisions, and eat whatever you want.
But there’s a reason you chose to abandon the single life and marry your wife. Creating a great marriage requires a level of stick-to-it-ness and investing of yourself to keep it fresh and alive so neither of you gets weary or bored.
Now that you’ve skimmed the above, is it possible that you are treating your marriage like a job?
If so, I would challenge you to think of your marriage as less of an occupation and more of an adventure. Some days on this journey will be like driving through the corn fields of Iowa and others will be like the curves, thrills, and ocean views of the Pacific Coast Highway. The important thing is that you know where you’re going and have great directions based on the best route.
Instead of taking some time off, why not take some time AWAY with your wife to focus on your relationship, talk about what you both need and want from your marriage, and rekindle the spark?
You may find that she doesn’t realize how very frustrated you’ve been and is more than willing to step up. Or you may learn that she’s trying as hard as you’ve been to make you happy and you didn’t even realize it. Instead of starting with everything she does wrong, let her know how much you appreciate what she does right and see where the discussion takes you.
I hope this mind-shift helps to get you back on track. But we’re here to help (especially with clarifying your final destination and giving you a great map to get there)!