I’ve been in marriage limbo for years now and it’s only gotten worse. I look at my friends’ marriages and they all look so blissful. I love my spouse but the word that best describes our relationship is BLAH. How do I decide whether to stay or go?
“Marriage limbo” is a common catch phrase these days and you’ve described it perfectly as a state in which your marriage seems neither bad enough to leave nor good enough to continue.
Just yesterday, I asked a couple about their level of commitment and David* answered by saying that, while he’d like his marriage to get better, he couldn’t say with honesty that he’s 100% committed to it (and might be only 30% so).
Sound familiar? If so, you’re in the majority. Most couples—whether 2 weeks or 2 years after the honeymoon—enter a stage of disenchantment in which they begin to question their choice of mate and perhaps whether they should be married at all.
At times, in long-term marriages, it can feel as if you are growing not just older, but colder, with each passing year. It’s like moving from the hot buffet to the frozen foods’ aisle.
This may be especially true with couples who have focused excessively on their children and then find that they’re strangers once the empty nest phase hits.
If you’re interested in this topic, you may wish to skim our article entitled
Stay or Go?: What to Do When the Love is “Gone”.
Sure, most of us say that we expected the fading of intense passion as the years went by. That we’re satisfied with the deeper bond that grows with all the trials and tribulations of life and time. The fact that we know we’re “in it to win it” even when things get tough.
After all, isn’t that the test of true love? That we will grin and bear it no matter what?
If this feeling continues, we may begin to question everything about ourselves and our relationship, fueled by every conversation, every feeling, and every conflict which become points for or against staying. These questions may include things like:
>> Should we have married at all?
>> Am I in love anymore?
>> Am I truly happy?
>> Is there someone out there who would make me even more happy?
>> IS THIS AS GOOD AS IT’S GOING TO GET?
The Wrong “Normal”
You may get conflicting advice from your friends, some of whom are happy in second or even third marriages. (Even though research shows that couples who stick out the season of marriage limbo are happier five years later than couples who divorce).
Or they may tell you the truth. Which is that your feelings, doubts, and questions are all NORMAL, and part of creating a good and even a GREAT marriage. Because they fuel a desire for “more” and “better” and the willingness to act to create the marriage you really want! Your feelings have nothing to do with whether you married the right person or need to get out.
What should NOT be normal is buying into the myth that the “old, comfortable tennis shoe”-type relationship is your lot in life and that this is all you can and should expect from your marriage!
Ask anyone who is in a very passionate (but probably volatile) marriage and they will tell you that they would trade this in a second for something similar to what you may have: a strong bond, forged with time, that resembles a strong, supportive, and caring friendship.
That kind of friendship and security is so rare in this world: why is it seen as “less than”? Having a strong and stable friendship doesn’t mean that you can’t ALSO have passion and romance in your marriage but it may take more effort, creativity, and diligence than it did in the past when you had much less responsibility, everything was fun and exciting, and good vibes (and hormones) flowed more easily.
If you’re struggling with negative thoughts about your marriage, consult our blog on
Negativity Bias: How to Keep it From Killing Your Marriage.
The Relationship Between Commitment and Success
In today’s world, it may APPEAR easier and faster on the surface to wipe your slate clean and start anew with someone else. But it’s far from easy or clean, and there’s no guarantee that you won’t go through the same season of questioning and doubt in any future relationship. In fact, you almost certainly will.
The truth is that marriage is like any other major commitment you make in your life. You will get from it what you put into it.
Do you think that David will be able to achieve the kind of marriage he desires with a 30% commitment level?
It’s much easier to commit to your marriage and use that decision to inspire improvement than it is to wait until your marriage is perfect before re-committing to it because that day will never come.
Of course, there are always exceptions. But it makes sense that—if you sit in the nosebleeds and view your marriage as mediocre—it will remain mediocre. If you remain an active participant who views your marriage as special, precious, and something worth fighting for, you will act accordingly to keep it that way.
Would you expect to show up at work and do nothing and yet still get paid, week after week? Of course not. You know that you would risk being fired at any moment.
So, what’s the alternative to being in a perpetual state of marriage limbo?
So, here’s the bottom line, and there’s no way of getting around it. The way to resolve ambivalence in any area of life is to take intentional and concrete ACTION:
>> Talk openly with your spouse about your feelings. Chances are, he/she is feeling the same way and there are things you can begin to do immediately to better meet each other’s needs.
>> Ask these friends of yours with “blissful” marriages how they keep the fire burning and dealt with their own marriage limbo.
>> Attend a marriage course, group, or event to enrich—not “fix”–your marriage. (Ask us about our fabulous personal marriage retreats)!
>> Switch off so both of you come up with innovative date nights. Do things outside the norm like fly a kite, take a pottery class, or visit some batting cages.
>> Change up your everyday routines, focusing on small but significant things that help you stay connected (e.g., a check-in at lunchtime, make creative dinners together, eat by candlelight).
>> Revisit the commitment you made to your spouse on your wedding day and understand that it involved a decision to “. . . forsaking all others, be faithful for as long as you both shall live.” The fact is, you committed to your spouse for the long haul a long time ago! So you can breathe a sigh of relief: that choice has already been made.
Then start to turn all the above questions on their head. Focusing not on whether your spouse can meet all YOUR needs (the answer is “no”) but on how you can begin to meet THEIR needs will rock your world.
For example, ask yourself instead:
>> What qualities did I love in my spouse when we got married that are still there today and how can I express this to them?
>> How can I show my spouse that I am still in love with them today?
>> How can I make my spouse happy today?
>> How can I reassure my partner of my complete loyalty and fidelity, no matter what?
>> How will I show my spouse gratitude for the love they’ve shown me over the years?
Of course, marriage coaching is one of the BEST ways to rekindle the spark and create the kind of marriage you long for.
And it has nothing to do with attempting to RECREATE something that had its day in the sun but has long since passed. Many traditional marriage counselors take this kind of looking-back approach (e.g., “What did you enjoy doing together when you were dating? Just do more of that.“) and it simply doesn’t work.
Trying to reinvent your dating relationship or your lives as newlyweds is like wearing a shoe one size too small. It simply doesn’t fit your life, your needs, or your relationship today. Don’t waste any more time looking in the rear-view mirror when you could be charting a new adventure ahead!
The kind of work WE do with couples involves excavating the treasures in your marriage you are probably completely overlooking and developing new and meaningful ways of getting your needs met so that those unsettling feelings of marriage limbo become something of the distant past. For good.
We all (hopefully) mature with time and that’s a great thing. All healthy things grow and change throughout the wonderful seasons of life. Make the decision to enjoy each and every one with your partner by your side, and finish strong.