It started out as a great adventure. My son Mark, Jr., my brother Bill, and friend Bo were having fun, exploring new places and on the trail to our hunting destination. And then we hit a soft spot. And before we knew it, our wheels were spinning but we were going nowhere. So Bo pressed on the gas pedal but that just sunk us deeper into the mud. We were bogged down, stuck in a rut, in the woods in South Carolina. We found some pieces of wood to slip under the tires, something to give us some traction again. But it turned out that even that wasn’t enough. So, Bill, Mark, Jr. and I teamed up to push the truck out of that rut.
The experience got me thinking about how easy it is to get stuck in a rut in marriage. We’re driving along in our relationship and find ourselves living in a soft, muddy spot that we just can’t get out of…a place where we are just spinning our relational wheels but really not making any progress or going anywhere. Here’s what I learned about getting unstuck from a marriage rut.
Look for the warning signs.
You usually don’t just suddenly find yourself in a hole. The ground usually starts to soften bit by bit as you go along. That can happen when life is so full of all the other things that require attention—work, children, household maintenance, other responsibilities—that your relationship with your spouse gets pushed to the edges.
Over time, you find the little niceties start to go by the wayside. You may stop saying, “Good morning,” or thanking your spouse when they pour you a cup of coffee—though you probably wouldn’t treat a friend or work colleague that way. It’s the slippery slope of indifference.
Another danger sign is when you realize that you aren’t looking forward to anything with your husband or wife. The only plans on the calendar involve other people or things, not the two of you. And if you have set a date night for the future, it looms more as something else you have to do, a must-do chore, rather than something to anticipate and enjoy.
Look for some traction.
Though simply trying harder isn’t enough on its own, laying something firm under your “wheels” will give your efforts something to latch onto and drive you out of the mire.
Remember you’re in this together. Don’t retreat into your own space, that will only drive you further apart. Express your concerns to your spouse, making the rut something that you face together, something that unites you rather than separates. “Honey, I’m feeling like we’re stuck like we’re not getting anywhere. How do you feel, and what can we do? I want our marriage to keep moving ahead.”
Remember the fundamentals. Treat your spouse the way you would like to be treated. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Speak positively to them. Here are some simple texts that can communicate your love to your husband or to your wife. And make sure you keep the “fun” in the fundamentals: do things together just because you enjoy them. Shared laughter is a good barometer of a healthy marriage.
Remember the good times. Spend a little time focusing on some of the special moments you have shared together. Dig out an old photo album and go through it together, asking each other questions about different events and experiences and what they meant to you. Stirring the embers can reawaken the flame, renew your sense of intimacy.
Remember to be intentional. “Life” will crowd out love if you are not careful. All those things on your to-do list may seem really important, but so is investing in your marriage. Don’t get captured by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Carve out time to spend together and protect it. Don’t wait to feel romantic, act romantic. This date night list might help jump-start you if you are out of ideas.
Look for a helping hand if needed.
Just like we came together and pushed that stuck truck out of the mud, perhaps you and your spouse can join hands and get out of the rut together. But sometimes your own best efforts are simply not going to be enough. You have sunk so deep that you are going to need some extra assistance to get going again. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
On occasion, we all need a helping hand. Typically, when people see your car stuck, they don’t just stand there and watch you struggle; they are only too willing to pitch in and help you out. Maybe there’s a couple you’re friendly with and with whom you can share some of your challenges. They might recommend a good book about marriage they have read that has helped them. Look out for a marriage conference you could attend. You may even want to consider meeting with a professional counselor for some insight and wisdom.
Above all, do whatever it takes. Get unstuck and get back in the action. There’s so much to be enjoyed.
Do you see the warning signs of a rut in your marriage? Or maybe you realize you’re in one. What do you intend to do about it?