I often tell people that the moment you get married, you have relinquished the right to teach your spouse anything.

I say that with a bit of tongue in cheek, but also with some seriousness. The seriousness reflects a problem of influence we have over our spouse.

Human beings are funny creatures. We can be so nasty to those who are closest to us, while remaining cordial, respectful, and positive about those who are more distant.

They say that the divorce rate among Christians is not any different than that of unbelievers. I have no reason to doubt that this is true. All I have to do is to look to my immediate community of Christian fellowship and see this to be the case. It is disturbing as we often think that an empowered-by-the-holy-spirit-Christian automatically turns into an empowered-by-the-holy-spirit-marriage.

“Return to your first love.” Isn’t that what Christ talked about to the Ephesian Christians? It is easy to lose the passion for things that we had at first. It is really easy when we are intimately involved with those things. With God, we become like C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed, “It is not as though I quit believing in God, but I do say ‘So God, this is who you really are?'” We get to know things too closely and we sometimes lose our enchantment, passion, and desire for that thing. We need to return to our “first love.” I think this has to do with a return not so much to a person, but the way we love that person.

In marriage, how hard is this?

Remember before you got married? All you could do think about the wonderful things that drew you to your future spouse. If someone asked, “Why do you like so-and-so?” We could defend our love with a precise and detailed fervor that would make others sick. Mom and Dad could not talk you out of it. You were ready to leave them for this new love. Your friends had little influence. Any troubled past? Not an issue. We would just interpret it through our love. Any current issues? No problem. I am here for this person for better or worse.

“I just love the way he sings with such confidence (even if he does not have a voice).”

“I just love her passion for orphans and others who are in need.”

“Isn’t he great. He can see deep into any movie and draw out life implications.”

“Look at the way she does not even care what others think of her. Who else would wear that in public? Wow. That is my girl.”

“His trust commitment to God is incredible. He is going to make a great father.”

And a thousand other things…

The point is that we have the ability to notice, appreciate, and adore so many things about our future spouse. They not only love us for this, but they listen to us. They stand on the shoulders of our encouragement. With us in their lives, they can soar to the skies. We both can.

However, things often change. Once married, we change. Our encouragement changes. Whatever part of our brain that sends positive messages about our spouse, goes into hibernation. For some reason, around year one or two, it ceases to function all-together. Now all we can do is notice the negative things. Calls to mom and dad are no longer in defense of our future spouse, but in contention with our present spouse.

Paralleling our previous complements, we find these:

“I just love the way he sings with such confidence (even if he does not have a voice).”

“Why does he have so much confidence in things that he cannot do! It drives me crazy!”

“I just love her passion for orphans and others who are in need.”

“All she cares about is other people that we cannot help, while she cares nothing for me.”

“Isn’t he great. He can see deep into any movie and draw out life implications.”

“He over-thinks everything and reads things into everything I do.”

“Look at the way she does not even care what others think of her. Who else would wear that in public? Wow. That is my girl.”

“She is just sloppy and lazy. I wish she would care about her image more.”

“His trust commitment to God is incredible. He is going to make a great father.”

“He does not even care about our kids’ need for clothes. He just says ‘God will provide’. I just wish he would worry a little more.”

And a thousand other things…

We become hyper-critical. Those things that we loved before are now the things that we hate. Our brain in neutral no longer is fed by our effortless love, but by this sinful nature. We don’t know how to see the good anymore. Every word becomes cutting. Every look demeaning. Every thought captive to our inability to see the good in our loved one. Even when we try to say something nice, it is like self-produced robot speak.

Before, we had the ear of this person. Now they dread any time we speak with a serious tone.

At this point we can do one of two things:

1) Bow to the “truth” of our criticism and proceed to enforce our agenda. Let’s change our spouse! 

2) Avoid our spouse either with proximal detachment or conversational detachment.

Usually it is a combination of both.

Hope turns into frustration. Frustration turns into bitterness. Bitterness turns into unhealthy remedies. The remedies lead to divorce.

I don’t think it has to go in this direction. I don’t think we have to leave our first love. I don’t think we have to become so critical. I don’t think our ability to recognize the good and take little notice of the bad has to die.

Where does this post come from?

I’m not glad you asked. Honestly, I was just thinking about this with Kristie and me. I was just thinking about how easy it is for me to be critical of her. I was thinking about how often I attempt to change her. I was thinking about how our relationship often hinges on the success of my coaching. I am less and less intent on encouraging her. I often find faults that don’t exist.  In truth, we do it to each other. All marriages do.

Our marriage is in neutral. And a marriage in neutral is like a marriage in reverse. Why? Because the road of matrimony is going up a mountain. You can’t coast on the love you had at first.

This afternoon I prayed for the supernatural ability to focus once again all the good things about my wife, not the things I think are wrong. It is an issue of my attitude. I want that to be the default of my thinking. I don’t want to have to try so hard to recognize the good things. I am going to wear her out being critical. Passion will soon be calloused.

Simply put, after 13 years of marriage, I am becoming a worse husband.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    28 replies to "After 13 Years, I Am Becoming a Worse Husband"

    • BHolland

      Oh Michael…I have enjoyed your teachings since TTP began, but this one bothered me. Not for the content of your sentiments, but for the sake of your wife. Your assesments while honest, struck me as a bit hurtful–even if true–and now public. Unless, I’m mistaken and she knew of this blog and agreed to its posting.
      While you refer to yourself as a worse husband, you seem to be declaring yourself worse because you can no longer overlook the human flaws in your wife; a kind of back-door way of criticizing her, no? Maybe I’m mistaken.

    • C Michael Patton

      BHolland,

      Thanks for the comments. I hope this did not come across in such a way (though I can see how it might). My point was certainly not with what flaws my wife has. On the contrary, it was about our tendency to no longer have the ability to see the good once we are married. As well, we turn what was the good we saw into bad.

      That is my problem, not hers. But I think we all do this. So the post was more general. I think it is one of the major problems we see in marraige. I am not sure how much we talk about it specifically, so I thought I would bring it up (and use myself as a negative illustration).

    • John From Down Under

      Hello from your antipodean cyberfriend across the Pacific!

      Whilst I applaud your transparency and honesty, I wonder how your wife would feel about going public with this and not containing it within circles of trusted friends. The fact that you feel the need to share this problem with the world is a telling trait, and while edifying for some readers no doubt, not sure about your family. The post is a little too personal. Just some honest thoughts there…

      Ok, what you described does not fall outside the scope of day-to-day ‘marriage maintenance’ issues. You’re not ‘special’ there. The difference between you and many other (Christian) husbands is that they would not openly admit it as easily. I have very low tolerance for the choreographed ‘perfect marriage’ displays. It’s not real.

      However, as someone who’s been married for 21 years I can relate to your ‘plight’. We’ve had our ebbs and flows and went through a monumental crisis a few years ago, but we survived by God’s grace. We’ve learned not to strive for a perfect marriage (if it makes sense) but increased our tolerance levels for each other’s weaknesses and we point them out to each other when they go overboard. One thing we do now more than the early years of our marriage is to ask for forgiveness from each other more quickly and more often rather than stew on things.

      Not sure if this helps, but I’m sure others can relate to what you’re saying.

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks John,

      I am not sure I have really “gone public” with anything other than I struggle to be a good husband. My wife would agree!

      But my point is not to focus on my marriage (as most of the post is about being critical in marriage in general). I just serve as an illustration as to how this can slip into your life and you can feel like you are becoming a worse husband than a better one. There are many ways to leave the love we had at first, but I think this ranks near the top.

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: My wife liked the post.

    • Josh T

      Thank you for what you have shared. I’m on the other side of marriage, looking forward with great anticipation to marriage. I can fully sympathize with your list of reasons why a man would love his wife-to-be.

      This was a timely post, because just last night I had a conversation with my girlfriend (the girl I am courting- an important qualification) telling her that I will always (sinfully) tend towards losing sight of her value. When I cease to see her as God sees her and see her instead in terms of her utility to me, or how much “fun” I have with her, our relationship will suffer.

      I benefit from the (virtual) mentorship of a man who is well ahead of me in stages of life; your humility in petitioning God for a supernatural ability to focus on your wife’s worth, rather than how she annoys you is not at all discouraging, (“What, he hasn’t figured it out after thirteen years of marriage?”) but encouraging. I get to begin now to build habits that will serve me and her after five, ten, twenty, and fifty years of marriage.

      Thank you for your candor, honesty, and transparency.

    • John from Down Under

      Sorry Michael I might have misunderstood you there 🙁

    • EricW

      I haven’t read it yet, but I ordered this book and it’s sitting on my shelf to read:

      Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (Author)

      http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Marriage-Gary-Thomas/dp/0310242827/

    • Michael

      Its probably best not to post personal items CMP.

    • EricW

      I didn’t take your post as exposing too much about your wife or your marriage. I didn’t see anything disparaging about her, except maybe when you said at the end that your marriage is in neutral – which says that neither of you is working hard on it.

      “With us in their lives, they can sore to the skies.”

      I think that would be “soar,” not “sore.” Marriage can be painful enough as it is. 🙂

    • Tom

      CMP, thanks for posting this. If anything’s difficult for us to talk honestly about, surely our marriages must be included in the list! It’s my expectation that if more people took your approach and were forthcoming about their struggles, a lot fewer marriages would be destroyed by the mistaken notion that “if we were truly meant to be together, we wouldn’t have these problems.” People — especially husbands — persevering in investing in their existing marriages just isn’t something that is prominent and encouraged in our self-centered culture. I’m glad to see you taking some initiative by not just trying to “fix things behind the scenes,” but by bringing the broader topic out into the open — even if it makes some people uncomfortable, as it appears to have done.

    • John From Down Under

      One thing you can count on ‘our CMP’ is his honesty and transparency 😉 That’s probably one of the biggest draw cards on this blog.

      Isn’t it funny how the theological heavyweights from other posts are strangely absent from this discussion? Not enough cerebral stimuli for you fellas? Too pragmatic perhaps? Waiting for another post on sovereign election to bring you out of hibernation? Why confess when you can pontificate!

    • Ron

      “theological heavyweights”

      I’ve seen little resembling theological “heavyweightage” in the comments on this blog.

      Just sayin’

    • Humberto Perez

      I don’t think you are worse husband that one you wanted to be; now you are on the way to become a “real husband” and that is the way everybody takes. Remember what you already know, what make a separation between wife and husband are the same things that separate us from God. We need to be better Christian in our matrimony; if it is so the problems shall be dramatically reduced. I have been married for 38 years.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      Somebody asked for the “theological heavyweights”, and here I am! 😉

      Just kidding, John!

    • rusty leonard

      Well Michael, I think you have gained perspective. Take advantage of that and you will become a better husband. My small group is reading through “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas and I would recommend it. One thing I have learned after 35 years is that God gave me my wife to make me a better Christan. And when I pay attention to that somehow she responds by becoming a better Christian too. 😉

    • MatthewS

      Michael, I see a lot of my own questions, angst, reasonings, etc. in many of your posts. I appreciate your honesty and transparency.

      I suspect my wife can sympathize with yours a bit – having husbands who process things out loud. There is a special reward in heaven for them!

      FWIW, we’ve been married for 13 years. We have weathered some storms. Right now, we are emotionally closer than we have been in a long time, perhaps the closest we’ve ever been. One of the things that changed it for us was an assignment in a class that we spend an hour each week praying together. It was not easy but the Lord began to work during that time.

      From a more secular perspective, Gottman speaks to the “cognitive room” or “love map” we have for our spouses and also the respect and admiration system. He has some interventions and exercises to help. I think that our prayer assignment helped with this on an emotional level as well as a spiritual level. I have little respect for trite slogans like “the family that prays together stays together”. However, taking a chunk of time and honestly baring our hearts together before the Lord really did something to us.

    • Vinny

      As an agnostic who has been happily married for twenty-six years, I think you need to get your head out of your ass. If seeing the good things in your wife is going to require some supernatural ability, you might as well start shopping for a good divorce attorney right now.

      First falling in love is amazing because someone sees good things in you that you never knew were there. Because that person does not seem to see any of your faults, you may get the erroneous notion that you don’t have any. It can be quite a let down when it becomes clear that the person actually does see your faults and knows you have them. That’s when things get really good though because what is truly amazing is someone who knows about all your pettiness and selfishness but still looks for, believes in, and brings out the best in you.

      I think people are often motivated to be unfaithful by the hope of regaining that feeling of being perfect in someone else’s eyes. They wind up being disappointed though because sooner or later it will become clear that the new person sees the faults as well.

    • C Michael Patton

      Friends, there have been some good comments here and some that take this with much alarm.

      First, what I write here is a tendency for us as we all go through this type of process in all relationships. We become idol and often quit pursuing to move forward. Relationships rarely work in neutral. This is especially the case in marraige.

      Second, when I say that I am in neutral, I simply mean it with regard to this particular issue. Now, obviously if I am reflecting and writing in such a way, I am not really in neutral.

      Our marraige is based on a committment. We are both very strong and loyal here. However, a strong committment to staying married does not necessarily translate into a strong committment to being happily married. Therefore, we have to be continually reflecting on these things.

      If you are like me and have drifted into a time where you are unable to recognize and focus on those things of your first love (like we often get with Christ), we simply need to repent and pray that God will change us. That is what I am doing.

    • JohnB

      Our view of our spouse changes because our view of ourself changes. The more we fall in love with ourselves the less we love our spouse. Our self importance tends cause us to be critical of our spouse who doesn’t live up to the expectatons of what we think we deserve. I am so glad that my wife and I have maintained a relationship where we do value each other in word and deed. When I look at my wife, I am always overwhelmed with the knowledge that I don’t deserve such a fine women and oddly enough she feels the same way about me. It is great that you are praying for the supernatural power to see your wife in a positive light, but remember to throw in a prayer for the supernatural ability to see yourself for who you realy are and I bet you will appreciate your wife all the more! 🙂

    • Shelly D.

      I rarely ever respond on blogs, etc., nor am I a “theological heavyweight.” (Not even close!) This was a lightbulb moment for me. My hubby and I will have been married 21 years this year and have raised 5 children. We definitely don’t see each other in that same glowing light as when we first met but I do know we love each other. I want to be a better wife and think I now have a better grasp on what the actual problem is and know now what to pray for. I will be sharing this post with my children, the singles and the marrieds. Most wives would be proud of a husband who could see this issue as clearly as you have and have the courage to publicly admit it. God bless!

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      I guess those that mis-represent what CMP is getting at are those that haven’t really known him … his life story. Personally, I began to like him, not only because I learn a great deal of good theology from him, but also because of his integrity and transparency. Good theologians, who are also an open book, are quite a rarity, I think.

    • TraciG

      My husband and I were just talking yesterday about why divorce among Christians is as common as it is in the “world”. I would 2nd the recommendation on the Gary Thomas book. Definitely an excellent reminder of what the purpose of marriage is!

      Truthfully, I think we approach marriage with the idea that the other person will “complete” us, forgetting that we are complete in Christ, 1st and foremost. When we depend on our spouses to fill some deep need in our hearts, we are ultimately going to be disillusioned and begin to find all the reasons why they aren’t who we thought they were, when we created that fictional image in our minds to begin with. My husband can never be Christ to me, and if I try to make him that, boy, he’s going to drastically underachieve!

      Marriage IS hard….we have to learn to serve and be served, sacrifice, and be sacrificed for, be willing to always put ourselves 2nd. Not an easy task. Kind of like being a disciple of Christ.

    • Bible Study

      I am getting worse after only 6 years, don’t feel bad.

    • ScottL

      What I find myself doing so easily is that I try and conform my wife into my image. But I am called to help see her conformed to the image of Christ. My wife is to be the best CatherineL there is in Christ Jesus. So, when I am annoyed or frustrated with wanting her to change (or me to help change her), I know who’s image I am trying to conform her into. And that is not good at all.

    • Hodge

      Michael,

      I wonder if those who have a problem with what you posted are confusing the descriptive with the prescriptive again. I don’t why anyone would have a problem with you sharing, as long as your wife was OK with it as well, where you are, or tend to be, descriptively, especially when you are clearly wanting to move out of it and always make yourself, and others, aware of it (i.e., the prescriptive). I also think that we get worse in ever aspect of life, period, as we get older. A vibrant and active relationship with Christ that challenges us and yields our spirits to God on a daily basis will draw us away from this stagnancy, but we can really notice a difference when we’re in autopilot in certain areas. Good post.

    • jim

      CMP

      thanks for sharing ! What you need to do is move up here to the colder climates.(Canada) My frosty rejection to my wife thraws out as the nights get colder. (lol) Married for 30+ years since the age of 21. A marriage changes as time moves on, some things mean more to you, some less. I like what you said about the commitment to each other being strong, that will carry you through issues that are not so pleasant.

      I tend to see what I contribute to our marriage as more valuable than her contribution and I’m an egalitarium. Go figure!! Food for thought, most of our issues are rarely on the current topic, but rather almost always there is an underlying problem. Get to the root of the problem.

      A good side to the marriage problems is making up, and if everything was rosy all the time, you wouldn’t appreciate it as much. Contrast counts.

    • Dana

      Here’s a good thing you can focus on about your wife:

      It seems that she must be patient and understanding about your marriage posts.

      I don’t think that I’ve seen anything horribly wrong in the posts…..but I’m pretty sure I would be rather annoyed if they featured me. Just sayin’. You’re right, you should appreciate the good things.

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