By: Kevin Frank
Champion at Encompass Connection Center
It’s no secret that after the "honeymoon phase” in a marriage relationship, there are plenty of opportunities for details, requirements of life, and the pursuit of happiness to introduce strain to the romantic bond that once lit a fire in your hearts and souls for one another. It’s amazing how quickly money, parenting, home repairs, social outings, social media, or just some simple “me time” in front of a screen can add so much space between a once impassioned couple who looked lovingly into each other’s eyes while dreaming about the incredible future they would build in bliss.
It’s no wonder so many couples find themselves 3-7 years into marriage asking questions, doubting their decisions, worrying about about the future, and reevaluating the spouse they once saw as “perfect”. Often in this window of misalignment, emotional disconnection becomes evident and when left untreated, can ultimately lead to infidelity, divorce, heartbreak, and a picture of a life that is much different than expected from those doe-eyed newlyweds. Furthermore, the amount of pain associated with the destruction of romance is indescribable. It parallels the weight of the grief of a lost loved one and requires a healing process - and often counseling - to truly work through.
What if it was possible to recover romance even after the process of emotional disconnection had begun? If you’re in that season of emotional disconnection right now, I realize that a statement like that sounds like either a lie or a ploy to get you to send money. I promise we’re not looking for a check in the mail. However, as it turns out, we are human - and while that makes us imperfect and prone to mistakes and selfishness - we are also highly capable of affecting change, increasing our maturity, and we do have the capacity to realign and recover our romance if we choose to do so. It is not an easy, fast, or painless process - but it is possible. In my experience the recovered romance is sweeter than the romance that was lost. Here’s to you and your second honeymoon phase..
In our personal journey, the first step to recovering romance was to answer the question, “are we both all in?” None of this works if you’re not able to come to an agreement that you both would rather try to work things out instead of separate. This honestly might be the hardest question to answer. Depending on the pain you’re feeling, the trust issues, the harsh words, or the frustrations - you may really want to quit on this relationship and be free from it all. If I could encourage you - if there are kids involved, if there hasn’t been severe infidelity or abuse, and finally, if you are a follower of Jesus - don’t give in to separation too quickly. Remember, there is more in store for your romance if you can reconnect through this season. If it’s exceptionally hard for both parties to say “yes” to being “all in” and work toward restoration, this is an indicator that it’s probably time for counseling. Productive things, albeit painful things, can happen when a third party can mediate and ask the right questions.
Another crucial part of marriage restoration, own your mess. As much as I would have loved to regularly point out how innocent I was during our emotional disconnection season, the more I listened to my wife explain her perspective, the more I realized how much I had contributed. In all honesty, some of it was misunderstanding, some was innocent or accidental, and some was just plain self-preservation. However, at the end of the day you cannot reconnect romantically if you’re not vulnerable and self-aware enough to own the fact that you’ve hurt someone and then show true remorse for your own contribution. If you love someone, you can’t stand to see them hurting, and it’s even harder to admit when you’re the one who’s hurting the person that you love. If you’re willing to own it, however, you can work to repair what is broken and replace the system that broke it in the first place.
Third, forgive daily. I know it’s hard to hear, and sometimes even harder to believe - but you’re not perfect. We all know that our spouse isn’t perfect, because every day we see something that reminds us of their flaws. It is the most humble of us, however, that sees our own imperfections on a daily basis. Recently, I told my wife about some cookies that I really liked at the store. I specified that there were two different kinds. There is a “chewy” version, which are disgusting. Then, there are the non-chewy version of the cookies that are directly from heaven. The following trip to the store, she lovingly included a package of cookies in the groceries and she was delighted to tell me that they were in the cabinet. So, excitedly, I open the cupboard to enjoy a sweet treat, only to find an unopened package of CHEWY cookies waiting for me. C’MON! How could she be so stupid? We worked through this awful confusion and for about three months following, my wife faithfully brought home the correct version of delicious cookies from heaven.
One afternoon I was on my way home from a meeting and remembered that we needed a couple things from the store. So, I quickly ran in, grabbed a few necessary items and of course a package of cookies. Much later that evening, I decided I had done enough work for the day and deserved to enjoy a sweet treat that I had purchased on my own that afternoon. When I retrieved them from the cupboard, I realized the mistake I had made. CHEWY COOKIES! C’MON, how stupid could I be?! Here’s what I learned - I shouldn’t go shopping, I’ll just screw it up. Seriously though, we’re ALL gonna screw up in some way and we ALL need forgiveness and grace. Understandably, the really deep cutting mistakes and offenses are the hardest to forgive and forget. Forgiveness doesn’t just happen when you say it out loud. Forgiveness is a daily choice to let go of the hurt, release the possible outcomes, and allow yourself to be vulnerable again.
Finally, and I think the most exciting, get on mission. Simply said, rather than fighting against each other, why not fight with each other on the same team, for the same mission? Have you defined your mission for your marriage and your family as a couple? What are you aiming for, what are you hoping to accomplish, and what do want to be known for together? These kinds of questions can realign your vision and get you fighting for something together which naturally reconnects you together in a unified purpose. So, what are you fighting for TOGETHER? If you haven’t answered that yet, set aside some time to get on the same mission. It will be worth it.
In our reconnection journey we learned that hurtful conversations with hardened hearts created emotional distance and killed romance, but hard conversations with humble hearts brought us together, ignited passion again, and gave us hope to keep fighting for the future. This can happen for you, and what seems lost or hopeless now could be beautiful again.
My best wishes to you as you start or continue your journey to recovering romance, fighting together for the good of your marriage and your family.
Are you in a difficult season of marriage? Encompass Connection Center helps couples learn how to resolve issues and create fulfilling, productive relationships. For many couples, those issues can stem from a lack of participation. Just like any problem, though, participation issues can be fixed. We offer a free relationship assessment to determine your relationship’s strengths and potential threats. For more help, look into our RINGS Experience, which includes marriage strengthening exercises and a coaching model to help build real intimacy and growth skills.
Lavern & Ronda Nissley are co-directors of Encompass. Married since 1978, both enjoy coffee, riding their tandem bicycle and working together to build strong relationships.