My husband and I met on a lovely autumn day in 1976. I was a tall, thin, twenty-year-old college girl wearing a short denim skirt and a perky Dorothy Hamill haircut. As I sat on a park bench reading a Groucho Marx autobiography, Ron walked by. He took one look at me and felt his heart dance (Ka-ching! Bling! Bling!). I was his type: young, pretty, and best of all, I was reading a book about a comedian. His first words to me were, “Is that a funny book?”
I looked up, smiled, and said, “It’s great! Listen to this. ” Then I read him a paragraph in my best “Groucho” voice.
His face lit up. His beautiful smile and perfect teeth impressed me. I moved over, so he sat down. We talked about everything and nothing for over an hour. Then we started dating.
Before every date, he made sure that he washed the car, took a shower, brushed his teeth, and put on cologne. He was always on time, greeted me with a minty-fresh kiss on the cheek, and often brought flowers. Sometimes he even brought a bouquet for my roommates. He was my knight in shining armor, and I was his fair maiden.
He planned our dates with military precision; knew the who, what, when, where, and why of every event. He’d tell me if the dress code was formal or casual. If we went to a party, he’d always stay by my side, attending to my every wish.
He would often surprise me with funny or sweet cards in the mail or drop a note into my purse for me to find later. One letter began, “My dearest maiden,” and he signed it “Your knight forever, Sir Ronald.” He treated me like a princess, and I loved every minute of it!
In November of 1977, he took me back to the park bench where we met and magically produced a tiny blue-velvet box. He gallantly bent down on one knee and opened the box to reveal a sparkling diamond ring.
His voice quivered with emotion as he said, “Nancy, I love you. Will you marry me?”
With tears of blissful joy, I gasped, “Absolutely!”
I had visions of our life together: seventy years full of laughter and romance in a kingdom full of love. The next month, he bought me a little starter-castle full of dreams.
Then we got married, and my Sir Lancelot became Sir-Belch-a-lot.
Overnight, he became a three-ring circus of noises. While he slept, his snores rumbled and tooted like a calliope. Every morning, he blew his nose, trumpeting like an elephant and he sounded like a tiger hacking up a hairball as he spit in the shower.
Our romantic dating rituals went out the window and selfish complacency sneaked in the back door. I was as much to blame as he. I stopped many of the behaviors that initially attracted him to me, like being flirty, funny, and cuddly. I criticized and corrected him about insignificant things, and he pulled away from me emotionally. We stopped trying to please each other and got careless with each other’s feelings. He wanted more sex and less nagging; I wanted more money and less noise.
We lost our romantic spark, and our sense of adventure and fun. We got off track and stopped caring about each other.
Apathy is a danger sign that may appear right before a divorce. If you have an apathetic marriage, you’ve stopped caring about meeting the needs of the other person. If you don’t want to spend time together or be alone with each other, your marriage may be in deep trouble. BB King’s song “The Thrill Is Gone” is often used to describe such a marriage.
If your thrill is gone, here are some ways to get it back.
First, ask the Lord to help you examine your own heart. You may want to pray Psalm 139:23–24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.
Are you pulling away emotionally? Physically? Spiritually? If you are, talk to your mate, confess your part in the distance between you, and tell him or her that you’d like to feel closer.
Second, examine your behavior. When Ron and I got decided to get back on track, we didn’t feel like we were in love, but we began to behave in loving ways, and loving feelings slowly followed. We started with simple things like saying please and thank you, then we moved up to small compliments like “You look nice in that color” and easy courtesies like holding the door for each other. The nicer we were to each other, the more we liked each other; the more we liked each other, the nicer we treated each other. We began a positive cycle of kindness that grew into rekindled love.
We have discovered that when we changed our behavior, our feelings followed. Some people object to this method, saying it’s not genuine, they feel like they’re putting on an act. We tell them to try it for a week, even if it seems forced at first, because developing any new habit requires discipline. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Remember that married love is not a feeling—it’s a decision. If you stop being critical and negative and start behaving in a loving and caring way, your partner will eventually, respond to that new behavior.
So if your marriage has lost its sense of joy and wonder, you can find it again. Don’t live a “settled for” marriage. Begin today to make a change in your heart and in your actions, and soon your lovin’ feelings will follow.
Adapted with permission from Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage, Kregel Publications, 2004.