By Gayla Grace

Do you know acquaintances who have been married for years but seem to have no life left in their marriage? I’m sure you’ve seen them at your favorite restaurant – sitting across the dinner table from each other with nothing to say. It makes me wonder, when did the breakdown happen? How does a healthy marriage keep from slipping into ordinary, then spiraling into discontentment?

                But then I realize: it doesn’t have to be a major occurrence.  Relationship issues happen gradually. Small leaks lead to big blowouts. It begins with a simple remark that wasn’t meant to create any harm but came across unkind or hurtful toward your spouse.  Instead of discussing the issue, your spouse chooses to clam up and hold a grudge toward you. Or perhaps she does discuss it with you, but you get defensive, causing further anger and hurt. Until the conflict is resolved, the relationship suffers an intimacy breakdown, making it harder to relate to one another.

                This is a simple illustration, but when conflict occurs repeatedly without resolution, it sets up marital unhappiness that puts your relationship on a downward spiral. It may start with a sarcastic remark on a bad-mood day, but escalate into a full blown fight that blind-sides you because of underlying hurt in the relationship.  (And just for the record, I think sarcasm does more harm to relationships than many people realize).

                So, how do we reach beyond the pettiness of tit for tat behavior or let go of unresolved hurt? How do we maintain a loving relationship with the imperfect person we live with? It begins with forgiveness.

                We make a choice every day on how we relate to those around us. We can choose to forgive when we’re offended, even if the other person was in the wrong.  Or we can hang on to our hurt, moping in a well of pity, while creating an atmosphere for defeat. As author Helen Grace Lescheid writes, “When we cling to hurt and bitterness, we give Satan the key to our house.” Forgiveness offers a wounded relationship the freedom to start anew. It provides a second chance for imperfect people in less than perfect relationships.

                In addition to forgiveness, an extraordinary marriage needs regular doses of love and respect for one another. In his book, Love and Respect, The Love She Most Desires – The Respect He Desperately Needs, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs  outlines “the simple secret to a better marriage… wives need love and husbands need respect.” He calls it the Love and Respect Connection and takes it from the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:33, “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV).  Dr. Eggerichs says, “A wife has one driving need – to feel loved. When that need is met, she is happy. A husband has one driving need – to feel respected. When that need is met, he is happy. When either of these needs isn’t met, things get crazy.”

Dr. Eggerichs goes on to describe the Crazy Cycle couples get caught in without love and respect. He says without respect, the husband reacts unlovingly and without love, the wife reacts disrespectfully, creating a cycle of unmet needs and ultimately, defeat, for both husband and wife. His theory suggests that as husbands show love and women show respect in all aspects of their marriage, the relationship thrives.

                Slipping into an ordinary marriage happens easily without intentional effort toward the relationship.  Demanding jobs, active child rearing, the care of aging parents, and various other extracurricular activities contribute to the busyness of life that gets in the way of nurturing a good marriage. Exceptional marriages require regular attention with plenty of love, respect, and forgiveness. But the benefits of a flourishing relationship outweigh the efforts.

                If you’ve settled into a mundane married routine, find a new spark. Maybe you need to start with forgiveness of a past hurt. Or perhaps you and your partner need to consider the health of your Love and Respect Connection. Whatever it is, find the missing ingredient to send your relationship to a new height.  Rediscover the beauty of companionship while you make an intentional effort to reach beyond an ordinary marriage.