One Way to Prevent Marriage Stagnation

Couple lay on floor drinking coffee looking and paper

Healthy people who love life and love themselves make long-range plans. Even if everything is going fine, you need to think about one, five and ten years down the road. The point is not merely to avoid trouble, such as financial problems, but also to maximize your potential for fulfillment.

Long-range plans keep you — and your marriage — from becoming stagnant.

When evaluating (or re-evaluating) your romantic relationship, make sure your long-range goals do not conflict. Hopefully, you share compatible long-range goals. It’s not going to work, for instance, if one of you wants to have children and the other does not. It’s not going to work if one of you wants to start a business in New York City and the other wants to open a bed-and-breakfast in Hawaii.

The time to compare each other’s long-range goals is when you’re in the early stages of the relationship. If you didn’t do it back then, then that might be one of the reasons why you’re unhappy now. You might be realizing that you want one thing, and he wants another.

If no compromise is possible, then it’s time to face the reality of going your separate ways. Neither partner should have to sacrifice his most cherished goals, or basic self. The only sense in which “compromise” works is to develop a mutually agreeable plan whereby you both obtain the essence (if not every last specific detail) of your goals. No mutually agreeable plan can ever be based on a sacrifice. Marriage is not about sacrifice. More than any other human relationship, romantic love must be based on just the opposite of sacrifice: genuine fulfillment for both of the parties involved.

If your partner speaks and acts as if you should have no long-range goals — or the mere existence of them is irrelevant — then you should assert yourself. You need to ask him if he will please start to treat your goals and values as equally important, and to talk with you about them so you can determine, together, if you can work out something mutually agreeable.

If this still brings no change in his attitude or actions, you must face the hard truth. He’s telling you that your goals are not important. If confronted with these words, he would probably deny them. But it’s impossible not to communicate in a romantic relationship.

Actions communicate more powerfully than words.

It’s up to you to start treating your goals as important, and following through on them, with or without agreement on the part of your spouse. Having and raising children is an example of long-range plans. Mutual agreement and discussion with how family planning affects other kind of planning is essential. Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind. Don’t let yourself be a victim. And if, worst case, the marriage or relationship dissolves over long-standing and irreconcilable differences over life goals, try to keep in mind that in reality it dissolved a long time ago.

Sometimes one partner has very specific ideas about long-range plans, and the other does not. The one who does not have plans might become sincerely interested in the other partner’s plans. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as no sacrifice was made. If you get on board with your spouse’s plans and sincerely like them, then your spouse has added to your life, by developing a life course you might not have otherwise considered, on your own.

The opposite of stagnation is innovation. Marital relationships have to remain fresh and innovative, just like any other kind of human association or relationship. To expect things to stay the same or automatically remain fresh, merely because you made a commitment to someone five or twenty years ago, is worse than naive.


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