Is Your Marriage on Ice?

All couples face difficulties, and all couples have differences. Couples who fail to negotiate these differences will find the marriage getting cold.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife magazine.

Although some people enjoy winter sports, I don't know any couples who enjoy winter marriages. Winter marriages are characterized by coldness, harshness, and bitterness. The dreams of spring are covered with layers of ice, and the forecast calls for freezing rain.

Marc has been married for 24 years but says of his marriage, "It's discouraging. We disagree on everything. We are both bull-headed, and this has created many conflicts. There is a coldness about our relationship."

His wife, Marsha, says, "Marc is so critical. I feel there has been more effort on my part than his. He will not listen and doesn't care about my feelings. At this stage, we spend little time together and give almost no affirmation or touch."

The winter season of marriage

Hurt, anger, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, and sometimes hopelessness are the emotions that couples experience when their marriage is in the winter season. What brings a couple to such an ice age? Rigidity - the unwillingness to consider the other person's perspective and to work toward a meaningful solution.

All couples face difficulties, and all couples have differences. These differences may center on money, in-laws, religion, or any other area of life. Couples who fail to negotiate these differences will find the marriage getting cold. When one or both marriage partners insist on "my way or not at all," they are moving their marriage toward an ice age.

In the winter season of marriage, attitudes turn negative. Sarah and Will have been married for 19 years. "I really tried to work on our marriage in the early years," Sarah said, "but he interpreted everything I suggested as nagging. Nothing seemed to work, so I began to shut down. It has left me not really caring about his needs. I'm now waiting, probably unfairly, for him to put some energy into our marriage."

Will said, "It makes me feel like we're not going to make it. It just keeps getting worse. We fight 24/7. I can't go on like this, and I don't know what else to do."

Sarah and Will demonstrate the negative attitudes of a winter marriage. In such an ice age, the problems seem too big to tackle. Positions appear frozen in place because disagreements have gone on for so long. The tendency is to blame the other spouse for the decline in the relationship. The marriage is like two people living in separate igloos.

The great thaw

Most couples experience the winter season of marriage from time to time. Winter may last a month or it may last 30 years. It may begin three months after the wedding or hit in the mid-life years.

If your marriage is in winter, it may appear beyond hope. But don't give up. Just as most people wouldn't lie down in the snow and wait to die, there's no reason to passively accept the coldness of a winter marriage. There is a way out, and it begins with a change of attitude. The coldness of winter often stimulates a desire for healing and health. A winter marriage often makes couples desperate enough to break out of their silent suffering and seek the help of a counselor, pastor, or trusted friend.

Thawing the ice of a winter relationship requires work. Take four steps to move your relationship forward.

  1. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. This includes the courage to admit your own past failures, first to God and then to your spouse.
  2. Choose a positive attitude. Ask God to help you turn from seeing the worst in your marriage to seeing the potential. Instead of believing your situation is hopeless, choose to believe in the power of God to change you and to touch the heart of your spouse. God is in the business of restoring relationships. When you ask Him to empower you to be a gracious and loving agent for helping your spouse become the person God has designed him or her to be, you begin to melt the ice of winter.
  3. Speak your spouse's love language. Discuss what really makes your spouse feel loved (your biggest clue is what he or she has complained about through the years). Every morning in your quiet time, ask God to show you ways to express love to your spouse using his or her love language. The Scriptures tell us, "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8).
  4. Maximize your differences. All couples have differences. These were never meant to be divisive. Ask God to show you how your differences can be an asset to your relationship. When this happens, you'll know spring is near.

Unlike sledding down a steep hill or a ski trip to Colorado, working through a wintery season in your marriage may not be fun. But when you persevere and begin to take positive steps to improve your marriage, you'll emerge stronger, more committed, and better able to work through your differences. By extending the olive branch of peace, even in the midst of pain and alienation, you can discover deep healing and deeper intimacy. And when you choose to love again, the melting ice of winter will water the seeds of spring.

Gary Chapman, Ph.D. is an author and marriage conference leader and serves on the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He and his wife, Karolyn, have two grown children.