Don’t let complacency set in – work hard to build and grow your marriage

A friend bemoaned to me just the other day that when he and his wife wake up in the mornings, she now reaches for her phone. “There was a time,” he said, “when she first reached for me.”

“Honey, let’s go dancing tonight,” said the wife to the husband of more than 20 years.

Without even pausing or looking away from the television, he muttered a quick response: “Some other time – I’m going to watch the game tonight.”

And so the story goes.

That husband's response indicates complacency in his marriage. No explanation, no “let’s do it another night,” no discussion whatsoever. Not even a smile. Just a grunted rejection.


Complacency is defined as a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements. It is also extremely dangerous in the context of a marriage.

Familiarity, routine, boredom, becoming a creature of habit – all these elements help complacency take root. Why? Because the easiest thing for any of us to do is to do nothing.

Many married couples lower their expectations for one another and even their standards over the course of time. I read just the other day about a famous Hollywood couple who no longer closes the bathroom door because their kids might walk in and “need them.” Well, for me, unless there are some really special circumstances with those kids, the kids would have to wait.

Complacency in a marriage can cause something of a “slow death” through apathy and indifference. So many couples don’t notice it until it is “full-grown” with strong repercussions on the marriage. Sadly, that’s why so many marriages succumb to what is commonly called a “mid-life crisis.”

Husbands and wives have successfully raised the kids, had careers, and then become empty-nesters. They suddenly find themselves strangers after all these years because they have been so busy doing “the right things” that they took one another for granted, perhaps not intentionally but that is the reality of the matter. Somehow along the winding road of life, they forgot that one another should have been the number one priority.

Couples should be deliberate in taking steps to not only preserve their marriage but to grow their marriage – to nurture it and to keep the spark alive. You may not always have the butterflies that you did when you first met, but they don’t need to be replaced by moths, do they?

Let us all remember that love is far more than a feeling – love is a choice, a decision. Love, like each of us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, can and should stretch and mature over the course of time. We can choose to love our spouses well, recognizing that neither they nor we are the same people we met and eventually married all those years ago.

But to grow with one another reaps tremendous rewards and benefits.

Complacency begs that we accept things as they are instead of talking about important matters and compromising when appropriate. The art of compromise is an absolute essential for a functional and healthy marriage.

So how does one avoid complacency in a marriage?

Become that girlfriend or boyfriend all over again. I heard Vanessa on the phone the other night with one of her girlfriends and I had to laugh. She told her that she was about to go on a date with her “boyfriend.” (That would be me.) We thoroughly enjoy our date nights and getaways, and we have learned over time how important it is to take that one-on-one time. Use a little imagination and make the time – recognizing that time is often an invaluable commodity for young couples raising kids, paying bills, and trying to find their way.

But making investments in your marriage is far more important than the stock market. I will tell you that the returns are also far better - if you invest wisely. Romance is a must – you’ll get out of it what you put into it. We often tell couples in our coaching and counseling sessions to “study your spouse.” What is his or her love language? Learn it and speak it to them regularly. Sometimes, do what they like, even if it’s not your favorite activity or pastime. You just might be surprised at the returns, if you’re truly in it to make them smile.

And if you find yourself in the awkward space of making extra effort and your spouse doesn’t seem to notice, bring it up. Not in accusatory fashion or in a way asking for sympathy but in an authentic manner. Tell him or her that you really are trying to be “that guy” or “that girl” and you want them to be satisfied and happy with you. Humble yourself and ask the question – what do you need from me that will make you more content?

But if you ask, be prepared to follow up and to do it within the realm of reasonableness.

Complacency can take many forms, to being in a bad mood when your spouse is present, to emotional indifference (not caring how their day went, and not really listening when they tell you), to a lack of concern for personal grooming, to saying “I love you” out of routine, to a lack of desire for intimacy.

In short, pay attention to your spouse. Make sure they know that they're seen, heard, and loved. Don’t lower the effort you put into a relationship because of the years you’ve been together. When you ask them how was their day, put that phone down and listen – really listen – to what they have to say. If you think they don’t notice you’ve got one eye on them and one on the phone, you’re wrong.

Proverbs 1:32 says For the waywardness of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

A friend bemoaned to me just the other day that when he and his wife wake up in the mornings, she now reaches for her phone. “There was a time,” he said, “when she first reached for me.”

Don’t let complacency set in – work hard to build and grow your marriage.

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