What to do About a Mediocre Marriage
“If he would just hit me or cheat on me, I’d know what to do.”
I’ve heard this statement more times than I can count in my two-plus decades as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Why would someone fantasize about having a violent marriage? Or about infidelity? Because both situations afford the decision-making clarity that a mediocre marriage does not.
Why is it so hard to know what to do about a mediocre marriage? Because a mediocre marriage is typically defined by what it IS NOT. A mediocre marriage is not interesting. It’s not vital. It’s not stimulating. It’s not romantic. It’s not emotionally or physically intimate. It’s not FUN.
Living in a mediocre marriage is like having a roommate — except that you can’t just leave and get your own place or get yourself another roommate. Especially if there are kids, friends, families, and mutual financial obligations involved. People in mediocre marriages often feel trapped and lonely. They exist in a state of boredom and resentment, smothered by the stench of obligation.
WHY is a mediocre marriage so miserable? Here’s a quick lesson in the three phases of relationship dynamics.
Stage One - Engagement
Engagement is that “click” you feel when you meet someone you just can’t stop talking to. Engagement feels like connection, but it’s shallow and can dissipate quickly. Couples engage through conversation, through sex, through physical touch, through common concerns and goals, and sometimes through conflict. Engagement is what keeps things interesting.
Stage Two - Connection
Connection is the hard part. Connection involves mutual vulnerability over time. It requires creating space and closeness — at the same time. It involves taking a hard conversation from beginning to middle to end, without collateral damage. It requires an honest reckoning with all the squishy feelings, like fear, shame, guilt and loneliness. Connection is the juicy part. But it’s difficult to achieve and can be almost impossible to maintain.
Stage Three - Attachment
Attachment is the part where we sign up. Attachment takes many forms. It can involve living together, having children together, getting a pet together, even getting married. Attachment can also look like glomming on or stalking. Attachment is the Gorilla glue of relationships.
So here’s my pro tip: in a mediocre marriage, couples are typically DISENGAGED, DISCONNECTED, but still ATTACHED. Ugh. Worst case scenario.
What to do?
Take the risk of connecting.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Reengaging can involve something a simple as spending half an hour daily together, with no cell phones and no interruptions, talking about anything BUT what you usually talk about. Tricky but do-able.
Reconnecting is harder. It involves risk, self-exposure, and deliberate goodwill. Reconnecting requires that both members of the couple can be trusted with the other’s vulnerability. No withholding and no weaponizing. Ouch.
Re-energizing a mediocre marriage can be a completely solvable problem. If you’re wiling to take the risk to solve it.
Or you could just stick around and wait for something horrible to happen.
The right couple’s counselor can help you navigate your way out of a mediocre marriage and back into one that’s vital and interesting. You deserve more than mediocrity, don’t you? Do yourself a favor and make the call.
About Melanie Wells
Melanie Wells, LPC, LMFT, founded Lifeologie Institute (previously The LifeWorks Group) in 2000 to offer clients a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. She received a BA in English from Southern Methodist University; a MS in Counseling Psychology, specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy, from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio; and a MA in Biblical Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary, where she helped develop and teach in DTS’s graduate Biblical Counseling program. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) as well as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). She is a clinical fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, a clinical fellow of the American Counseling Association, and an approved LPC and LMFT supervisor. She specializes in couples and marital therapy – particularly last ditch marriage counseling, as well as other issues, including spousal abuse, women’s issues, codependency and divorce recovery. Melanie specializes in couples and marital therapy – particularly last ditch marriage counseling. She also works with a variety of other issues, including spousal abuse, women’s issues, codependency and divorce recovery. In addition to her work at Lifeologie Counseling Dallas, Melanie is the founder of Lifeologie Franchising and The LISPY School for psychotherapeutic yoga. She is also parent to two Lifeologie therapy dogs, Gunner and George, and founder and chair of the nonprofit DAWG Project (Dallas Animal Welfare Group).Meet Me