7 Simple Ways You Can Kick Apathy Out Of Your Marriage

This is a guest post from Bryan Stoudt, a pastor and blogger who helps people learn to follow Jesus even when life is busy, broken and full of distractions. (And isn’t it always?) You can read more from Bryan on his blog, bryanstoudt.com, and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter. If you want to guest post on my blog, check out my guest post guidelines and submit your post.

‘Good night,’ I said, trying to smile and drum up some enthusiasm. I’m not really sure what my wife said in return, but it was probably something similar. In reality, I had already moved on.

7 Simple Ways You Can Kick Apathy Out Of Your Marriage - JackieBledsoe.com

On the inside, I was hurting. Frustrated that my wife seemed disengaged. But I didn’t want to admit it. And neither one of us was brave enough to move beyond the status quo.

We were moving toward apathy, an ongoing state of dismissal and distance from each other, accompanied by a lack of emotion that was getting (honestly) kind of scary.

And I didn’t know what to do about it.

Apathy Ought To Scare You

If apathy doesn’t scare you, it should. It’s how those seventy-year-old couples you see at McDonald’s wound up staring at their fries and barely acknowledging each other.

Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman puts apathy (‘stonewalling’) at the end of a journey that predicts divorce with a ridiculous degree of accuracy.

  • Criticism: Stating your complaints as a defect in your spouse’s character. For example: ‘You never clean up after yourself. You’re so lazy.’
  • Contempt: Claiming that you’re superior. For example: ‘You’re a jerk.’
  • Defensiveness: Instead of listening to your spouse’s critique, defensiveness redirects criticism by proclaiming your innocence and their guilt. For example: ‘If you didn’t work so late all the time, maybe we’d have sex more often.’
  • Stonewalling (apathy): Withdrawing emotionally from interaction with your spouse. Instead of getting angry or defensive, you just don’t care. For example: Even though your spouse is trying to communicate with you, you don’t give them the normal feedback that conveys interest, concern, and respect.*

When our relationship is stuck in this last stage, it’s either on – or heading toward – life support.

Other Warning Signs

What are some other warning signs that apathy is present in your relationship?

  • Lack of physical intimacy: When we’re not physically affectionate or having sex with our spouse, it’s a clear sign that something deeper is going on.
  • Date nights disappear: Sure, it’s hard (and expensive) to find a sitter, but if you’re not making an effort to date your spouse like you used to, it’s another clue that something isn’t quite right.
  • Doing your own thing: We all need our own space, interests, and friends, but if our discretionary time rarely involves our spouse, it’s an obvious sign we’re struggling with apathy.
  • You’re so busy with your kids that you don’t have time for your spouse: It’s fine for your kids to be involved in extracurricular activities, but do they really need to play violin, star on the traveling soccer team, and be the first child to land on Pluto? Maybe our kids’ frenetic schedules also allow us to avoid connecting deeply with our spouses.

There’s Hope! Rescuing Your Marriage From Apathy

If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re either looking for solutions or you’re doing okay but have seen enough signs of apathy to know you need to be on guard.

Here are seven ways we can fight apathy today:

  1. Admit you’re vulnerable: Even if you have a great spouse (like I do), you’re not above this.
  2. Get a jump on it: Apathy is a journey, not an event. It’s far better to address it as soon as you see the warning signs instead of letting it go.
  3. Let it hurt: If you’re in a tough season of your marriage, don’t shut your heart down and tell yourself you don’t care. And if you’re someone of faith, have an honest conversation with God about it (see 1 Peter 5:7).
  4. Go first: Someone has to take a risk and go first. Your spouse might not reciprocate, but this is your best shot. ‘Hey, I know we’ve been distant, but I love you and want things to improve.’
  5. Work at it: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. We need to get creative and put regular effort into our marriages.
  6. Involve others: If you can’t work things out with your spouse, involving your friends, church (or faith community), and seeking counseling may help.
  7. Pray: This may not resonate with all of you, but my wife and I encourage couples we work with to ask God for help. Even if your spouse won’t pray with you, you can always pray for your spouse (see James 5:16).

My wife and I still need to guard against apathy, but we have a healthy, growing marriage. By recognizing and fighting against apathy in its various forms we can watch our marriages move in a healthier, more satisfying direction no matter where they are today.

Question: What signs of apathy have you seen in your own, or others’, marriages? What are other ways we can fight against it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Photo by fensterbme via Creative Commons

*Source: Dr. John M. Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, (New York: Harmony, 2015).

Is your marriage surviving or thriving?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • So easy to get into the busyness of life, work and kids. The adult relationship usually suffers. This is usually just a cheap excuse why couples can’t make time. If you wanted to you probably could. It is about commitment to each other. Some of this disappears after marriage because expectations have now changed with that life event.

    Are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling in the order of how they develop or is that random? I can see stonewalling at the end.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful answer, Kirby. (I had responded earlier, but for some reason technical difficulties prevented my response from posting.) I completely identify with what you say about busyness from work, kids and life in general. And, how commitment can lessen as expectations change after tying the knot. This is something I have to constantly fight in my own life, often by admitting I’ve allowed what you mention to become an (unspoken) excuse.

      As for the order of Gottman’s 4 elements, it appears that the first 3 do predictably lead to stonewalling as an end result, like you say. But, they do not necessarily appear in order themselves. (See the short (~2:00) video on the right sidebar at .com/research/research-faqs/.)

  • Thanks for posting Jackie…

    Hey Bryan, Great practical ways to fight against apathy. In our 27 years of marriage we have learned to keep our marriage fresh and protected from things like apathy and from the overall dysfunctional way of living.

    Two of the several things we do is:

    1. We go on dates (as you mentioned above). Our weekly dates are often inexpensiveness. We take a couple of hours, go to the store (usually, grocery store) and then go out for ice cream. Nothing fancy. In the summer, we go out for ice cream and then go for a walk around the lake. This gives us opportunity to chat for a while and enjoy the environment. My wife often brings her camera since she’s a photographer and loves taking scenic pics.

    2. The second thing we do is, we have our daily devo. We read a devotional book together and discuss what we read about. You’d be amazed at the things that surface and often we deal with as a result of a simple bible topic discussion It’s one of our favorite times. If we miss our morning devos, then we might read something else at night – like an article or parts of a book of something one of us is interested in.

    Our overall focus is to serve one another and keep eachother’s interests ahead of ourselves. That’s been our focus since day one, but let me tell you – it’s easier said than done, especially when you have 4 kids that eat all your food..lol..

    hey, thanks for the post. Great reminders and tips to implement.

    • Hey Alex, thanks for a thoughtful response and adding to what I shared. I love what you say about the daily devotional surfacing other issues. And I couldn’t agree with you more about how hard it is in real life, especially with the kids eating your food! (We have 4, too, so I feel your pain!) 😉

      • Happy to know we have each other’s shoulders to cry on.. lol..

    • Thanks for contributing, Alex!!