How Alive Is Your Marriage?

At a conference in Las Vegas, I had lots of experience walking through the casino. No games played, so no money lost. But I did get to watch those who were playing.

by Lee Baucom, Ph.D.

I would watch the people at the conference. You see, everyone at this conference is on a mission and has a message for the world. The topic and content varied greatly, but all had a deep desire to change and improve the world. The conference was for experts and authors who want to be effective in getting their message out. And the participants were energetic and alive.

What a contrast! In one area (the casino), I watched a group of people that were allegedly “having fun.” But I saw very little laughter and very little signs of life, except for the movement of fingers on the screen. (You don’t even have to pull the arm down anymore on the slot machine!)

There were (on purpose) no windows and no clocks on the wall. There was nothing to give you a reference of time passed or life outside the casino. And the result?

It could have been a room of zombies. No flicker of life as they stared at the screens. No joy, no laughter, no interaction with others.

Then, into the conference. People were interacting and excited. Eyes were dancing and gleaming. Hearts pounded with purpose. People planned to make a difference.

The difference between the two areas was more than striking. It was alarming.

From a room of zombies to a room of people fully alive.Which made me wonder about how that applies to marriage.

It strikes me that we all live somewhere between these two extremes: fully distracted and numbed at one end, and fully alive and engaged at the other end. We do that in life, and we do that in relationships.

Have you noticed those couples that are at the beginning of their relationships, perhaps in the early stages of dating? They are engaged with each other, deeply excited and joyful.

That is what propels the relationship forward. People tend to be alive and purposeful.

One hallmark of this stage: trying to show the other person how wonderful they are and how much you care. In other words, the energy flow is toward the other person.

Then there are other couples, often those in the midst of a marriage. It would appear that they have been infected with a virus. They have become “zombies,” disengaged and distant. They are distracted and too busy to really be present.

The marriage becomes in many ways, the marriage of zombies. The relationship has lost its direction and the couple has lost the engagement between the two. Life goes on, one day after another, punctuated with disagreements and angry grunts between them, but the true life of the relationship has evaporated.

While the infection does not happen to everyone, we all seem to battle the virus.

We all have times when we are less engaged than we would like. We all have more negative feelings, hurts, and disappointments than we would like.

The question is not whether the “zombie relationship virus” is present, but whether we are able to fight it off. Do we have a strong enough immune system to keep the infection from becoming systemic?

There are some very clear symptoms to a growing infection:

1) A shift from “how can I show you my love?” to “why aren’t you loving me more?”

The shift is from giving to getting, and is very toxic. What would happen if both people were focused more on the giving? What if one person can start making that shift?

2) More and more time spent distracted from each other and focused on: career, children, bills, sports, hobbies, friends, media, computers, etc., etc.

There is nothing wrong with having other areas in life, but when the priority of the relationship is lost, the vacuum will be filled by distractions.

3) Less and less time “showing up,” really being present when you are with your spouse.

When you show up, you are truly present and engaged with that other person. In this case, you are really present with your spouse. You are listening and responding. In fact, the grunts that often become a response to a spouse is truly a symptom of infection — the “zombie grunt.” But showing up is always possible — and fights back the infection!

4) An absence of emotions, particularly higher emotions.

As emotions go missing, we become numb.

And as we become numb, we engage less and less. We withdraw and pull back. Remember, zombies have no emotions. That is the realm of the truly alive and truly engaged.

Sometimes, the first sign of this level of infection is the presence of only negative emotions.

But there is an antidote!

When we focus on gratitude and showing love, we avoid the numbing and find a natural antidote to the negative emotions.

The important part of avoiding infection is early detection. How alive are YOU in your marriage?

Are you showing up?

Are you reaching out?

Are you fighting the zombie virus?

While it is easier to fight off the infection when it is small, you can still get that immune system working, even when the infection is raging. But you do need to get started!

Lee Baucom, Ph.D. is a best-selling author, therapist, coach and speaker, and has over a quarter of a century of experience helping couples and individuals learn to thrive in their relationships and their lives. He is the creator of the internet marriage program, Save The Marriage.

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