As a couples' mediator, I see many serious relationship problems in my office: Emotional and physical affairs, money battles, divided loyalties, blended families, loss of attraction to one's spouse, conflicting expectations and priorities -- the list goes on. These whoppers can make it a challenge to get a marriage back on track. Yet marriages don't just derail because of major issues. Sometimes little things can snowball into big problems that can block the path to wedded bliss.
During a recent session, a woman who couldn't pinpoint a specific problem in her relationship asked, "Can a marriage just be in a bad mood?" The answer: You bet. Marriages are made of people and people are dynamic creatures. They have mood swings, they get bored, they have ups and downs and they go through phases. It isn't always a specific event like infidelity or a fight with the in-laws that can cause a couple to fall into a foul mood. The ho-hum predictability, familiarity and routine of married life can do it, too.
So what are the signs that a marriage is in a bad mood? They vary from couple to couple, but generally spouses may feel easily irritated by each other, enjoy fewer positive interactions, retreat into personal hobbies or separate activities and care less about their appearance or behaviour around one another. Their sex life may cool and they may feel taken for granted. They may start to complain about their spouse to family or friends. Depending on the severity and persistence of these signs, a marital "bad mood" may or may not lead to more destructive problems.
Happily, it is possible for a couple to snap out of a bad married mood. Practising the "Five Ps" can help:
1. Prevention. Take a proactive approach by limiting misunderstandings, escalating or endless conflict and negativity in your relationship. Show supportive interest in your partner's life and treat him or her with respect, appreciation and devotion, even -- perhaps especially -- when you don't feel these things. Rely on small routines, like sharing a morning cup of coffee or enjoying a Friday night dinner for two, to bring a sense of friendship and constancy to your life together. However, keep in mind that novelty and excitement are also important elements of marriage. Make an effort to experience new things together.
2. Passion. Prioritize emotional and physical intimacy, and realize that these are two sides of the same coin. During those times you don't feel passion for your partner, you can still feel passionate about the commitment you made to each other and to your family. Sexual passion wanes. Don't panic. It can come back with some effort and imagination. In the words of Mignon McLaughlin, "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person."
3. Prudence. Don't make any stupid mistakes when your marriage is in a slump. Don't overspend, drown your sorrows in a bottle of Jack or jump into bed with the first Facebook friend to give you a poke. For better or for worse, remember? They make couples take that vow for a reason. Most marital bad moods will pass quickly enough, but serious mistakes in judgement will hang around a lot longer.
4. Patience. Accept that change won't happen overnight. Well, it might if it's a really fun night, but more likely it will take some time. Get out of panic mode. Slow down, remember the good times you've had in the past and concentrate on how to create an even better future. Stop using apocalyptic language like, "We should just get a divorce" or "Maybe we're not meant to be together." Such statements send the message that you already have one foot out the door.
5. Plan. If your marriage slump persists or if serious problems surface, it is essential to jump-start a recovery plan. If you've self-treated with retail therapy, get back on budget. If you're stressed or disconnected, book a romantic getaway. If you've thought about separation or straying, seek professional help. Make sure that a passing bad mood doesn't bankrupt you, affect your health or land you in divorce court.
Finally, if the first five Ps don't work, try the sixth: Purchase. Stop by the best jewelers in town and buy your spouse a 24 carat heart-shaped diamond necklace. Well-timed jewellery can improve the mood of almost any woman and, in turn, any marriage.