Complacency is involved in the demise of numerous marriages every year. It can drain the excitement, passion, and energy out of a marriage.
Spouses who are complacent are not motivated to do things differently or work on making personal changes. They are often blissfully unaware of the dangers of taking a partner for granted and assuming all is fine when it’s not.
Complacent spouses also lack the ability to know when it’s important to take a stand and “draw a line in the sand.” They have settled for the status quo and don’t want to rock the boat or make waves. Many times, they look for the easy way out that involves the least possible expenditure of time or energy.
A former client I’ll call “Edwin” was a complacent spouse. His wife periodically screamed and threw fits about insignificant things while he tried to tune her out. His goal wasn’t to tackle the problems in the marriage head on. His goal was for his wife to finish her tirade as quickly as possible so he could get back to his TV program. He accepted the situation instead of working to change it.
“Allie” was also a complacent spouse. She kept reassuring her husband that no matter what he did, she would always be there for him and that she would never leave him. Even though her marriage was unrewarding, she put up with the lack of communication and intimacy rather than take the risk to initiate change. Thus, she reinforced her husband’s habitual neglect of her emotional needs and settled for a marriage that was unsatisfying to her.
Authors John C. Friel, Ph.D., and Linda D. Friel, M.A. in the book they co-authored titled The Seven Best Things (Happy) Couples Do write about the importance of being willing to divorce. According to the Friels, many not-so-happy couples have been misled into thinking that “If you love each other, you’ll never think about ending it.”
They write, “If you’re too dependent on your partner to ever go to the brink, your relationship is in danger of becoming stagnant and dead, which will push you over the brink.” The fear of taking a stand can indicate that you’re feeling powerless and helpless.
The Friels state that if “you aren’t willing to put your foot down now and then, the sparks begin to die out. The only two types of people who want to be in a relationship with a victim are either another victim or a perpetrator. Healthy people don’t like the manipulation and martyrdom that go with the victim role. Adults don’t like to be in a relationship with no resistance. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t have any energy in it. It feels stale.”
When a relationship has an element of risk–knowing that your partner may choose to leave–you are less likely to take the relationship for granted and to get complacent. If you make the relationship too safe for your partner, he or she may become bored or stagnant.
If you and your spouse are both “on your toes,” you will be motivated to put more effort into the relationship. There’s a big difference, say the Friels, between choosing to stay in the marriage versus being desperate to stay. When a spouse is desperate to stay in the marriage, he or she will be too scared to “go to the brink.” There are risks in “going to the brink,” write the Friels, but the risks of not doing so are worse.
Of course, you need to take your time and think through the issues before taking a premature stand that you’ll back down from. But taking a stand at an appropriate time in an appropriate, thoughtful manner could make all the difference in the quality of your marriage.
Am I advocating that you jump into divorce? Far from it. Many situations can be handled while a couple is still living together, once the energies of both partners are focused on solving the problems. In other cases, the possibility of a marital separation may be needed to fully get the spouse’s complete attention.
In The Seven Best Things (Happy) Couples Do, the authors give an example of an appropriate way to deliver the news when a serious problem is involved, such as alcohol abuse or severe depression: “I love you more than anything else in the world. And, if you don’t get some help for this problem, I will have to move out, or ask you to move out, unless you do get help, because I’m not willing to sit idly by and watch you go under.”
Being able to take a calculated risk can “stir the pot” when change is direly needed. You don’t want your marriage to die out with a whimper or to be dull and lifeless. Only you can answer the question, “Is it time to snap out of complacency and take action?”
For readers who want a powerful book on how to have a truly great relationship, I highly recommend The Seven Best Things (Happy) Couples Do by John C. Friel, Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel, M.A.