Is it possible to have a happy marriage is you are married living separate lives? We offer help identifying what causes couples to drift, plus 5 tips to reconnect.
Marriage is often difficult. No one gets married expecting it to be easy, but sometimes it can be harder than we ever imagined.
It becomes even more difficult when a husband and wife drift apart. I call this ‘marriage drift.’ It happens when life gets in the way and you feel more like roommates than a married couple.
The good news is that it is possible to reconnect with your spouse and rebuild the intimacy and connection you once had. It’s not going to be easy, but it is possible.
Is It Possible To Be Happy And Live Separate Lives?
This is not an easy question to answer. It depends on what you really want from you marriage.
If you desire closeness, then it will be difficult to be happy in your relationship if you live separate lives.
However, if you don’t care, of course you can be happy.
The question becomes: What kind of marriage to you want?
A Sneak Peak Into Why Couples Drift
The Insider interviewed eight people who decided to stay together even though they were living separate lives.
The reasons ranged from financial reasons to keeping the family together for the children’s sake.
These are not necessarily bad reasons. They do, however, fall short of what marriage should be.
Let’s be honest. Most of us get married because we want to spend our life with the person we marry. We desire to share life with this person. We want them to be a part of our life. This is normal.
Sure, there are other reasons for marriage. Usually based on cultural and religious beliefs. All in all, most people marry because they are in love.
Therefore, living separate lives is usually a sign the marriage has drifted and the purpose for marrying no longer exists.
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting you can’t be happy living separate lives. You can. That’s obvious. Many couples make it work.
I am only suggesting by doing so, you set aside your original intent, and are not living with purpose in your marriage.
You are welcome to disagree. This article is for those who are experiencing THIS in their marriage – They are living separate lives but do not want to. They desire to reconnect and make their marriage all they orginally intended it to be.
What Does Marriage Mean?
You need to decide what marriage means to you.
As a Christian, I look to the scripture to guide me in my definition of marriage.
The Bible indicates connection is one of the primary reasons for marriage. It is not the only purpose, but it is a primary one.
23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.Genesis 2:23-24 NKJV
Two things from this passage lead me to this conclusion:
1) Adam and Eve became one flesh.
They each had their own separate body, but they became one flesh.
There is something beautiful about this passage when we think about how the body of a man and woman are designed to fit together through physical intimacy. While this verse is not merely about the physical nature of their union, it is worth noting because it is a portrait of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connection as well.
2) A husband and wife are to leave their previous households and cleave to one another.
They are to launch into the world having each other as partners.
How does this relate to the subject of living separate lives? I hope you can see the answer.
Living separately, defeats the purpose and intention of marriage. At least from God’s perspective.
Even in a practical sense, (as mentioned above) we usually marry because we WANT to share life with our partner. Living separately doesn’t accomplish this.
Because of this, couples who want this type of connection will not live full, happy, meaning lives in their marriage.
Therefore, they need to find a way to reestablish the connection.
3 Common Issues That Cause Couples To Drift Apart?
Marriage drift happens for a number of reasons. It’s impossible to list all the factors involved in couples losing connection with each other.
Here are a few of the primary ones we see on a regular basis.
Economic challenges force many couples to work long hours and be pulled in too many directions. Unfortunately, rather than adjust our lifestyle to maintain balace, we continue to push forward to keep up. This often has a negative impact on the family. It specifically impacts marriage in an adverse way.
When we are pulled in too many directions, we easily lose touch with things that should be priority.
An illustration may help:
I have average size hands. I can hold quite a few objects in my hand. For illustration purposes, let’s suppose a ball represents something of importance in my life. I can hold 3 tennis balls. Which means I can manage three big ‘things.’ Anything else, causes one of the balls to drop (assuming I am not allowed to stack the balls on top of each other).
Marriage should be one of the primary tennis balls in my life. However, when I add other things (that should not take the place of marriage) I force the priority of marriage out of my grasp and I lose control.
This simple illustration should help us realize when we put other things in place of our relationship. It forces our marriage to drop. Over time, this has a tremendously negative impact on our relationship.
You may also want to read, ‘The Marriage Wheel.‘
Familiarity and Boredom
Although we are creatures of habit, we also tend to get bored with the habits we establish. This causes internal tension. We like the familiar, but also want new experiences.
Because of this, some couples get bored in their marriage.
WARNING: This is a rant. Bypass if you are seeking validation for bad behavior in your marriage. Rant begins here: I have zero tolerance for those who blame boredom in their marriage for cheating, bad behavior, and other actions that hurt their spouse. Your wife is not meant to entertain you. If you are bored, take responsibility and do something for your spouse to spice up your relationship. Stop expecting other people or things to make you feel excited. That’s childish and immature. End of rant.
Excuse me for being so blunt. I’ve seen enough selfish individuals who blame their spouse for their moral failures. Boredom is not a reason to act badly.
Now, let’s talk about familiarity. This happens when we are so familiar with our spouse that we take them for granted. We assume they are okay or happy, but we fail to ask and check in. This usually happens over time.
We must be intentional in staying connected and being open with our spouse about our needs.
Frustrating Daily Life
There are many things that pull on our time. See the illustration above.
We have chores, school and sports activities with our children, church and social activities, not to mention work and every day stuff that pops up. These things pull at our attention.
It’s easy to feel frustrated by all the demands. When we do feel tension, it’s easy to vent and take it out on the people closest to us. We snap at our kids, and gripe at our spouse. It builds up and if left unaddressed, it creates resentment toward our spouse.
These are certainly not the only factors that bring ‘drift’ into our relationship. They are the most common of those factors. Of course, there are ‘big’ issues that happen that drive a wedge in our marriage; things like pornography, infidelity, self-centeredness, and anger. I consider these things a higher level of problems than the average three mentioned above.
For most married couples, it’s not the big things that tear them apart. It is the little things that go unattended.
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8 Signs Of Being Married But Living Together?
These eight signs are indicators you are experiencing marriage drift. In the following section we will discuss five tips to help your reconnect.
Use these eight signs as a checklist to see how your marriage stacks up.
#1: No Physical Intimacy
Physical intimacy is not the only factor that keeps a marriage vibrant. But it is one of them.
A study of 184 couples with varied “attachment styles” revealed the more affection that couples experience on a routine basis, the more satisfied they feel with their partner’s touch, even if they have avoidant attachment styles.
Other studies make the correlation between physical touch and emotional connection. The more we connect physically, the deeper our emotional bond.
#2: Your circle of friends do not overlap
It is normal for couples to have friends outside of the marriage. I have guys I hang out with that know my wife, but are definitely not in her circle. Some are in a men’s bible study with me, fishing buddies, or they are business associates I spend a lot of time with. These relationships are not indicators of marriage drift.
However, when your entire circle of friends is different, it could be a sign your marriage is moving in opposite directions. Not sharing a circle of friends IS a sign of marriage drift.
#3: You constantly criticize each other
This is one of the biggest indicators your marriage is moving in separate directions.
Criticism is one of the major marriage killers according to John Gottman.
Disagreements and arguments over issues are one thing. Criticism of your spouse as a person is another. When marriage drift happens, couples usually end up finding fault with their spouse over every little thing. It becomes personal instead of situational.
Here’s what I mean. A healthy argument revolves around a situation. Something happened and you deal with it, even if you disagree. You love and respect each other even if you do not see eye-to-eye on the event or situation.
When arguments move from situational to person, you blame, find fault, and despise your spouse because of who they are. Nothing they do is satisfactory. Everything about THEM becomes the issue.
This is a sure sign you are moving in opposite directions and ultimately living separate lives.
#4: You’ve stopped showing empathy
Empathy is the ability to see life from the other person’s perspective. When this stops, it indicates you no longer care about what they feel, think, or want.Empathy is one of the major building blocks of a healthy marriage. It indicates genuine care for your spouse, and a willingness to enter their world. Click To Tweet
Empathy is one of the major building blocks of a healthy marriage. It indicates genuine care for your spouse, and a willingness to enter their world.
Without this, marriage naturally moves apart, not together.
#5: You’ve lost respect for each other
In her book, For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn shows that men desire respect more than anything else. (Find the book on Amazon)
Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected.
Respect is not merely a ‘male’ factor. It is not gender specific. Women (in fact all human beings) desire respect too.
We feel respect when someone values our opinion enough to listen. When people feel that their opinions and feelings are valued and that they are treated fairly, they feel respected.
#6: You’ve stopped having fun
Healthy couples enjoy things together. Laughter is a key component in their marriage.
Jeffrey Hall reviewed the results of 39 studies involving over 15,000 participants on the role of humor and laughter in relationship satisfaction.
He discovered that couples who create fun and laughter together are happier and more satisfied in their marriage.
It’s not that any style or a sense of humor is any better or worse. What matters is that you both see quirky humor as hysterical. If you share a sense of what’s funny, it affirms you and affirms your relationship through laughter. That people think you are funny or you can make a joke out of anything is not strongly related to relationship satisfaction. What is strongly related to relationship satisfaction is the humor that couples create together.
It’s true. Laughter really does do good like medicine.
#7: You don’t share daily life together
It is normal and common for couples to have dinner together, watch television, or share daily life together. When couples drift apart, they stop participating in the normal, daily activities of life with each other.
A disconnect in daily life indicates a disconnect in emotional connection, which leads to living isolated from your spouse.
#8: You have emotionally detached
All of these things spell emotional detachment. This is perhaps the culmination of all the above.
One individual put it this way:
I almost wish my husband would have an affair. That way I would have a good reason to leave him!
This is the ultimate result of detaching emotionally from your spouse. There are certainly smaller steps in the process, but the overall direction of the relationship is moving apart, rather than toward.
John Gottman talks about responding to our spouses ‘bid for attention’ (not attention like a toddler seeks, but an authentic response of love to a need they have). When couples stop responding to those bids for attention, it is a sign of marriage drift. They are, in essence, living separate lives even though they share a house together.
You can watch this in action here.
What Can You Do If You Are Living Separate Lives?
These 5 tips will help you reclaim your marriage and reconnect with your spouse.
Tip #1: Be Present
Years ago I read a book titled, ‘Just Show up.’ It was a business book. The basic premise is that 90% of success comes from just showing up.
Those who simply approach their job with the intention of getting their work done, is one of the most undervalued principles of success.
Showing up in marriage translates to ‘be present.‘ Give you marriage – your spouse – attention. Care about what is happening in their life. Show up for them.
Be there when they need you.
I’ll stress this again; this is one of the most undervalued and under-rated principles of success. It works in marriage as well as business.
Every person wants to feel valued. The person who gives value is the person we are attracted to and drawn to. The number reason people have affairs is NOT because of sex. It boils down to feeling valued by the other person.
If you want to connect with your spouse, give them attention and value them in an honest, genuine manner.
Tip #2: Tune In
This falls right in line with being present. When we tune in to what our spouse needs, we are in a position to give them what they need.
Most needs go unmet because one partner stops paying attention to the needs of the other. They get caught up in their own world, and fail to notice the little signals their spouse sends.
We all have needs. And every one of us signals those needs to our spouse in one way or the other.
I’m not suggesting we should try to be mind readers. Yet, the harsh truth is, we all (even you) send messages about our needs and desires. We do this because we want our spouse to notice without having to be told.
Is this fair? Sometimes not. But we do not live in a perfect world.
When we pick up on the silent messages our spouse sends us, it lets them know we are truly paying attention. This is one way we show up (see above).
NOTE: If you use this to play emotional games with your spouse, it will backfire. This principle of human nature can be abused and misused. This is a warning. If you play games with your spouse, it will have the opposite effect. They will stop paying attention and lose trust in you.
Tip #3: Ante Up on Communication
Ante Up is a poker term. It is when a player makes his bet (puts his money on the table) before the cards are dealt. It signifies he is willing to play.
I like that idea when it comes to marriage. Especially communicating with our spouse.
When we invest in talking, sharing, and connecting with our spouse and commit to communicating, we indicate we are ready to make our marriage work.
My wife and I spend time every day talking about what happened during the day, our dreams about the future, and everything in between. We make communication a priority.When we invest in talking, sharing, and connecting with our spouse and commit to communicating, we indicate we are ready to make our marriage work. Click To Tweet
We have learned the skill of digging deep in conversation by asking questions that move beyond surface issues. Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’ (which we do ask on a regular basis), we ask, ‘What is one thing you wish would have gone differently today?’
Can you see how that simple question changes the trajectory of your conversation? It moves from ordinary to extraordinary.
Questions are powerful. You may also want to read, ‘How A Series Of Questions Can Help You Fall In Love Again.’
Tip #4: Reestablish Touch
Never underestimate the power of physical touch. I’m referring to non-sexual touch. Holding hands. Hugging. And other forms of touch.
Physical touch is important in bonding. It is a form of communication that expresses love, comfort, and support. It shows how much someone cares about another person.
Physical touch can help to reconnect you emotionally.
Tip #5: Let Time Work In Your Favor
Time apart causes you to drift. Why not use time to your advantage?
If you are drifting because you do not have time together, the obvious response is to spend more time together so you can reconnect.
It’s possible to have a long distance relationship. Couples do it all the time. We pastored young military families when we lived in Colorado. I witnessed couples make it work even though separated for months.
That said, it is still much easier to connect when you spend time together.
I hear couples say, ‘We don’t have a lot of time together, so we focus on quality time together.’
I’m certainly not against quality time. However, it is a myth that you can spend a little time together and your marriage will develop into all it can be. It doesn’t happen that way. The amount of time you spend together is also a factor.
Use time to your advantage. Schedule it. Put it on the calendar. Increase the amount of time you spend together so you can reconnect.
Final Thoughts on Being Married Living Separate Lives
Living married but having separate lives is the design of marriage. God’s intent was for a husband and wife to share their life together.
In this article, we discussed the 3 reasons couples end up living separate lives, the 8 signs of marriage drift, and 5 tips to help you get back on track and reconnect.
- Is It Possible To Be Happy And Live Separate Lives?
- 3 Common Issues That Cause Couples To Drift Apart?
- 8 Signs Of Being Married But Living Together?
- What Can You Do If You Are Living Separate Lives?
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If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.