How to Avoid that Fishy Smell in Marriage

Even if you’re not particularly religious, you’re probably familiar with the biblical story of Jonah.

Jonah was a guy who didn’t want to do what God wanted him to do. God wanted Jonah to go to the Ninevites (the ruthless and bloody enemy of his people) and encourage them to change their ways and turn to God. It would be like God asking you to go to ISIS to tell them, “God loves you and you need to convert to Christianity.”

Jonah didn’t want this suicide mission, because Jonah hated the Ninevites and didn’t want God to go easy on them. So Jonah ran. Things got progressively worse and Jonah found himself at the bottom of the sea, squeezed into the intestinal tract of a huge fish. Even after Jonah finally agreed to do what God wanted, his heart was not in it and he wound up bitter and resentful. (For the whole story check out the book of Jonah. It’s only four short chapters!)

Many spouses, like Jonah, are running from what they need to do in marriage. And if they continue to run, they and their marriage will eventually get swallowed up.

How do you know if you or your spouse is running from something in marriage? You can tell by the following signs:

  • The running spouse will become increasingly oppositional. When their spouse says “right,” the running spouse says “left.” When their spouse tries to get closer, the running spouse wants more space. When the family seems to be going in one direction, the running spouse is going in the other direction. Like Jonah, the runner seems bent on going in a completely different direction.
  • The running spouse will become increasingly despondent. More and more they just don’t care. Things can be getting worse around them and it doesn’t seem to phase them. Like Jonah who went went to sleep in the midst of a raging storm, the running spouse pulls into themselves and is unresponsive to all that’s going on around them…including the pleas of others.
  • The running spouse will become less interested in things that were once important to them. Things like spending time with family, having fun with their spouse or building a life together aren’t important to them anymore. Like Jonah who would rather be thrown overboard than change, the running spouse would rather see these things end then do something about them.
  • The running spouse may change their behavior, but their attitude continues to worsen. Just like Jonah, who finally agreed to do what God wanted him to do, the running spouse might bow to the pressure and agree to do what they’re suppose to do, but they continue to be increasingly resentful. They may try to improve their behaviors, but their attitude continues to worsen.

So the obvious question is, “What can you do about it?” Well, that depends.

If your spouse is the running spouse:

  • You can clearly and lovingly talk to them about your concerns.
  • You can continue to work on being the best spouse you can be in order to provide the most open and encouraging environment for them to change.
  • If you’re a person of faith, you can pray fervently that their worsening circumstances will make it increasingly difficult for them to run.
  • But you cannot make them change. That ball is in their court. You must be willing to trust that God and circumstances will do all they can to make a difference.

If you’re the running spouse, you need to stop running by…

  • Staying in place, even when you want to run. When faced with something threatening, our knee-jerk reaction is fight or flight. The more difficult the situation, the more we want to run. In marriage, the only way to really run away from an issue is to run out of the marriage. Running out of the marriage will probably not help, because the issue is as much about you as it is your spouse. When you run out of the marriage, you take your part of the problem with you.
  • Listening, even when you don’t want to hear. We don’t like listening to things we don’t want to hear. So we try to shut those things down with anger and argument, or we try to shut those things out by withdrawing and ignoring. But half of a story will never address the whole problem… even if it’s your half of the story! You need to listen.
  • Paying attention to what’s going on around you, even when you want to ignore it. When things are bad, you don’t want to look at what’s going on around you, because your afraid it will show you something you don’t want to see. It’s like the guy who came into my counseling office because his fourth marriage was on the rocks. When I asked what happened in his previous marriages, he didn’t want to look at those. Like his current marriage, he was sure it wasn’t his fault and he didn’t want to find out differently. Be courageous and look at the evidence around you.
  • Doing what you know is best, even when you don’t feel like it. In the beginning, no one likes to eat healthy or work out. Why? Because we don’t feel like it! But when we override those feelings and do what we need to do, things will get better. We will feel better because we did the right thing and because our actions contributed to change. Don’t let your feelings cheat you out of doing what you know is best.
  • Shunning resentment, even when you want to embrace it. We all like to nurse a good grudge. Being angry at someone feels better than humbling ourselves before them. But Scripture says bitterness can become rooted deep within us, and a root is hard to pull out. So don’t let resentment and bitterness take root in your life. The minute you feel resentment building, let that be an alarm calling you to action.

You may think that a man being swallowed by a fish is too much to believe, but you better believe that a marriage can be swallowed up by even lesser things. So don’t run from them. Face them, and you will avoid that fishy smell in your marriage.

Think of at least one thing in marriage you’re running from. Why are you running? What are you afraid of? What’s one thing you can do to stop running? Don’t run from these questions. Face them and do something about them.

Copyright © 2016 Bret Legg