When Marriage Hurts: Why Growth Can Feel Like Regression

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Why does marriage hurt so much sometimes? 

At times, relationships feel like they are dying when in fact the people are just starting to live. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute but before I do, let me add a quick word of clarification:

The kind of “hurt” I’ll be discussing in this post is the type associated with growth. Maturity in marriage often requires addressing our reluctance to change and confronting fear and pride.

If you found this post and you’re in a toxic or abusive marriage, that’s not the type of hurt I am talking about. I pray the post encourages to you advocate for yourself: Please confide in a safe person, call an abuse hotline, speak with authorities. You are loved and deserve so much more. At the end of this post, please see some online spaces where you can get free help.

So let’s talk about why marriage hurts sometimes, within the context of growth.

Last Saturday, my husband and I disagreed about something, and by the end of our conversation, I walked out of the room, muttering under my breath. 

Well, he heard what I said so it wasn’t really under my breath. He wanted to know more, which was okay. Except he used a phrase, I absolutely detest. 

A few years ago, the little phrase would have been the start of a big roaring storm. Back then, it didn’t matter “who started it” or what the issue was (small or big); all triggers started big fires.

We’d make snap judgments about the other person’s intentions. We poked holes at each other’s reasoning and engaged in passive-aggressive behavior. We boarded up our hearts and completely shut each other off. (Here’s a post where my husband explains why he struggled with communication and my version here)

Bottom line, any situation that challenged us to grow up felt like death. Opportunities for maturing often became regression. 

A few days ago, though, we did not escalate when my husband challenged something I said and used a phrase I hate. Now, we were very upset. But instead of defaulting to our old MO’s of lashing out and retreating, we took a different route. 

He risked his heart and spoke up. I went to the kitchen and had some time to cool off and think. It was while I was in the kitchen that God reminded me about my part in the disagreement: that I needed to own up to it. And apologize. And tell my husband about my trigger.

Which is what I did. He apologized too, and we made up, and our evening settled up as usual – on the couch, chatting, laughing, sharing a bowl of super sweet watermelon. 

It took us a long time to get to where we are, and when we started the journey of addressing conflict healthily, every inch felt like death.

Owning up to my issues felt like I was yielding ground and getting nothing in return. Opening up instead of shutting down felt like he was going to war without armor.  

But over years, we kept taking those steps and kept walking towards each other, even when it was risky, and there were no guaranteed results. We spoke with mentors, opened up to our peers and read up a ton of marriage blogs. Those small steps added up.

Why does marriage hurt so much when we're growing? How can couples address underlying problems and stop sweeping things under the rug?

Why does marriage hurt so much? 7 examples

I want you to keep in mind that healthy communication does take two. Your growth and vulnerability do not guarantee your spouse will want the same things you do. So sometimes in marriage, the best thing a spouse can do is retreat when their spiritual, financial, emotional, physical, sexual or mental well-being is at risk.

Are you feeling like your relationship is dying? Maybe you’re just starting to live. A few instances where growth feels like death:

  • When you speak up when you’re used to keeping quiet.
  • When you take a step when you’re used to being passive.
  • When you pursue hard a conversation when you’re used to letting things slide. 
  • When walking on eggshells becomes old, and you start to do something about it.
  • When you say no when you’re a yes person. 
  • When you give some leg to your faith when you’re used to shrinking back.
  • When you dream bigger and desire more when you’re used to settling.

Sometimes moving forward will feel like you’re taking steps backward.

Being firm or decisive will feel like the first sign your marriage is over. Exploring what it means to love someone again after they hurt you will feel impossible. Attempting to address the underlying issues, instead of just trying to get over the hurt feelings will feel like an overpowering new frontier.

I want you to know that it’s okay to feel beat and tired when attempting new things. But I also want to encourage you to keep taking those small actions because those tiny steps add up and become significant gains, and one day the new mindset and routines will become the norm for you.

If you’re constantly disagreeing and don’t know how to jump off the crazy wheel, or you keep “going with the flow” but are terribly unhappy, let me help you.

How To Navigate Conflict in Marriage is my on-demand coaching for women who want healthy communication in marriage. It’s a conflict navigation tool for couples who want to create an intimate connection where everyone feels heard and nothing gets swept under the rug.

A comprehensive guide to help address marriage problems faster: Nothing gets minimized or swept under the rug and everyone takes responsibility

I was blessed to have my husband join me in the course. It’s our first marriage course since we got married nine years ago. God has used the course to show us where we need to grow and mature: We have learned how to handle conflict in a way that doesn’t throw the relationship out of the window. As we went through the lessons, we were able to talk about specific problems we’ve been having. The difference this time was that we were more calm about it: We talked without going after each other. I know there are glorious days ahead of us in our marriage because we’re now equipped. -Rinze, wife. 

My husband and I used the same ideas and strategies I share in the course to get our marriage unstuck and into a place of health. And many couples are finding freedom too. Sign up here.

Why Does Marriage Hurt So Much: From Hurt to Health

Most couples want healthy marriages: I am yet to meet a husband and wife who relish marriage problems. But that giant gap between the dreams in our heads and married life’s realities present a pounding headache.

We crave a healthy marriage, but how does that look like in real life? EXACTLY how do we solve problems when one person hates conflict? How do we create a secure future when one person struggles to connect at present? How do we align our values so we can steer in the same direction as a couple? How do we become better wives when we don’t know how?

I know the fear that strikes your heart when it seems like your marriage is failing, and you don’t know how to stop it—the frustration of following all the advice and still failing at marriage.

I am not here to tell you that all your marriage needs is a better wife, and everything will be fine and dandy. Because fine and dandy result from two spouses engaging, connecting, and doing their part to make the marriage work.

That said, a healthy marriage indeed begins with a healthy you. Start doing your part today.

Prayer Requests For a Hurting Marriage

Would you like prayer for your marriage? Intentional Today Prayer Team wants to pray for you. ITPT is a group of people from our community who pray over the community’s needs.

Use my contact form to submit a prayer request. Please be specific and short (we have many requests to go through, and it helps if the messages are short and to the point) and add a name (it can be a fictitious name) so we know who we are praying for.

If you would like to join the prayer team, you can do so here

Resources for Abusive/Toxic/Confusing Marriages

If your spouse is toxic or abusive, please get to a safe place and find help immediately. You are loved. Here are a few resources to check out:

Let’s talk! Have you ever wondered “why does marriage hurt so much?” or is that a completely new thought?? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from painful seasons of marriage? How did you move forward even with the uncertainty? Let’s talk in the Comments.


2 Comments

  1. Pathways to Intimacy says:

    This post is very helpful! Yes, I agree that even if we are 20 or 30 years into marriage, there are still room for growth and it could feel insurmountable for both of you to unlearn old ways and learn new ones. But proper communication really do help! Those pointers you outlined did hit home. Great work on this. I hope more couples can read about it.

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