Why marital boredom isn’t inevitable (even if the YMCA ladies think it is)

“Oh, honey,” the woman said, “That is just soooo hard.”

I was eavesdropping on a conversation in the YMCA locker room when I heard the older woman say this. The other ladies, all senior citizens, made sounds of agreement. “That is so hard,” another one echoed.

Were they talking about a cancer diagnosis? Job loss? Death of a loved one? No.

Her husband’s retirement.

Another woman jumped into the conversation. “Well, when my husband retired, he kept hanging around the house all the time, wanted to help me in the kitchen. Just drove me crazy. So I just set him to work, and sure enough, within six weeks, he took up golf.” She sounded pleased with herself, downright smug, at her clever use of household chores to manipulate her husband into leaving her alone.

“That’s the way to do it, honey,” a third woman said, as if this was the final word on the subject.

 I wanted to march out of the dressing room and give them a piece of my mind. What would they prefer? To be widowed? Divorced? Never married? Whose 401K funded their YMCA memberships, footed the bill for their ladies’ luncheons, and paid for their house? Wasn’t it a bit flattering that her newly retired husband wanted to spend time with his wife? 

Did they know how discouraging their attitude was to me?

I’ve been married for ten years. I’m the furthest thing from being a marriage expert. I know some marriages are more difficult than others, that some marriages end for tragic reasons like abuse or adultery or neglect. I’m fortunate not to be in a relationship like that, and I have no right to judge those who choose to divorce. 

But when I see women with this attitude, I wonder what went wrong in their marriages. From the outside, there didn’t appear to be any major issues in the relationships. Yet clearly something is wrong. They are bored by the man they married.

Please do something, I want to plead. Please work on your marriage. Please rediscover why you married him in the first place. Please set a good example for younger couples.

I truly hope that when my husband retires, I won’t act like those women in the locker room.

That I’ll still desire his company.

That I’ll still want to have lunch with him (and dinner and breakfast, too).

That I’ll do fun things with him and not dump all the dishwashing and cooking and cleaning on his shoulders.

That I’ll love him more than the day I married him.

That my attitude won’t be one of resignation, where I grit my teeth and  wait for the day that he dies, sticking with him out of duty and obedience to my marriage vows. (A long-lasting marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a good marriage, after all.)

That’s why I love seeing my friends Ralph and Alice. They’ve been married for quite a while, probably more than thirty years. I’ve watched them walk into church, hand in hand, glowing more than newlyweds on their honeymoon.

I’m sure they’ve had hard times. Good times. Exciting times. Boring times. Still, they must have managed to work things out: sloughing through those tough times, embracing the happy moments, working hard to stay close when it would have been far easier to shift into autopilot and neglect their relationship.

The happiness in their eyes tells me that here is a couple who delights in each other.

It gives me hope that marital boredom isn’t inevitable. That marriage doesn’t have to be only a dutiful fulfillment of vows taken long ago. That it can be joyous and loving even as death parts the husband and wife. That a long marriage truly can be beautiful.

How do you prevent boredom in your relationships, romantic or otherwise? Are there specific people who encourage you to strive for a healthy relationship, whether by their words or by their example?

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22 thoughts on “Why marital boredom isn’t inevitable (even if the YMCA ladies think it is)

  1. I like your take on this, Laura. What you have to remember are a few things.

    1. Not all married couples are happy. This is not a good example of all marriages.

    2. There are times in marriage when you will feel the same way. Don’t get scared, it will pass if you try.

    3. Many times when the man retires, he intrudes on a routine the woman has perfected over decades. It is almost insulting when he wants to tell her how to do it. There is a time of adjustment. There is hope in that also.

    Honestly, I can’t say I want to remember the exact reason I married my husband. We were very young and I imagine lust had a whole lot to do with it. 😀 I would rather remember him holding one of our children or teaching one of our sons how to swing a hammer or change the oil in the car. Those are the little things that warm my heart and will keep us NOT bored.

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    1. Thanks for that feedback, Diane. I know that marital boredom does happen frequently; I was just disturbed by these ladies’ attitude, even when some of the husbands had apparently been retired for years. I guess I also don’t like looking at many of the older couples around me who have sour expressions on their faces (especially in the anniversaries section of the newspaper!)

      I love your memories of your husband with your kids. Those things are priceless, aren’t they?

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Couldn’t resist jumping in here.

    Diane’s third point probably had a lot to do with the conversation you overheard, but that made it no less painful to hear. From the perspective of 50+ years of marriage let me reassure you that a couple’s relationship does evolve over the years, but it can be for the better! I love my husband more now than all those years ago when I really didn’t know him very well.

    Caring more about your spouse’s well being than your own, being interested in his thoughts, concerns, and interests, spending time together — there’s just no room for boredom. 🙂

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    1. I love your attitude, Carol. It is really good to hear that marriage can become better as time goes on. I think our society tends to think of long term relationships in a negative light: boring, etc. I once heard a young woman refer to marriage as “bondage”, which struck me as very sad. I’m happy for you and your husband! 🙂

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  3. Hey Carol:

    Compare and contrast your comments to feminists who are largely single and unmarried. They say that taking care of a husbands sexual needs when she is not in the mood is rape. Feminists preach and teach that women should only have sex when she is in the mood and that they husband can just do without or masturbate otherwise. I have been beaten severely with words and hate speech for suggesting that women should voluntarily take care of her husbands sexual needs. They are forcing their husbands to do without sex against his will with no shame and yet they will howl if you suggest that you actually take care of his needs. Kudos on your positive pro marriage comments.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. I think both genders need to realize that their spouse has needs: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, etc. I can’t possibly meet all my husband’s needs (only God can do that) but God gives me the grace to meet my husband’s needs as best I can. I think it’s also important to differentiate between needs and wants; wants can sometimes (not always) be wrong (say, lustful actions that humiliate or disrespect the partner). Wants can also be beautiful things, of course!

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  4. John, I’d have to say that anyone who thinks making a marriage work simply requires a focus on sex and/or performing specific roles is terribly misguided. Agape is so much more than that.

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  5. Carol:

    As a former Baptist minister I certainly understand Agape love. Sadly churches teach the thou shalt nots about sex and never teach the positive commands to have a great sex life. They ignore the biblically mandated ministry in Titus 2 where it is commanded “that the older women of the church teach the younger women of the church how to love their husbands (sexually) so that the Word of God is not blasmphemed.

    Sex is one of the big 3 that couples fight about and overwhelmingly it is about the lack of sex provided by the wife or things that the husband wants that the wife refuses to provide him.

    Little girls are told that sex is bad, dirty and wrong antd that good girls don’t do it in church. By the time a woman is ready to embrace her sexuality, she is so negatively conditioned that frequently she is ruined for life about sexuality. I am frankly surprised that you would say that in spite of your previous comments.

    We have a very puritanical society in this country and as such lead the world by a wide margin in sexual assaults, rape and incest. We also have the highest divorce rate on the planet by a very wide margin. It all relates back to lack of sex.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. Hi, John. I understand what you are saying but you are forgetting the other side. Many men and women are not acting the role they were created for. That includes men. I look around and see men that do not take the lead in their families, allowing their wives to take the burden intended for the man. Women that do not feed and nurture their husbands or their children. When there is a mix-up as extreme as that, there will be problems in a society.

      We live in a time of “ME”. This means instant gratification and selfishness. You talk about women not having sex with their husbands but just as many times men do not want to have sex with their wives. Men and women both are raised with the idea that sex is lust and to be “responsible” with your desires. This translates into twisted desires, pornography, abortion, masturbation…shoot marriage has little chance.

      As a matter of fact, we encourage our children to wait on marriage so they can get adjusted to life. Have them focus on what really matters …money(see the problem). We give them birth control and condoms. Don’t worry that it goes against everything inside the teen that says, Sex! Sex! Sex! In that short time of stupid, bad habits form. There is little accountability for the actions of sin.

      So why do marriages not work? Because sex and society have made us stupid. That is equally true for men and women.

      I was married at 16 to my best friend. We have grown up together, raised five children together, have a tremendous life in general. How? We take care of each other. It is not a game of power. He takes up where I am weak and I do the same for him. This translates in the bedroom and all other parts of our life.

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      1. Hey Diane:

        I agree with most of your comments. Many men don’t fulfill their proper role. Promise Keepers was created to fix that. Men are confused because they are told by feminists that they are bad and evil and that they need to develop their feminem side. Feminists also are very self centered and teach women that they should only have sex when they feel like it and their men can just masturbate or do without, hardly a prescription for a happy marriage.

        I disagree with the statement that just as often men don’t want to have sex with their wives. It is not equal by any means. But you are right there are men who don’t want to have sex with wives with higher libidos. That is why the Bible is so equal, in I Cor 7 says that men have to give their wives sex when she wants it as well. It says not to refuse your partner sex. I can’t believe Carol the pastor’s wife does not get this.

        I agree with you getting married at 16. This is the way that God intended. This saved you from getting hardened and jaded by having sex with many men. You are absolutely right in that society screws up our children by their mixed messages. You are a very perceptive young woman.

        Blessings on you and yours
        John Wlder

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  6. “It is not a game of power.” Amen, Diane!

    And I apologize for dragging this conversation away from Laura’s initial post, but I have to say, while scripture is always a source for guidance, it should be viewed in its entirety, not used out of context. Titus 2 admonishes men and women alike, in concern for how God’s people are viewed by others, and is not a passage obsessed by sex or ruling of one gender over the other:

    1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
    2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
    3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
    4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children,
    5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
    6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.
    7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness
    8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

    ::climbing off my soapbox now and returning to being an ordinary pastor’s wife::

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  7. Carol
    You seem to want to go to war with me and additionally edit out any biblical references to sex and also put words in my mouth. I did not say that sex is the only thing that makes a marriage work, but the lack of it certainly helps marriages suffer. I have coached a whole lot of Christian women who sexsually starve their husbands.

    I did not say that the ministry in Titus 2 was only about sex, but far too many people ignore the sexual aspect of it. In Biblical times kids got married at a very early age in their early teens. This could be problematical for young teen brides who went from playing with dolls to a husband who now wants sex. The ministry was for the older women to teach the younger women how to love their husbands sexually.

    It is even true in modern english translations of the Bible, the NIV being the chief offender. This is not a word for word translation but translating ideas and putting it into other words. For example the Proverbs 31 passage where they mistranslate the old testament word spoil to mean earthly gain. This is incorrect. They were talking about the spoils of war, one of the chief spoils were concubines which God allowed. He allowed multiple wives and concubines, a kind of secondary wife. If the primary wife refused her husband’s advances, the concubine was tasked with taking care of his sexual needs. This God provided so men did not commit adultery. It makes much more sense to the translation that the husband trusts his heart with his now single wife (this was the transition from multiple wives and concubines to one single wife) so that he has no need of spoil (concubines).

    You seem to be fighting my every mention of sex. I also did not say or implie that men should rule over women. Again you put words in my mouth.

    We have caused our kids to stumble sexually because we tell them to delay sex until they are in their 20s where God provided that they get married in their early teens to avoid sexual temptation.

    Don’t accuse me of teaching unsound doctrine. God has given me the gift of prophecy such that I wrote the most extensive bible study on abortion ever published. It was sent to all 35000 SBC churches in 1978 and I introduced the motion that changed the SBC from being pro choice to being pro life in 1980 at their annual meeting. They have never backed away from that postion since.

    At the time I was a lowly bible student and there were a lot of men with seminary degrees and Doctors of Ministry that were not able to do the work that the Holy Spirit guided me to. I truly felt like the young David battling giants in the ministry.

    I feel like you are trying to obfuscate the issue because you are another Christian woman who is ambivalent over sex and sexual issues.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. John,
      I’m not sure Carol’s necessarily disagreeing with your main point (about Titus 2 having sexual implications for marriage); after all, she does mention that the part of the passage about older women teaching younger women about purity (I would imagine sexual purity, as well as other types of purity, such as dealing with impure, selfish, etc. thoughts) and to be subject to their husbands (again, with sexual implications, such as meeting his sexual needs, though being subject to him also involves respect, etc.)

      I think her point is that the passage isn’t only about sex, and I think both of you agree that the Bible needs to be viewed in its entirety (which would include passages such as TItus 2 and the very steamy Song of Solomon!) And both of you are very pro-marriage, and from my conversations with both of you, I see a desire to spread the word that a healthy marriage is beautiful, in its sexual, emotional, mental and physical dimensions.

      Obviously, my post wasn’t about sex in marriage! I just found it sad that some older women regard their husbands as boring. (And I’ve also seen older men feel the same about their wives. For that matter, I’ve seen younger women and men view their spouses as boring.) So all around, we as Christians need to show others how positive, healthy relationships work, whether that’s encouraging floundering marriages, helping those with sexual hurts, or mediating between warring factions in a church body.

      Thanks to all of you for commenting.

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    2. Thanks for the conversation, John. My apologies if I touched on tender nerves. After 40 years involvement in counselling I still find people’s reactions (and overreactions) say a lot. Blessings to you.

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    3. John,
      I will respectfully ask you not to come to the conclusion that Carol is ambivalent over sex/sexual issues. Neither of us knows her personally, so it’s best not to conclude that her comments imply a personal ambivalence over the issue. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, as is Carol, Diane and myself; I think there are things we agree on, and things we disagree on. But please don’t judge her motives, okay? Thanks. Laura

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  8. By the way, the conclusion of Titus 2 was so that the Word of God was not blasphemed. Many people blaspheme the bible because far too many people try to edit out or ignore the positive sexual commands in it. Unsaved people feel like the Bible is just a book of ancient history that has no relevance to their lives. This is because Christians don’t do their job and don’t deal with the whole Bible. Just saying

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  9. Laura:
    I did not mean to coopt your blog, but your comments about women being bored with their husbands is also indicative about negative feelings about sex. As you know a lot of my blog deals with sexual issues. I deal with the fallout due to negative attitudes about sex. What is even more heartbreaking is that couples divorce, the children are so negatively impacted. I did a bible study in a jail last year and there were about 30 guys present. I asked them to raise their hands if they came from a single parent household. All but one raised their hands.

    To your main point about wives being bored with their husbands, I dealt with a guy whose sister is a famous movie star that you would all recognize if I mentioned her name. He was divorcing his wife because she chronically starved him. He got sex about every two weeks. She never had to work, she had paid housekeeping help and lived a life of leisure. He waited until his second kid graduated from high school. I asked him if he would be willing to let me talk to his wife and see if I could turn her around. He answered no, that he was so filled with resentment over the years of starvation that he wanted nothing more to do with her. He would have been okay with a couple of times a week. They were both Christians.

    We are living with an epidemic of problems associated with divorce and sex is one of the big 3 that couples fight about and divorce about. I blame the church for most of it. Most churches don’t teach or preach sex positve messages. Most of the problems show up with the kids.

    I am sorry if the mention of sex made people on here uncomfortable. We are all adults and should be comfortable with it because God invented it for our pleasure and to bond two people together and keep them together in tough times. The fact that anyone was uncomfortable is indicative of how wrong most churches are about dealing with the issue.

    I find it interesting that you rose to take up for Carol when I questioned her motives because she put words in my mouth but you did not take up for me. This is consistent with women bonding together and assuming that the man is always wrong.

    With that I will sign off and wish you the very best in your publishing and writing efforts.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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  10. By the way Laura. I used a clarifying statement and feelings when I said that I felt like she is trying to obfuscate the issue. This is standard in counseling technique. It leaves her open to answer my feeling and impression and correct me if am wrong. She seemed intent on refuting my every statement on sexual issues. Any reasoning individual could come to that conclusion, even to her statement that I was overreacting. Sex has never been an issue for me, but it is in the overwhelming numbers of couples that I work with. My own best friend has suffered from years of sexual starvation and mechanical sex when he gets it. A former associate pastor of mine had a beautfiul young wife who absolutely refused his request to wear frilly lacy lingerie. She considered it sinful.

    Blessings
    John

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