Q&A with J: “We Exist Like Roommates”

Today’s question fills me with a heavy sadness. Yet I know this wife isn’t the only one with this kind of marriage.

I’ve been married for almost 10 years. It’s been rocky for 8. We have two beautiful children and love Jesus and we both want things to be better but almost don’t know where to start. We are at a place where we exist like roommates. It makes me so sad. I can’t remember the last time we had sex or even kissed. I still have hope though. As dumb as it sounds I don’t even know how to get “us” back. Please help. Or give me tips. I know we can’t be the only couple who has been stuck like this.

Q&A with J: "We Exist Like Roommates"

How does a marriage reach this point? Some marriages simply drift, as spouses pursue different paths and their romance and relationship are neglected. Others experience deep conflict for years, until the spouses are so weary they stop fighting and move to a silent stalemate.

But when we vow to love, cherish, and honor our spouse ” ’til death do us part,” we don’t imagine a lifetime of sharing quarters like roommates. We want more.

How do you turn things around? How can you discover, or rediscover, that passion and intimacy you desire?

Do you both want to work on it? What happens next depends somewhat on whether you’re both on board with the plan. If you sit down with your husband, explain how you want greater closeness and passion in your relationship, and he agrees that things need to change, you have more to work with. The two of you can then talk about what you both want, what would make each of you feel more loved and happier in the relationship, and even pursue marriage counseling if needed.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Please don’t make conversations like this a complaint-fest about the past. Just trust me based on my hard-learned lessons: This is a sure way to escalate unhappiness, defensiveness, and conflict.

You can appeal to the past for things that worked well and ask about reintroducing them. You can talk about how you see your future. You can point out what the Bible says about marriage and how God wants His dear children to have loving relationships and deep intimacy. Lay out what you long to have for your marriage and the benefits you, your children, your church, and your community will reap when you nurture that covenant bond.

Whether he’s on board or less eager, make an effort to . . . 

Renew your courtship. Remember when you first met and flirted and spent time together and anticipated seeing one another and shared those initial kisses? You started at zero and revved things all the way up to marriage before — why not do it again?

I recently listened to a replay of an interview with Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs on Homeword with Jim Burns, and he made the point that four of the top ten needs in marriage are most important to continue throughout he marriage:  Conversation, Recreational Companionship, Affection, and Sexual Fulfillment. With the exception of sex, you get all of the others when you simply date your spouse.

That’s a great place to start: Asking your spouse out on a date. You don’t need to announce it like that. Consider what you used to do together or what your hubby loves doing, and then make plans to do just that. Be willing to try new things — some marriages have been strengthened by her learning to fish or him going to a craft convention. It’s not only about the activity, but finding ways to spend more time with your spouse and remember what you enjoy about one another.

Renewing that courtship brings positivity to the relationship and makes the little things around the house or even some big things around the house fade to the background while you get to know one another again. This isn’t the time to discuss big issues between you, but rather court one another and enjoy time together to refresh your romantic feelings.

One more thing about this: If some habit of your spouse drives you nuts while you’re out together, plan around it to making the date experience work for you. For instance, my husband holds the World Record for how long it takes to pick out a light bulb at Lowe’s. True(ish) story. Point being that he is a super-slow shopper, and this impatient wife used to get a bit unnerved during our shopping excursions — until I downloaded a crossword puzzle app onto my phone, and now while he’s taking his sweet time I step off the side and enjoy a word game. Everyone leaves happier.

Even if he’s not on board . . . 

Shower him with love. We live in a culture that promotes falling into passionate, can’t-live-with-you love before even considering marriage. But having spent quite a bit of time in Scripture studying the topic, that’s not what the Bible says about good marriages. Couples came together in marriage for all kinds of reasons, but God’s prescription for a healthy relationship is showering one another with love — the sort of love described in 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:21-33, and Song of Songs.

Head to the Bible for inspiration on what active love looks like. Memorize some of the “one another” scriptures and pray for help in living those out. Remember the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Learn how to speak your husband’s love language. Many talk about “unconditional love,” but the phrase I’ve adopted that helps me to know what this looks like is extravagant love. When you feel that extravagant love from someone else (the kind of love Jesus showed for us), it draws you in.

Honestly, of everything I tried, the daily work of extravagant love made the biggest difference in restoring my own marriage.

A lot has been made recently about husbands needing respect more than love, and I agree. To many men, they flat-out won’t feel your love if they don’t feel your respect, your admiration, your support. So make sure that “love” you show includes respect for the man God made him to be — whether he’s there yet or not.

Initiate sexual intimacy. If you’ve been physically disconnected, start slow — with small touches, hand-holding, hugs, soft kisses. But at some point, you want the whole dance of marriage — including some mattress mambo.

I could give you all kinds of ways to make hints and set up your bedroom and work yourself slowly back into lovemaking. However, if you and your husband invest more in your friendship, your courtship, and extravagant love, you’ll likely both have interest in getting back into that groove. Guys are notoriously in favor of straight talk, so just tell him: I want to make love.

You can say it in all kinds of ways — using euphemisms, body language, etc. — but make sure you’re straightforward so he can’t play does-she-or-doesn’t-she in his mind. Odds are he’s missed that aspect of your marriage too, but if that remains a problem, check out a bunch of my other posts or sit down with a Christian marriage counselor to work on deepening your intimacy.

It’s ambitious to hope that a 1200-word post will help you move from roommate status to that thrilling so-in-love feeling you long to have with your husband. Yet I believe this is a start. Blessings to your marriage and other struggling with this situation.

15 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “We Exist Like Roommates”

  1. Christian Husband of 38 yrs

    One thing that might help is to think in terms of what CS Lewis outlined in his book, “The Four Loves”. (Well worth reading together, by the way, and this might be as good a place to start as any.) My take would be that these four build on each other. (In each, I use both the Greek word and then the English.)

    1) Agape/Charity (in spite of love): This is considered the highest form of Christian love. Assuming that both spouses are Christians (and I really have no advice to offer if they aren’t – both of you really do need to become Christians first and foremost), then you are brother and sister in Christ, no matter what. This therefore needs to be your starting point, your baseline. You need to be reminding each other that you are Christians, and have an honest discussion about what that means as you relate to each other, to your kids (if you have them), and to others. Agape love is above all else forgiving love, so this is the place to be confronting (gently, kindly, humbly, and lovingly!) each other, confessing to each other, and forgiving each other.

    2) Storge/Familial Duty: Presumably, if they are still living with you, then they would at least make an effort to get you and the kids out of the house if there was a fire. Most people take their duties seriously and will make an effort to at least minimally fulfill them, even if all the rest is dead. If the couple hasn’t actually split up yet, then Storge is at least still present. Maybe your next step would be to revisit your wedding vows, and to discuss where each of you is fulfilling or falling short. You both need to be reminded that you made a sacred commitment to each other “for better or for worse”.

    3) Phileo/Friendship: In a good marriage there is good friendship between the spouses. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how a marriage could be good if the spouses are not each other’s best friends. If a couple have drifted apart to the point where they are little more than just room-mates, then rebuilding their friendship is the necessary next step. This is going to take a lot of time and effort, because you are going to have to work together on building better communication, and you are going to have to spend more time together enjoying each other’s company. That is what friends do and what friends are for.

    4) Eros/Sexual love: This is what you are trying to revive, but notice that it is at the end of the list, and at the end of a long process. There is no quick and easy short cut. Only after you have healed much of the brokenness and rebuilt your relationship along the other three dimensions are you really ready to begin reviving your sexual relationship. The only thing I can really say is: start slow and take small tentative steps. There is lots of good advice out there, including on this website. However, it is going to take lots of time and effort – which is possible, and is worth it.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Interesting! I started typing out something about the four loves in my original draft of the post, but left that behind in the interest of other points I wanted to make. I do believe a marriage can cover all four Greek loves, and C.S. Lewis does a fabulous job going through them. (I had the added benefit of listening to him speak about these loves on cassette tapes. What a treat!) My original thought was that we often stress agape love when looking toward healing a marriage, but other loves like phileo can be important in nurturing that intimate bond. Of course, my blog focuses most on the role of eros in a marriage.

      Reply
      1. Christian Husband of 38 yrs

        This doesn’t just work as an agenda for marital rebuilding. I’ve thought that if I could somehow get a “do over”, I’d structure the pre-engagement phase of courtship around Lewis’s Four Loves, with the two of us dedicating maybe a month for each of the four loves to study and to explore their implications. If I had any advice to give to not-yet-engaged singles about how to proceed with this stage of their courtship, this is what I’d suggest.

        The first phase would be studying agape love, exploring what it means to walk the path of discipleship in Christian love together, and also to really understand how important unconditional forgiveness is in marriage. This would probably be the time for either to come clean with anything that needed to be confessed to and forgiven by the other. This is also the time to start praying with and for each other regularly, and maybe to start practicing some mutual accountability. Working together on some sort of charitable project, and on some act of hospitality, would also be good exercises. If they haven’t been already, then attending church together definitely needs to start becoming their weekly practice by this point.

        The second phase would be studying phileo love, learning how to become the very best of friends to each other. This would be the time to really work intensively on building good communication skills and practices. Presumably they have already been exploring fun things that they both like to so together, but at this point they need to identify those few fun things to do that constitute a particular shared interest. They might also start looking for things each could do to be helpful to the other – after all, that’s what friends are for.

        The third phase would be studying storge love, investigating what the reality of married life, particularly the duties and obligations, really entails. This would be a good time to start working on laundry, housecleaning, shopping, etc. together if they haven’t been already. This is definitely the time to be reading one of the good books on Christian financial management, discussing the whole issue of money matters, and developing pre-marriage individual and hypothetical post-marriage combined budgets. This is also a good time to be talking about children: wishes and desires, expectations and pre-conceptions, approaches to education and discipline, etc. Volunteering to serve together in the church nursery would be a wonderful activity to undertake at this point.

        The fourth and final phase would be studying eros love. Certainly, it needs to be affirmed that caution is needed here, and very firm boundaries need to have been already set before they entered this whole pre-engagement course. Nevertheless, if they both make it through to this point, then at this point it becomes appropriate – and necessary – to start being more open about their feelings toward one another. This is the point where they both need to start being assured that they feel real attraction to each other, and each of them knows this of the other. This is the place where things start shifting to a much more romantic mode, with the flowers, poetry, and all of that. This is the place where they start making up their minds as to whether or not this is the right marriage partner for them, with an engagement being the conclusion – unless one of them decides that they really do have to break things off. (Better this than a broken engagement, let alone a broken marriage.) If they haven’t done so already, this final pre-engagement phase is probably the point to be meeting the parents, and maybe having an initial talk with the pastor.

        I think that young couples that went through such a structured program would be far less likely to run into snags during their pre-marital counseling, and would begin their marriage on a very firm foundation. I also think that such an approach has the potential of striking a good balance between the extremes of rushing into something too soon on the one hand and dragging their feet too much in aimless dating on the other.

        Reply
  2. Sad

    Much like the situation I’m in. Make things even tougher when he’s not a believer. The respect department is hard for me to do, everyday after coming home from work his routine is playing games on his phone or watching the TV. Till late in the night. I sleep at 10, he sleeps at 2. Our awake times are so different that we hardly see each other. I have spoken to him in the same exact words, that we are ‘living like roommates’ but nothing much has changed. He can’t have an earlier bedtime as he is not sleepy he says. It is sad as we are married only less than 3 years.

    He does tell me he loves me and sometimes try to give me a quick kiss on the go but now I just want him away. From struggling with respect, I am starting to get turn off by his bad habits that I find it difficult to be intimate at all.

    Reply
    1. William

      Same with my wife, and we’ve also only been married 2 years. She simply doesn’t think there’s a problem or says I’m too sensitive but I think what this article leaves out is just how bad constant rejection can hurt when you do the things listed above for years with no change. I’m on my third counselor in 3 years because I kept thinking the problem must be in my hands.

      Reply
      1. J Post author

        This article wasn’t focused on that particular issue. I have talked many times in the past about the frustration of long rejection. Hoping your marriage gets better!

        Reply
        1. William

          I’m relatively new to the site——I’d love to hear more about dealing with rejection. I’ll look around but if you have any links for stories here that might help I’d be forever grateful. I’ve been dealing with this rejection since before we even married and I thought it was just something I was doing wrong, but I’m on the verge of preparing for divorce because the more I’ve finally focused on me the more rejection I’ve been getting.

          Reply
          1. J Post author

            I’ve written quite a bit on rejection! Here are just a few:

            Q&A with J: What Long-term Sexual Refusal Does to Your Spouse
            Q&A with J: “I Feel Rejected All the Time”
            3 Things Higher-Drive Spouses Long For
            Two Words Your Higher-Desire Spouse Needs You to Hear
            Just Because He Stopped Asking Doesn’t Mean He Stopped Wanting

            I encourage you to hang in there, though, because I definitely hear from couples who struggle with sex for years in their marriage, finally got a breakthrough, and went on to have wonderful sexual intimacy. And they are so glad they didn’t give up.

            Blessings!

  3. IntimacySeeker

    From a been-there-done-that perspective, I think your recommendations are spot on, and they have worked in my situation. It is a process, a journey, though. Not a simple formula that suddenly takes us from roommates to lovers.

    For me, I felt most loved, honored and cherished without sex. Roommate status was awesome for me. But it was torture for my husband. Something had to give.

    Reply
  4. Keelie Reason

    It is so hard when a couple forgets how to be a couple. Very difficult to be in a place where you are living autonomous of each other almost. Definitely agree with what you are saying.

    Reply
  5. LHR2020

    I love your blog! Can I rant for just a minute and the love/respect difference between men and women?

    I understand that the book has been helpful to some couples. It does provide some good information about the distressing cycles that couples can get into. However, I believe the Eggerichs’ Love and Respect books and misuse Paul’s Ephesians 5 admonition for husbands to love their wives that was radical in that culture when women were uneducated with few rights.

    While there may be tendencies for men to choose respect when asked to pick between respect and love because of nature/nuture, it is certainly not a universal trait defining manhood (nor is the opposite choice of love for women) and it is certainly not the correct way to interpret that passage that is a beautiful example of Christ’s call for the powerful to use their power to honor those considered weak (see also I Corinithians 12 for another of my favorite passages!)

    Kristen Rosner had a great post on this topic…in which she quotes a similar survey of highly educated women who chose respect over love.

    She also brilliantly paraphrases a modern day version of how we can read the passage taking in consideration the culture it was written for.

    “Understood this way, what Paul is probably saying about love and respect in Ephesians 5:33 is probably something more like this:

    “Husbands, in this marriage relationship you have a lot more power and agency than your wife does. I’ve already told you to lay down your power and position just like Christ did, in order to raise your wife up as Christ raises up the church. So love her as Christ loves the church! Deny yourself for her sake; don’t deny her for your own sake. Don’t treat her as only a vessel to give you offspring, or as a servant to take care of your house. Don’t go visiting prostitutes or keeping mistresses. Put her needs first, give yourself for her, and treat her with the care you use to take care of your own body.

    And you wives, I know you didn’t choose this man you’re married to, and that your consent to this marriage may have meant very little. I know he’s much older than you. I know that society has placed you as a woman, under male authority. So I’m not expecting you to be able to give your husband the kind of self-giving love that I’m expecting him to give you. But since in many cases you’re still considering your primary authority over you to be your father, I’m asking you to turn to your husband instead. I’ve already surprised you by treating you as not merely a possession for him to rule– I’ve spoken to you as one who has a choice in the matter, because you’re free in Christ. I’ve asked you to choose to submit to him voluntarily, and to consider that a service to Christ. So don’t rebel against your husband, but respect the authority society has given him. I’ve told him to lay down his power and privilege and raise you up as Christ raised up the church, so if he does as I ask, you’ll find yourself by his side and sharing his power, rather than beneath him and obeying his power. “

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yes, you can rant. However, I think Eggerichs emphasized an aspect many marriages were missing by highlighting respect. As a woman who struggled with that question of whether I’d prefer love or respect, I know that doesn’t apply to all wives. However, it’s helped many marriages I personally know about. As with most marriage philosophies, the general statement doesn’t apply to a lot of people, but there are nuggets of wisdom within. In my post, I pretty much folded respect into how we show love to our husbands, because I think that’s a good way to understand it. And of course Ephesians 5:33 doesn’t negate all of those scriptures in which we’re instructed to love one another, including our husbands, so respect is hardly a cure-all. It’s simply one part of a whole.

      I read Kristen’s post and thought she did a good job overall, but I’m not all that excited about her paraphrase. She took quite a bit of liberty there, in my opinion. I’ll keep to the original in my head, but I absolutely agree that wives should be respected and we must look at the vast number of Bible verses and overall admonition to love, love, love — which includes husbands.

      Reply
      1. LHR2020

        Hi J!

        Thanks for your reply and letting me rant. I felt the need because I have heard the love/respect gender differences emphasized in MANY Christian settings in ways that I think are both incorrect and unfair to men and women who do not fit into the gender characteristics that are often presented as universal and Biblical (men are logical/women are emotional, men are wild at heart, women are captivating, men are natural leaders, women are natural followers, men are warriors, women are nurturers, etc. etc. etc. I love your blog partly because you don’t do that!

        I should have emphasized that I really liked your post and it has great reminders for how to make your husband feel loved. I also love many of the resources you listed such as Gary Chapman’s love languages (all his books are excellent). Dr Harley’s books are my favorite Christian marriage books because he is very detailed in what to do to improve your marriage and emphasizes what he calls the “policy of joint agreement” to work out differences and decide things so both spouses are happy.

        I also really like the scientifically based marriage books by John Gottman and Sue Johnson.

        Thanks again for your courage in writing about a lot of subjects Christians don’t talk about but really need to. You’re an inspiration!

        Reply

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