3 Ways that Rhythms Can Become Ruts In Your Marriage

Taken from The Rhythm of Us: Create the Thriving Marriage You Long For by Chris + Jenni Graebe

While most of us can identify the main things that are bothering us in our marriage, sometimes we may not be able to pinpoint the patterns. It’s important, though, to find the places that you may have developed ruts in your marriage— because only by naming them can you begin changing them. There are a few ways rhythms can become ruts in our marriage.

  • Seasonal Ruts: rhythms that served us at one time but no longer help us
  • Inherited Ruts: rhythms we inherited that never helped us
  • Cultural Ruts: societal norms that simply don’t fit us

Seasonal Ruts

Sometimes a rhythm that at one point served us well as a couple can become a rut simply because the season has changed. Habits that cultivate love in our twenties might not work as well when we’re in our thirties or forties. It’s important to reevaluate our rhythms in each new season.

One example for us is basketball— we’ve completely had to eliminate basketball from our lives. Just kidding! When we were young newlyweds, I would go play basketball all day at the gym with buddies, and Jenni was totally cool with that. But as the seasons shifted, and we added more and more (and more) children, activities, and responsibilities to the mix, the reality of me being gone for hours on end every Saturday just wasn’t feasible, or kind toward my family.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the longer you’re married, the more you have to shuck the things in life that bring you joy,  but—to leverage the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book—what got you here won’t get you there.4 Remember, no marriage can thrive when our eyes are consistently focused on ourselves. Creating a thriving marriage requires that we shift our eyes from just our own well-being and happiness to consider our spouse’s, as well.

Can you think of habits that used to work in your marriage that now have begun to cause friction? Perhaps it’s all-day golf outings, frequent weekend getaways with friends, late nights playing video games— you can fill in the blank. A thriving marriage can’t stay stagnant. We have to shift our time and priorities to match the new realities of our ever-changing life. Finding new rhythms for new seasons is not the end of passions and fun, it’s just a reorganizing of our world to make sure that the most important people in our life, our spouse and kids, are getting the very best of our energy, time, and attention.

Inherited Rhythms

JENNI

When we enter marriage, we each bring our own hefty bag of rhythms, both learned and inherited from our families of origin. But becoming a new family means we get to decide which rhythms we want to keep and which we don’t. Some of our inherited habits may be healthy and helpful rhythms, and some may be completely dysfunctional or simply not a good fit for who we are as a couple. The good news is, we get to decide what we will choose to carry on and what we need to let go of.

Depending on your personality, you may fall more naturally to one side than the other. Some of us have a harder time finding any rhythms at all worth repeating. We are tempted to lump our entire bag of inherited rhythms into the category of ruts. Others of us have a hard time seeing any inherited habits as potentially harmful ruts to avoid. What I have found, however, is that no matter the family you come from, if you look hard enough, there are always at least a few good rhythms to hold on to with gratitude and always at least a rut or two that need letting go.

As you think through and discuss with your spouse the inherited habits you learned and received from your own parents, be as kind as you can. Remember, just like you and your spouse, your parents are each children of God, with inherent dignity and value, no matter what example of marriage they gave you growing up. Resist the urge to either completely condemn or entirely glorify whatever set of inherited habits you bring to the table.

One of the inherited rhythms my parents modeled so well for me was the rhythm of generosity. They are just two of the kindest, most servant-hearted people you will ever meet. There is nothing they won’t do to help someone God brings across their path. And I believe the Lord has always blessed them greatly because He knows they will be incredible stewards of whatever He gives them.

Growing up, it was pretty impossible to go more than a week in our house without my mom cooking someone a meal, bringing someone a gift, or simply offering a listening ear. I’ve heard story after story of my dad sending a secret check to help someone in our community who had fallen on hard times or offering to fix whatever had broken in someone’s house around town. If you dropped by their house today, my mom would have some kind of freshly baked good in your hand before you knew it, while my dad would offer to give you a ride on his four-wheeler. Serving is just who they are, and how they live. Chris and I have always been so inspired by that. We want to live out that rhythm too.

One of the inherited ruts Chris and I encountered pretty early on in our marriage was how we handled conflict. My family just fought loud. Chris’s did not. So, when conflict came, I would instinctively get loud, and Chris would not. Have you ever tried to yell at someone who just isn’t yelling back? It’s actually quite impossible. If you’re the only one yeslling, you eventually just begin to look silly. After a while, I remember asking, “Why don’t you ever get loud? Don’t you have strong feelings? Turns out, he did have strong feelings—he just didn’t feel the need to shout them. Simple as it sounds, that was a huge light bulb moment for me. Over time, I learned how to share my strong feelings without getting loud as well. But it wasn’t an easy habit to break.

In one of our favorite interviews, the late Janice Peterson shared the key to her long (over sixty years!), happy marriage to her sweetheart, Eugene:

“My mother and father demonstrated love for each other very, very much. They just . . . they loved each other; they were in love with each other. And Daddy and Mother gave us such a solid base to work out of and to know that— that’s what we want! We want to live a good life; we want to have a good marriage . . .You can’t underestimate the amount of influence [family] has on your life.”

No matter what your home life was like growing up—whether your parents were crazy about each other or drove each other crazy— the good news is, you get to chart your own path for your marriage and your life. If you were handed unhealthy ruts, you don’t have to just continue living them out. You can be the one to stand in the gap for your family and forge a different way forward.

Cultural Ruts

Depending on our personality type, some of us care more about cultural pressure and keeping others around us happy than others do. Usually in marriage, but not always, we fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. This has certainly been true of Chris and me. Chris could generally care less what other people think of him, or whether they are pleased by his choices. But  I— though God has grown me a lot in this area— am usually completely aware of the expectations of others, both real and imagined, whether I choose to comply with them or not.

This usually shows up in our marriage in the form of “shoulds.” Jordan and Jenna wake up at 5:00 a.m. every morning and work out together. We probably should too. Nate and Kelly have lived in the same house for their entire marriage; we probably should stay put too. John and Amy took their family to Disney World this year, and it looked like they had a blast; we probably should too.

Let me promise you, this is a rut. Now, don’t hear what we’re not saying. Learning from the habits and values of wise people around us is a vital part of growing; in fact, it’s a huge part of what inspired us to write this book. But feeling pressured to adopt other people’s rhythms that simply don’t fit us is not healthy, and it will not lead to a thriving marriage. This is not how we learn from others. When we strain our marriages to practice rhythms that just don’t fit who we are, in order to fall in line with the cultural expectations, keep up with the Joneses, or simply because we think we should, we’re heading for a rut.


The Rhythm of Us by Chris Graebe and Jenni Graebe

What does your marriage look like in your wildest dreams?

You know those couples who seem to truly thrive? The lucky ones who are somehow still wildly in love after decades of marriage? As it turns out, that kind of marriage isn’t just meant for a select few. The healthiest, happiest marriages share a transformational secret: intentional rhythms

In The Rhythm of Us, Chris and Jenni Graebe invite you to discover what those core essential rhythms are, how they work, and the results they can have on your relationships if you choose to practice them. With real life examples and inspirational guidance, you’ll learn how to envision the marriage you long for, identify the ruts that are keeping you stuck, and bring your deepest passions and priorities to life in your relationship.

You don’t have to settle for a marriage that’s just skimming by. Starting today, you can create a rich, passionate, thriving marriage that will last a lifetime.

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