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How to Find Your Paddle When Your Marriage Feels Up the Creek


by Heather McAlpine

Each of us ends up in difficult situations individually or in our marriages.

Through no fault of our own, we have to adjust our plan, direction or dreams. These stresses can impinge on our marriage and add to any underlying issues.

We all start our marriage intending it to go well.

Initially, we’re under the influence of the love drug (a very powerful love cocktail).

We are flooded with neurotransmitters which give the side effects of a delightfully positive attitude, increased energy, less need to sleep and often a temporary personality change – non-touchers touch, non-talkers talk, and everyone feels happy.

It even changes your sense of smell!  When we were dating, I was really attracted to John’s deodorant. It was manly and evocative.

Later in the first year of our marriage, I found out that up until then, he’d never used deodorant! So, all through our dating days, I was being attracted to his pumped up pheromones!

During this infatuation stage of love, no matter what negative habit or bomb drops in your path… love pushes it away.

It’s like logs floating in a fast-flowing river. The current washes them quickly downstream.

So too in our early relationship, the love flow is powerful.

You might have a partner who’s a work-a-holic, or on the other hand, chronically unemployed, a big spender and hot-tempered.

But one love spray………the issue is gone!

I heard of a mother asking her newly engaged daughter, “What do you see in this guy?  He’s on assault charges, he’s a drug dealer and he carries a knife.”

The daughter replied, “But Mum, when you really get to know him he’s so gentle and loving!”

These rose-coloured glasses don’t stay on for long. Inevitably debris starts accumulating one twig, branch, one leaf at a time. One unfulfilled expectation, one put down in front of others, one episode of rage or unforgiveness. The accumulation reaches the stage that the power of being in love cannot simply flush it away. The river flow gets clogged and may fall to a trickle.

Much of our marriage enrichment experiences and work with couples looks at preventing these blockages. We educate people about the post infatuation second stage of love, where euphoria leaves by the back door and reality makes its entrance.

The euphoric love cocktail can last anywhere between 1 day and 3 years if you’re lucky! This is where the hard work of marriage really begins.

The challenge of any healthy marriage is making the transition to a companionable, committed love whilst still working on keeping the intimacy and sparkle bright.

So what if you are up the creek and the flow of love and goodwill has dropped to a trickle?

In each relationship, there are greater or lesser low flow patches.

These can be due perhaps to the external factors such as tiredness with a new child… (or ones that have been around for years!)… unbearable work stresses (or even more unbearable non-work stresses), or interpersonal factors like unresolved issues or wrong decisions.

The challenge is when you find yourselves up the creek and the paddles you have usually used for momentum and direction, are gone.

You might have dropped a paddle over the side when swept down a rapid, or broken it against obstacles and find it not working anymore.

Either way, you’re in a difficult, sticky situation and you need new paddles as a resource to get out of it.

Let’s look at paddles to call upon when up the creek.

  1. Remember what got you together in the first place.

Sometimes a symbolic object helps us to remember the warmth and security of those feelings.

For 39 years, my husband John has had a photo of me up on his desk, standing on the bow of a small boat pulling up the anchor in my nightie on our Hawkesbury River honeymoon!

If that photo with my cheeky grin caught his eye during a negative relationship swing, it would remind him of our past fun shared experiences. He talks of laughing to himself, remembering past adventures together and suddenly putting current annoyances into perspective.

Remember what brought you together. It’s a powerful resource. Ask, what can I do to rebuild and regain that sense of connectedness and goodwill with my partner?

  1. Accept the package deal

The person we married is a package deal with a mixture of good AND bad habits, and each of us are imperfect people.

Part of celebrating our partner’s uniqueness is to realise that there are many attributes that we need to accept.

We need the freedom to be honest about the impact changeable habits have on us, yet accept some characteristics like extroversion versus being an introvert, being a morning person rather than a night person or being quicker to react as opposed to stewing about things.

Some unchangeable aspects about our partner may need to be reframed as lovable idiosyncrasies.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely quipped, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage,…. after marriage half-shut”.

  1. Develop a Joint Passion

A special way of creating a deeper friendship with your partner is through developing a joint passion.

Think about what your passion is in life.

You can discover this by reflecting on the activities that you look forward to with eager anticipation…., what do you get so engrossed in that you lose track of time? What recharges your batteries and gives you a sense that this is exactly what you want to be doing?

Are there any of these activities that you might want to share with your partner?

Likewise, is there anything that your partner would love for you to join them in?

I’ve joined John in his passion for music by playing the piano, with him on guitar, in the church music band. And to my surprise and delight, he joined me in my passion for cycling. It was an individual activity of mine for 20 years, but when I bought him a bike for his 50th birthday and then lycra for his next birthday,…he’s been cycling ever since!


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