Is It a Bad Sign If Your Marriage Is a Lot of Work?

Recently, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner decided to divorce - because apparently their marriage was "too much work." We frequently hear this from couples in our office, who are ready to give up on love and wonder if they can resurrect a marriage that has been sinking.
08/11/2015 05:42 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2016

We frequently hear from couples in our office that marriage is "too much work." They are ready to give up on love and wonder if they can resurrect a marriage that has been sinking.

The real question behind all this centers on the idea of work -- whether marriage should be "work" at all. And if work is involved, is this a sign that the marriage is failing? Do other couples find it easy to get along and only troubled relationships trudge along fighting it out, working to stay intact but experiencing few victories and little pleasure?

We believe that work is an essential ingredient of marital success -- success at anything worthwhile for that matter. At the same time, it is important to define what that really means and exactly what kind of work and effort is healthy and what isn't.

Let's take a look at the real truth behind the kind of effort needed to build a solid, loving connection and what it means to "work out" a vibrant, marriage bond.

A solid marriage is built around work -- but the kind of work that should bring satisfaction and joy. Work that creates positivity doesn't feel like work; it feels good to be progressing knowing the outcomes will be satisfying.

Too often we think marriage should be easy because, after all, if we love one another, it should be effortless. So work seems like a violation of what being in love should be like. That's a myth. Anything worthwhile takes effort. Almost anything in life is more enjoyable if we have to put work and effort to realize it -- the result is often gratitude and thankfulness.

If the "work" referred to means conflict and fighting, then it isn't really productive or positive work. That may very well be a bad sign. A better word might be "war" for some couples. This means evaluating what "work" means. Many couples struggle in creating connection for a variety of reasons and so building the connection seems to involve too much sweat and effort. They need a game plan that makes growth more manageable. Often this is a therapist or coach that guides them and helps them create a positive path ahead.

We demonstrate love and care by putting effort into loving one another. A willingness to work on the relationship sends clear messages of care -- that your lover is worth the time and attention. They are worth the work it takes to love them. Too often we think in terms of quick solutions and easy microwave fixes -- we need a long-term model for building romance and love.

The work in a marriage needs to be mutually defined so that it involves a positive vision. We call this having a joint vision and results in positive energy as we move toward those goals. We work at other areas of our lives. In our careers, we work but hopefully enjoy what we do and progress in our competence and effectiveness. Marriage is no different. If, for example, we work to create a positive sex life by developing techniques and strategies for deeper connection and great sex is the result, who cares if there was effort involved? No one will complain.

Women, more often than men, feel the burden of trying to create a deep, emotional connection with their spouse -- because women are more emotionally equipped to understand and desire a feeling of connection with their mate. If their spouse doesn't join them in creating this kind of bond, they will feel alone and it will feel like work. On the other hand, if men can join them in growing a richer and deeper relationship, then work becomes positive and no longer one sided.

The right kind of energy that ignites love and sets passion on fire is work well spent. For out of the effort to love another human being -- consistently loving them and cherishing them for all your worth and for all their worth -- moves mountains, sustains depth and creates an enduring connection over the course of your and your lover's life together.