Last week I talked about why couples grow apart. Today I will discuss specifically "how" couples can reconnect and even reinvent a passionate and loving marriage.
Most, if not all, marriages go through their seasons, affected by circumstances. Whether you've been together for five, 10, 20 or 40 years, the opportunities to reinvent your relationship are always available. The key to doing so is to simply answer this question: Where does my marriage stand on my priority list? Is it first, or does it fall behind kids, work, church callings, leisure time, hobbies or just plain ol' selfishness? If we want our marriage to thrive even under all the pressures in today's society, we have to move it up on our priority list. If we don't, we'll end up just surviving at best, stuck in the kind of "parallel marriage" I talked about last week.
There are four simple ways we can reclaim our marriage from the doldrums and actually begin to enjoy each other's company again:
1. Think of one behavior of yours that is causing unnecessary stress in your marriage, and make a conscious decision to eliminate it from the relationship. In all my years of working with couples, you'd be amazed what difference it makes when we eliminate just one destructive, dysfunctional or even mildly annoying behavior. Whether it's being critical, unkind, cold, unforgiving or just picking up after yourself, it does make a huge difference. Make sure you communicate this to your spouse so that they're aware of your efforts. It's great doing it without being asked, and it will most likely foster some kind of reciprocation. "Well honey, if you're willing to work on X than I'd be willing to work on my Y!" It really becomes a win-win situation. A word of caution however: do NOT promise to work on an issue/behavior and then abandon the whole idea just because it's hard. It will really cause hurt feelings. When we promise something, we need to honor it no matter how difficult it might be. Otherwise we raise expectations only to have them go unfulfilled, and trust me, that's no way to make a deposit in your marriage.
2. Learn each other's love languages as defined by Dr. Gary Chapman in his best selling book "The Five Love Languages." They consist of Physical Touch (not sexual), Quality Time, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation and Gifts. Both husband and wife can make a list of the things that make them feel loved the most, and then number them by priority from one to five. If you'd like an extra fun exercise, you can also try to guess the order of your spouse's love languages. Do it without peeking at each other's answers, and then exchange information. How well do you know your partner? Are you willing to love them the way that is meaningful to them? Concentrate on the top two for now: i.e. my love languages have always been physical touch and quality time, but my wife's are words of appreciation and acts of service. The sign of true love is the ability to forgo what comes naturally to us and make a consistent effort to love them they way it works for them, even if it's outside our comfort zone. That's the sign of true love. I promise you that as you try this approach, your capabilities of being more loving will stretch and grow. It's may not be easy at first, but it will definitely be worth it.
3. Take time away from the kids, extended family and even friends from time to time. In our home, Friday night is date night. Unless something extraordinary happens, we go out. It doesn't have to be expensive or even cost any money other than babysitting ... and as the kids get older, even that's covered in-house. Go for a drive or a hike holding hands and talk about your dreams, your aspirations, your fears and concerns. Remember who it is that you're talking to, and let that eternal companion role be your guide. If you're like us, you've probably been through a lot together. Now is not the time for blame, but rather another opportunity to share and bond. Remember your achievements and successes from time to time. Laugh at your mistakes and insecurities, and know that someone up there loves you and is looking after you. From time to time, go for an overnight, just the two of you. It can be at your local hotel or nearby bed and breakfast. Swim together, relax in the hot tub and spend an intimate night away from the kids. It will do wonders for your marriage.
4. Finally, exercise your mind, body and spirit together. Read interesting articles or books to each other. Stimulate your minds by keeping them active. Share what you're learning as often as possible. These are building blocks of emotional intimacy. My wife has opened up worlds to me that I never would have found and enjoyed on my own. I've learned to love the theater, horseback riding, hiking, skiing and camping because of her. My life is richer because she shared what was important to her. Go exercising together, even if that means a simple daily walk for half an hour. There's something about being outdoors, breathing the fresh air, holding hands, walking and talking together. I know it sounds simple, but it's a daily deposit in the marriage account. Lastly, create opportunities to feel the Spirit together. Reading scriptures or other great spiritual books and discussing them will open up your hearts to one another. Talk about the eternal aspects of why your marriage is so vitally important. Always keep that perspective, and it will make forgiveness and kindness part of your daily lives. Life is too short: Our overall happiness is very much tied to the level of fulfillment in our marriage.
Whether you're willing to make a small effort to change or a big one, know that whatever effort you put into your marriage account will come back to you tenfold. E-mail me your questions, concerns, ideas, and your success stories; I help couples every day to achieve their dream marriage, so I'd love to hear from you.