My doctor asked me a question shortly after our youngest son was born that I will never forget, “Who is the most important person in your life?” I replied confidently, “My children of course!” “Wrong,” he said. “The most important person in your life should be your husband. One day your children will be grown and you will only have each other.”
It took me a couple of decades, but I’m finally taking my doctors advice. In fact, just to spend more quality time with my husband I’ve taken up golf. For every one stroke of his, I smack the ball at least 5 times with my 45-year-old clubs. Tough duty for me, but the bonding has been worth it!
Why do so many spouses feel disconnected?
Ask divorced couples why their marriage fell apart and many of them will tell you, “we just drifted apart.”
“I describe marital drift like continental drift ? nobody sees it happening, but supposedly the continents are still drifting 2″ per year… It’s the same thing that happens with marital drift. People just drift apart because they don’t spend time,” shares Tim Gardner, author of The Naked Soul and Director of The Marriage Institute. “Relationships take time. We’re a microwave culture that likes everything quickly… You cannot microwave relationships.”
Another reason for this drift is unresolved conflict. If couples argue and walk away without resolution, an emotional wall can be built up between them riddled with anger and bitterness. What does it mean to be “disconnected?” In Divorce-Proof Your Marriage Dr. Gary & Barbara Rosberg provide some symptoms. If you feel lonely even when you are together and you no longer feel an emotional connection you may be disconnected. If you find that you don’t have much to say to each other and you intentionally direct activities away from there it’s a sure bet that you are suffering from spousal disconnection.
“Most marriages run into trouble when husbands and wives make two mistakes: they stop doing things that strengthen the relationship and they start doing things that hurt it. Relationship Germs can invade the healthiest of marriages and leave them sick and dying,” says Dr. Greg Smalley, President of the Smalley Marriage Institute.
Let’s spend some time inoculating our relationship to ward off these pesky little buggers.
How to Stay Connected
Not quite ready for the honeymoon to be over? It’s natural for the feelings of falling in love and unending passion start to wane a little bit ? who can keep up that pace anyway? In the immortal words of Irish poet Oscar Wilde, “The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.”
But never fear, The Bible gives us the perfect formula for a healthy and fulfilling marriage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Now you’ve probably heard this passage read at dozens of weddings, but pay attention ? it’s great advice:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
In his new book, The Four Seasons of Marriage, Dr. Gary Chapman describes the recurring seasons of marriage, and shows couples how to maintain the warm seasons of their marriage and avoid the harshness of winter. “Winter marriages are characterized by coldness, harshness and bitterness…spouses may withdraw within themselves, hunkering down and trying to ride out the cold season…. However, unlike the natural seasons, the seasons of a marriage do not typically change without some positive action.”
Here are some ideas to help keep your marriage fresh and fun.
Steps to a Lasting Relationship
1. Schedule a weekly date – We schedule everything in life, why not schedule time for each other? Your marital relationship must be a top priority. Get away from the house without kids and talk about things other than paying bills or solving kids problems. Try going to a restaurant where they don’t say “do you want fries with that?” If possible, get away annually to someplace romantic for a weekend or longer.
To help encourage date nights, Kevin and Lori Walton bought a motorcycle. “The stipulation upon getting a motorcycle was that we would go touring and riding together, or else no bike at all. We like our long tours, but also enjoy just going out for dinner and enjoying the sunset on the way home… Lori agreed to the motorcycle if SHE could pick the new house color. So I had no choice but to go with red,” laughs Kevin. After you get over the initial shock to your derriere, a long bike trip can be a great bonding experience!
2. Nurture intimacy. Intimacy comes in several forms, all of which are important in a good marriage. Physical intimacy means being affectionate with one another ? laying in bed talking, going on walks holding hands, just nurturing the passion that you thought would never die when you got married. And kiss more ? kisses say “I love you.” Of course sex is the highest form of physical intimacy – God designed sex to solidify marital relationships. Rosberg shares, “Sex draws us together and reduces the anxiety, improves security and safety and makes us feel as if the world’s distractions stop for a few moments.” Most importantly, strive for spiritual intimacy, which means surrendering your lives and your marriage to the Lord. As with everything else He should be in charge of your relationship. Pray together often.
3. Have a marital mission. Many couples do volunteer work, but do it separately. The husband may participate in the men’s ministry, the wife might help out in Sunday School. But what can give a marriage true meaning is doing something worthwhile together. “What gives our marriage purpose beyond the kids? I know couples whose marital mission is Habitat for Humanity, working at the local food bank, something in their neighborhood ? whatever. It’s something you’re doing together that gives you a greater purpose than just yourself… it gives you something to talk about, to plan for, to work towards,” advises Gardner.
4. Do special favors for each other. Little things like picking up his dry cleaning, getting her car washed on the sly, making her favorite meal or delivering a pizza to his office when he’s working late let your spouse know you are thinking about them. With the advent of cell phone technology, you can now send love notes through the air. Send a coded text message or take a photo of yourself on your picture phone and send it over.
5. Develop a mutual hobby. Try this: Make a list of 10 activities you enjoy or would like to try. Have your spouse do the same and see if anything matches up. If he says camping and you say reading, there’s no reason you both can’t win ? read at the campsite! Picking up golf has been my gift to my husband.
6. Have special celebrations. We all celebrate things like Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. Why not be a little creative with some more obscure occasions:
National Hugging Day (January 21)
National Spouse’s Day (January 26)
National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (June 7)
Best Friends Day (June 8)
Kiss and Make Up Day (August 25)
7. Do parenting together: go to school conferences together, eat dinner as a family, and attend sporting events and performances together. By going to these events as a team you show solidarity and have a built-in date. With the tendency for obligations to multiply, however, that can be tough. Resist the temptation to “divide and conquer” whenever possible.
8. Commit to resolving conflicts. Consider enrolling in a marriage enrichment class or weekend seminar where they teach you the skills to better handle conflict.
9. Have some fun already!
My mother-in-law Joyce offered me the best marital advice. Just before her wedding, a delivery man from a local department store was dropping off a wedding present. He had received the same advice when he was married some 45 years earlier. “Never go to bed angry.” She and Norm have taken that message to heart and have one of the best marriages I know. Not only do they make up before the sun goes down, but they have loads of shared activities- tennis, golf, volunteer work ? during what could be the winter of their marriage.
With a little extra effort, we can all have better marriages and shorter “winters.” It takes thoughtful planning and a resolute heart – but by doing so maybe our ships will start meeting at sea instead of passing in the night.
Copyright © 2006 Amy Hammond Hagberg, used with permission.
Amy Hammond Hagberg is a frequent contributor to numerous Christian publications around the world. Her first book, How Do You Know He’s Real: Celebrity Reflections on True Life Experiences with God (Destiny Image) was released in April 2006. The first in a planned three-book series, it is a collection of testimonies from well-known Christian athletes, musicians and actors on how they know Christ is real. The second installment, God Unplugged, is geared toward youth and will be released in November 2006. For more information visit her website www.hesreal.com.