When Dana and I were engaged, there was one thing we dreaded—someday becoming one of those married couples that appear to barely tolerate each other. You know—those couples who never even hold hands or exude joy in being together. We vowed to each other that we would do everything within our power to resist the trends and habits that take a couple gradually down the path to boredom, mediocrity, and relational monotony. Not even knowing what it would require, we vowed to each other to “keep the romance.”
Twenty-two years later, we’re winning the battle so far. I realize we have a long ways to go, but I sat down last night and made a list of things I think God has used between us to help us resist the normal drift apart that many couples experience. Here goes:
We spend time together: I know this is basic, but so many couples spend less and less time together the longer they are married. Big mistake! Honestly, one of the greatest blessings of my cancer battle this past year was that I got to spend a lot more time with Dana. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of time we would normally desire, but the extra time together, even in sickness, was a real delight. A good marriage take lots and lots of TIME! You can’t fast-track a strong relationship.
We listen to each other: This one sort of snuck up on me, and Dana is better at it. I really have to work at this. But when we’re together, there’s usually one of us leading the conversation. Usually Dana has more to say—she’s a woman. (And that’s not an insult, by the way.) But we both have our moments of “needing to be heard.” And I think we both value the sound of the other’s voice. I meet some husbands who get tired of “listening”—don’t do that. Be thankful that YOU are the one she’s chosen to talk to! What a compliment!
We try to bless and care for each other: After this year, Dana has a HUGE lead on me in this area. She’s waited on me hand and foot for about a year now. But even before cancer, I can honestly say we have chosen to find pleasure in taking care of each other. She delights in pouring me a glass of tea, I delight in holding her while she falls asleep at night. We both delight in doing little things that bless the other. Those little things go a long ways toward keeping love alive.
We retreat together regularly: Leaving the kids is always difficult. Finding a little extra money to get away is a challenge for any growing family. But early on, we committed to get-away together a couple of times a year—whether or not it was convenient or affordable. These retreats together have become cherished memories. They have fueled our marriage and our whole family in more ways that I could possibly describe. I would call these retreats “mini-honeymoons.” In which case, for those who do them, the honeymoon never really “ends.”
We express physical affection: This one was an easy one to see as an engaged couple. The longer some people are married, the less they touch. So we decided we wouldn’t do that. We decided we would always love holding hands, sitting arm in arm, and snuggling up to each other. Life has it’s way of getting busy and this one can easily fall by the way-side. We’ve had to remind each other from time to time, but I’m thankful that this hasn’t changed much since the day we were married.
We listen to good “marriage music” together: We have gradually built our own collection of songs that speak to our love and strengthen our devotion to each other. We save that collection, occasionally add to it, and use it often. Whenever we get in the car for a date or a trip together, we pull out that collection, hold each other’s hands, and let the music minister to our marriage all over again. Just last night we were doing this once again, and every song carried with it it’s own set of memories connected to when we found it and where we first listened to it. Some were sad. Some were happy. But twenty-two years later, that song collection has wonderfully blessed our marriage.
We dream together: One of the great things that keeps our marriage alive is looking forward together. Sometimes we’re looking forward to something more immediate, like a vacation or special time (like our son’s senior year.) At other times we’re dreaming for the big picture and long term, like our children getting married and starting their own families, or what the Lord might do in our lives or ministry together in the years ahead. One of my personal favorite things to do is dream out loud with Dana about God’s will for our future together. We share common dreams, and that knits our hearts very close.
We read books that challenge us: This one is simple, but we try to build our marriage book collection regularly as well. Over the years we’ve each read a lot about marriage, and every book has challenged us in different ways, provoked different discussions, and cause us to grow. These books, for us, are like attending a well-prepared, truth-filled marriage retreat. They refresh us, renew us, and reset our focus on loving each other better.
We wait out the “weary places”: Every relationship goes through valleys. For us, cancer was certainly one of those valleys this past year. Work pressures, financial pressures, busy-ness, and a myriad of other external factors can weigh down upon your marriage and bring you into a season of weariness. During these times you often lack emotional and spiritual energy, and your marriage relationship can be strained. Many couples “jump ship” during these times. Over the years, Dana and I have learned to look each other in the eye and say, “We will get through this… let’s just be patient and keep holding on to God and each other.” This year was definitely one of those years, but God has brought us through many such times.
We forgive each other quickly: Dana does a lot more forgiving than I do, but we decided years ago that we wouldn’t hold grudges against each other. Expectations often lead to unmet expectations, which lead to disappointment, frustration, conflict, and distance. To keep your marriage fresh, you must be quick to own your failure and apologize. And you must be quick to forgive when you’ve been hurt or slighted.
We laugh and enjoy our family a lot: Like every family, we have our conflicts, but we decided intentionally that we wouldn’t allow our family to be dominated by conflict. Many families are consumed with it. When conflict arises, we work through it and resolve it, and then we move back to the enjoyment mode. As a family, laughter with and at each other and abundant joy with each other is the norm. Much of this is due to Dana’s abundantly joyful spirit and delightful sense of humor as a wife and mother. The whole family sort of adopts her delightful personality.
We take walks together: We need to do this more, but we really enjoy catching a summer evening sunset or taking a late evening walk under the stars. We hold hands, we take our time, we talk, and we enjoy the closeness with each other and with the Lord. (It’s good for us physically too!)
Well, this stuff isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty simple, but it has worked for us. We are more in love today than we were twenty-two years ago. Keeping your marriage fresh is possible if you decide to work at it.
What about you? Please add to this list. What do you do to keep your marriage fresh?
P.S. One final thought… we always kiss when we’re alone on elevators…