By Ashley McIlwain
Whether you have been married for one day or for a century, there is one universal truth. You will always and forever have to continue to work at your marriage.
Often times we assume that there is a point and time in the life of a marriage where you are “over the hump.” A moment when you can turn on cruise control and coast through the remainder of your life with ease, comfort, and little to no effort. Surely after five, ten, twenty, or fifty years, the need to fight for your marriage diminishes, right?
Yes, there are seasons of marriage that run more smoothly than others, but there is never a season where it is self-propelled. In fact, it is that very concept that lands many couples in my office for therapy. That’s also where the “we just grew apart” myth is birthed.
Think of it this way … if you simply showed up to work and sat there doing nothing, would you still have a job? Sure, you were physically present, but you contributed nothing. It wouldn’t be long before you and your career “grew apart.” It’s not just about physically being somewhere; it’s about what we do once we get there. A car left in neutral will go nowhere. We must engage the car and push the gas pedal to go places. Marriage is no different.
If we want our marriage to go somewhere, if we want to head in the same direction as our spouse, if we want to grow together, then we must engage. We have to invest in it, work at it, and contribute something. We can’t just physically show up but be emotionally and mentally checked out. A tremendous amount of energy, effort, and intentionality must consistently and constantly be poured into a marriage if it’s to both survive and thrive.
Here are a few simple ways to engage with your spouse regardless of how long you have been married:
- Make eye contact
Oftentimes when we are talking or even just sitting together with our spouse, we fail to make eye contact. It may be that we are looking around observing our surroundings, on our phone multi-tasking, or glancing back and forth from the TV screen. Eye contact is one of the best and easiest ways to engage with our spouse and focus our attention on him/her. It also ensures that we are actually listening to him/her. Don’t be distracted and miss out on what your spouse is saying. Being the one our spouse wants to share with is an honor and a privilege! We only need to see it as such. Conversation with eye contact is an easy way to connect with your spouse.
- Express love and gratitude
The longer we are married, the easier it is to forget that we need to let our spouse know that we love and appreciate him/her. Surely he/she knows by now though, right? Well, let’s hope so, but that isn’t the point. The point of expressing love and gratitude is not to create a newsflash so much as it is to reinforce and remind our spouse that today you are continuing to love and appreciate him/her. You simply can never say, “I love you!” or, “I appreciate you!” too many times.
- Make time for one another
We get caught up in our routine, and like a well-oiled machine, we fulfill our role and responsibilities without giving it much of a thought. Except, we do need to give it thought because busyness is one of the biggest threats to marriage. It’s vital to carve out time for one another. To fan the flames of love. To pursue our spouse. To build that friendship. To enjoy that person you chose to do life with. It is important to schedule date nights at least once a month and to find time daily to be with one another. Even if it’s fifteen minutes, make those fifteen minutes count. You cannot grow together if you aren’t spending time together.
- Be affectionate
Everyone’s level of desired affection varies, but non-sexual, physical touch is crucial to a marriage. It’s in those tender touches that much is communicated. Hugs are shown to minimize stress, and it can be a beautiful reminder that you are holding onto one another come what may. Those sweet kisses are little love notes. Holding hands is a reassurance that you’re in it together. Affection is a simple and loving way to savor your spouse.
- Never stop learning
No matter how long you are married to your spouse, there is always something new to learn about him/her. We are constantly changing, and there is an infinite amount of things we can discover about our spouse if we only ask. Like a student, we must always keep learning about our spouse. Keep discovering who they are. It is in that search for knowledge that we keep things fresh, lively, and exciting.
Marriage is an adventure. Like a rollercoaster ride, it twists and turns, thrills and excites. There are ebbs and flows, vivacious seasons and seasons of drought, times of joy and moments of sorrow, flashes of ecstasy and ones of exacerbation, but the overall journey of marriage is what you make of it. There is no neutral, no cruise control, and no auto-pilot. There’s only you and your spouse continuously working on your marriage to make it that haven and sanctuary.
No matter how long you’ve been married, your work is never done. You’ve never reached the finish line, and you’ve never squeezed out all the joy, excitement, and contentment that is to be had. You must continually dream, plan, hope, pursue, fight for, and cherish your spouse and your marriage.
I leave you with one question: what can you do this very day to selflessly, no-strings-attached love and pursue your spouse?
Copyright © 2015, Foundation Restoration. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No reproduction allowed without written permission from Foundation Restoration and/or the author.