Marriage Maintenance

My husband and I have just returned from a blissful 10 day holiday. Our youngest child is 21 and our eldest 28 and we worked out that this was the first holiday we had had in 28 years that was:

"¢ Child free, and
"¢ Work commitment free, and
"¢ Visiting friends and family free!

We had fun together, and even after the 10 days were still enjoying talking with each other. Whilst this length of time together alone was a luxury, throughout our marriage we have tried to adhere to a maxim of making sure we have "couple time" regularly, including the odd weekend away without the children. This has been part of our commitment to maintaining our relationship.

Not surprisingly, one of the characteristics I see in marriages that are in trouble is a lack of shared time and activities, and sometimes little commitment, or even resistance, to making that a priority.

Relationships, like our cars, need time, attention and expenditure of some sort to keep them running in peak condition. Sometimes when people complain about the cost of counselling, I challenge them by asking would they expect their car to keep on running year after year without being serviced or having the oil changed. I ask them to reflect on how much they spend each year on that. Surely maintaining one's marriage is just as important.

Here are some suggestions for marriage maintenance: please feel free to share your own ideas as well:

1. Sharing in each other's spiritual lives if this is something you both share. Praying and reading scripture together is a great privilege and intimacy.
2. Prioritise "couple time", not trying to cram talking with your partner into the last moments of the day when one or both of you are tired. Steve Biddulph in "The Making of Love" talks of the importance of spending time talking and laughing together in strengthening your marriage, which in turn, is essential for good parenting.
3. Regular "couple time" may mean teaching the children that Mum and Dad need 15 minutes together each night when they come home from work, sitting having a cup of tea or coffee and talking together.
4. Going on regular date nights.
5. If money for babysitters is short, having a date night once a month at home where the children can watch a favourite DVD, go to bed on time, and parents sit down to a simple but special meal together and talk together instead of sitting in front of the TV for the evening.
6. Taking turns with another family to have each other's children for a weekend once a year. Yes the weekend when your house is full is hard work, but then you get a weekend away with your partner by yourselves!
7. Occasionally doing together those activities you enjoyed when you were first going out with each other. One day you will be a couple once again and will value having kept up some joint interests.
8. Being committed to sorting out differences as respectfully as you can and not allowing them to linger unacknowledged.
9. Keeping up everyday loving physical contact, even when you don't have enough energy or are not well enough for regular sexual connection.
10. Be prepared to review how your relationship is going regularly.
11. Attending a marriage enrichment weekend, or going to see a counsellor to have a general marriage tune-up.

It sounds simple, but in the busyness of life today it can be hard to implement. Being aware of the positive things that you are doing, is there anything else you need to add in? How is your relationship maintenance going?

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (9)

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  • Sandy Grant
    October 10, 09 - 12:39am
    Nicky, thanks for this article. At around the same time, I wrote in more detail at solapanelon what sounds like your idea number 5, which my wife came up with for us.

    But I am sure we will benefit from many of your 10 other ideas!
  • Nicky Lock
    October 10, 09 - 6:46am
    Hi Sandy. I had a look at your blog and thought how freaky it was that we were talking about exactly the same thing! We even had a special pair of wine glasses we would set the table with!
  • Peter Smith
    October 10, 09 - 12:20pm
    Thanks Nicky (and Sandy) for the wake up call. How easy it is for us (my bride and I) to drift on without remembering we are an illustration of Christ's love for his beloved. My suggestion is related to No. 8. Finding time for honestly laying out the inevitable hurts received and inflicted upon each other apart form 'couple time' is vital(not that we do it that well). By dealing with our hurts (received and inflicted) apart from 'dating time' means we have right expectations for our dating time (ie enjoying each other). Hurts left unresolved mean my heart hardens and in turn I withdraw (and inflict pain on my bride). Ongoing repentance and forgiveness is the most wonderful elixir for love.
  • Nicky Lock
    October 11, 09 - 6:20am
    A great reminder Peter that we need to keep "short accounts" with our partners, and being careful about when to do that! Using the simple pattern of an "I" statement can be a respectful way to share with our partner our hurt or irritation. The pattern for this goes "When you .....(non blaming words describing an action) I feel (an emotion word like bad, sad, glad, mad or afraid). I would like it if you could (a request as to how they could do it differently in the future). So something like "when you forget to ask how my day was, I feel hurt and ignored. I would like it if you could remember to ask me each day when you come in". I know it sounds a little contrived, but remembering the concepts can help to shape your sharing.
  • Peter Smith
    October 11, 09 - 7:09am
    The principles you note are great Nicky. My problem, and the difficulty for many blokes, I think, is that we are slow to ask because it might sound like a demand. Or Maybe too, there is a lot of male pride at stake. I am trained by my culture to be self sufficient and so reluctant to show weakness by asking for something from my bride - pathetic really but a real issue - at least for me. I know in reality my bride is eager to find out how she might respond/love me, yet I find it difficult to suggest ways that she can.
  • Nicky Lock
    October 11, 09 - 7:32am
    Peter, I don't want to be seen to be scoring points, but we "chicks" have our difficulties with communicating well and in an adult fashion too! My natural inclination (which happens more than it should) is to nag/whine/be grumpy or manipulate by playing the "poor me" card! But thanks for the honesty re the difficulty for guys to ask for help. Any ideas on how we can work on making it OK for men to be open about such things?

    And on the "am I making a demand?" issue - these requests should only be made with the understanding that the other has absolute free choice as to how they respond to the request. They could respond with something like "I would find that difficult because...." and then the negotiation begins. And sometimes an agreement cannot be reached and there is the necessity to live with the tension of difference.
  • Sandy Grant
    October 11, 09 - 10:34am
    I like this COMMUNICATION EXERCISE
    (adapted from the old Prepare

    Aim: that each partner would share something important to them.

    1. Select a time and place, where you can be relatively relaxed and unhurried. Each of you sits alone and selects three (3)* items from the following list, that you would like to share with your partner.
    • Something I like about my partner
    • Something I think we have achieved together
    • Something I really want us to achieve together
    • Something I would like to do for my partner
    • Something I would like my partner to do for me

    2. Think over what you want to say on each of the items you selected. Maybe write some notes to help do this.

    3. Now get together and decide who is to be the first sharer.

    4. The sharer tells his/her partner about one of the three items from their list. The partner is to listen and then aims to respond in an encouraging way. Please remember that the aim is not to solve a problem or to debate a point. The aim is simply to share something that is felt to be important.

    5. Now switch roles and let the other partner have his/her turn to share an item.

    6. Keep on taking turns until each has shared their three items (assuming you have enough time left - if not, agree to meet again).

    * Picking 3 items means you can be neither all ‘positive’ or all ‘negative’.
  • Peter Smith
    October 11, 09 - 2:49pm
    Yes, Good one Sandy. Your lovely wife is in good hands!

    The hard part in your excellent methodology is finding a place where you can be relatively relaxed and unhurried. Also, how hard is it to shut up and just listen uncritically and yet, when I do (occasionally) my bride is over the moon that I simply listened. Oh to be able to listen, I mean really listen.
  • Nicky Lock
    October 11, 09 - 11:11pm
    Great exercise Sandy.
    Peter, if you are looking for somewhere to learn some good listening skills - and most of us don't do it that well - you could consider doing the first 6 months of the St Marks Cert IV in Christian Communication and Counseling Skills mentioned in the article above. There are a few locations in Sydney. One morning or evening a week for the six months. Or speak to Anglicare about running some communication skills training at your church, so the whole congregation could benefit. Or just keep on practising!