Stages – Love Over Time

© Bruce Allen

“To be in love was to understand how alone one had been before. It was to know that if one were ever alone again, there would be no exemption from the agony of it.”

–Michael Chabon, “Moonglow”

This is a look at marital love through the years as a series of passages, the effect of which is, in the best marriages, cumulative. Think of these as Six Stages of Relationships That Work Over Decades, if that helps. I admit that this is mostly a ‘best-case’ scenario and may, in fact, be as good as it ever gets with couples who decide to become parents. It is not all roses and champagne. It would all be easier but much less meaningful without kids. (God, too, has an opinion on that subject.)

It is clear to me that these stages and the passages between them form the arc of a long-term Marriage with Children. It is equally clear to me that there are numerous impossible real-world situations that disrupt the smooth geometry of the arc described below. I’m not sure if this is how I think things are, or even how they ought to be, and I know that most relationships don’t get to touch all the bases. Perhaps this may be helpful to couples during the grueling Commitment stage, that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you can just keep the train on the tracks and get through the tunnel. Anyway, I hope some of this resonates with you, and that you can find God’s love somewhere in here.

  • Friendship – Maybe coffee later this week…

It is, for me, undeniable that a couple intent upon a long, meaningful relationship ought to be friends before they ever become lovers. Serious lovers. Research by John Gottman at The University of Washington suggests relationships built upon a foundation of friendship have a far greater chance of surviving difficult periods than couples whose relationship was founded upon a more casual and/or physical basis. Think about it—if you and your best buddy had a fight, you wouldn’t ‘break up’ over it. You would cool off and pick things up where they left off. As boys, being told by a girl that she wanted to be ‘friends’ was the kiss of death. As an adult—perhaps this marks the change—it is only good sense to see if you can BE friends with someone of the opposing gender without it being sexual.

  • Desire – I’d like to…

It is a good and natural thing when friendship leads to desire, on its own schedule. If physical desire Cute-Romantic-Love-Couplebecomes part of the basic foundation of a relationship, friendship is the footing upon which it rests. Desire can occur instantly or develop over time. It is essential. It is also secondary to the friendship, upon which all else is built, and without which the difficult periods can become impossible to endure.

Desire comes in many shapes and sizes, but healthy desire is often encountered on whatever one thinks of as the road to Stage III, Love. This can take years to develop. Desire is cheap; love is rare. One’s marriage vows are meant to be taken seriously, and it takes time to do a meaningful assessment, to determine that what you feel is love and not some complicated form of lust.

  • Love – I take thee…

Love, to me, also takes years to really take root. It may show up at first sight, but most simple attractions never become more complex. It shows up, in I-want-to-marry-her strength, once friendship has been established and desire acknowledged. Not until one has had a chance to see how the other handles money, waiters, anger, pain and difficult conversations is there a chance this mutual attraction can become something that lasts, that helps define one and the other, that becomes the sun around which the rest of their lives revolves. It needs to be solid and strong, built on footings and foundation, to withstand the passage about to occur.

  • Commitment – I take them…

Parents and kidsWelcome to the next 20 years of your life. At least. The commitment to have children and to raise them mindfully is its own set of promises, above and beyond the promises you made to one another at your wedding. These promises, to willfully allow babysitting, changing and schlepping to replace golf, after-work drinks and MNF parties. This is the point at which spouses, as friends, must dig in together. It takes great determination, massive sleep deprivation, high standards and huge hearts to survive that period when the kids are little and the days are long and the years are short.

As the children age, some things become easier and some things become harder. But if your marriage has survived the initial barrage or barrages of passing from spouses to parents, the remaining challenges are likely to seem much more manageable. In a perfect world, anyway.

In the real world, there are minefields which didn’t exist when we were raising our kids, and it seems like there are more ways for kids to go wrong. We are told that, character-wise, the die is cast for children in their first two or three years. So, the mantra that helps get young parents through this trial is that the ‘human capital investments’ they make in their children, at their own expense and exhaustion now, will pay benefits for the kids for the rest of their lives. This trans-generational deferral of gratification and installation of values is what raising kids is all about. And you can’t do it without a real commitment to one another and to your children.

One day, God willing, the children are gone, to colleges or jobs or the military or whatever, and suddenly it’s just the two of you again. Empty nesters, with grown children at arm’s length via Facetime, etc., naturally come to focus more of their attention on their work and one another. This passage, from commitment to devotion, is, as with most things, an act of will. Some marriages break down when the children leave, if the kids were the only things holding the relationship together. Those that survive can move beyond commitment.

  • Devotion – I could never leave…

Relatively few couples make it this far. Divorce removes, like, half. There are family disputes andhappy older couplepremature deaths and any number of things that stand between being newlyweds and being an older couple devoted to one another. A couple that has seen much of what the world has to offer and has weathered the storms successfully. A couple with grown kids setting out to start families of their own, using their parents’ marriage as a template. This is a beautiful thing to see. For couples inclined to lean toward one another, this stage can reveal several layers of satisfaction. Retirement occurs somewhere in here. This can be one of the sweet spots in the entire marriage.

In some relationships passing from devotion to the next stage, people like me will trip over the fact that the word ‘cherish’ does not lend itself to being anything other than a verb, available mainly in present and past tenses. How does one make a noun from the word ‘cherish?’ The gerund is lame. I’ll just let it go.

  • Cherish – How does one even live alone?…

old-couple in loveAs we approach the last few innings of our lives, this has become the glue that holds things together once they start trying to fall apart. This is the stage at which the willingness to give 60% to receive 40% in return—another secret to successful marriages—becomes the willingness to give 100% in exchange for simply allowing the other to experience the fullness of life. Old couples who cherish one another are a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing for young children to see and be around. Even, or especially, if one or both is in poor health. A good lesson for children is that love and devotion have nothing to do with physical attractiveness. PopPop may be a fat, lame old wreck but Nanny still loves him.

Aged spouses, so fortunate in many respects, will typically bear a heavy burden as time passes and the inevitable occurs and one finds oneself living alone. This is the price one pays for having loved successfully. Our children will assure us that our dearly departed would have wanted us to be happy and spend time with people. They, in turn, must understand that the person we most enjoyed spending time with may no longer be speaking to us, as it were, and that some of us are reluctant to sub-optimize.

Widows and widowers are not to wallow, but must be permitted to spend their remaining time living on their own terms. Social interaction is good and worthwhile; it shouldn’t matter whether one seeks it out for social or medicinal purposes. Those of us with a tendency toward reclusion must not allow it to claim us. I admit to greatly admiring widows and widowers who can continue to attack life, much as my mother did.

* * *

We’ve listened to countless country and/or rock and roll songs over the years, bemoaning, often in the first person, those stricken with unrequited love. We have clichés about having loved and lost. Shakespeare probably had a hundred catchy couplets on the subject. Rarely, however, do we hear about or discuss those people who have loved and won, only to ultimately lose their best friend and lover after, say, 50 years together. This sense of loss, this epitome of pain is refined and expensive and available only to a select few. It does not lend itself to pop music.

It is generally not interesting to young, euphoric, indestructible couples. It is hard to explain and difficult for young people, trying to get through year six, to relate to easily—the crazy idea of being 70 years old and still together. It seems like the most satisfying relationships result, in the end, in the most thorough loss. It is of much higher quality than the pain of a marriage that ended in, say, year ten, which itself can be indelible. It becomes the point of inflection for one’s entire adult life, the life with, and the life after. For practicing Christians, it parallels one’s spiritual life, decades spent living God’s word, daring to hope for life ever after.

We are reminded, as our former pastor taught me, that God sent his Son to the world to save it from sin, not from suffering. As Catholics, we are left to ponder the great ironies of Christianity. The meek shall inherit the earth. The last shall be first. The richest sacramental marriages ensure the most exquisite mourning. If you love someone you must let them go.

‘Love is a rose

but you better not pick it

It only grows when it’s on the vine.

A handful of thorns and

you’ll know you’ve missed it

You lose your love

when you say the word “mine”.’ – Neil Young, “Love is a Rose”

We’re probably better off listening to rock and roll. Or holiday music. Rock and roll holiday music, that’s the ticket. That, and seeking to understand God’s will in our marriages. I hope He blesses you with peace of mind, united resolve, and loving hearts during this busy season.

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When God Turns the Tables

Perhaps 15 years into our 42 year marriage, it became pretty clear that Nancy would outlive me. Women generally outlive men. She has always taken better care of herself than I have–better diet, more exercise, meditation, yoga, Sudoku. For me, this natural state of things was always premised on the virtual guarantee that I would, by predeceasing her, leave her to deal with the messy emotional and social fallout.   Similar, in many respects, to my point of view concerning the weddings of our daughters–they just seemed to happen on their own, and all I had to do was show up properly dressed with as few prepared remarks as possible.

Along with the diagnosis of late stage pancreatic cancer came this ridiculous possibility that I would outlive her. A scenario I had literally never considered. I recall having laughed out loud at my father, 14 years older than my mother and with his own cardiologist, who would occasionally wring his hands about what he was going to do when Mom was gone. His worries were, as expected, unfounded.  Mine, perhaps not.

[In fact, my concerns may be misplaced, just like my father’s were.  Nancy is doing remarkably well with chemo, her blood chemistry is all in the green, her weight has stayed up and she shows very little in the way of slowing down.  She doesn’t complain about her neuropathy the way she used to, especially during infusion week. My own health is “OK,” which is to say not perfect but not imminently dangerous.]

As an economist, I’m comfortable around statistics.  As a reformed gambler, I still figure the odds and go with what seems most likely. As (determined by StrengthFinders) someone who practices intellection, these statistics and odds and percentages bounce around in my brain.  I talk to Jesus about them in the Chapel. He reminds me we know not when nor where. I remind him of five year survival rates and the physical effects of long term exposure to chemotherapy.

Since Day One, Nancy has not wanted a prognosis attached to her condition, and has been more or less actively disinterested in her disease other than routine conversations with her oncologist. In this, her approach differs from mine, as I’ve always been more comfortable with a devil I know than one I don’t. But, as a spouse, I have recognized, out loud, that this is her journey, that I am beside her for care and support, that she will make these types of decisions–what and whether to talk about–and I will respect her choices.

old-couple in loveAnd so here is the point. The spouse with the serious illness gets to make these calls, all of them. How much to know and how much to leave unsaid. What to discuss and what not to discuss. The caregiver must willingly include these in the inventory of things about which you will want to talk less. If, as in my case, you find a need to discuss concerns you cannot comfortably share with your spouse, do what I do and talk to a counselor every now and again.

In the most recent ten years of our marriage, when we both worked, we had maybe 30 minutes in the evening to sit together and discuss the day’s events.  Now, we no longer have work, we have a few subjects that are off limits, and instead of 30 minutes we have more like 10 hours. Nancy has been more comfortable with these periods of sustained silence than have I, but I’m getting better. Spouses may want to prepare for these in advance, as they should not be misinterpreted as character flaws or a lack of bonhomie, as it were.

It has taken me awhile to understand God’s will in this radically-altered future of ours. This, what we are living, is God’s will. It is God’s will that Nancy carry on her lifelong interest in learning and teaching, and that she be allotted time to do so. It is God’s will that she can suffer in private and go out socially looking healthy and vibrant. It is God’s will that she have someone like me to hang around and take care of her. And it is God’s will that I have finally found a vocation, after decades of searching, that gives me a feeling of purpose and allows me to express my love language–acts of service–every day.

Life is not a bed of roses, and Christian marriage comes not without costs. But being married, at this stage in our lives, is a blessing beyond measure. If you are struggling in your marriage, it may help you appreciate each other by fast-forwarding the film 25 or 30 years, to an empty nest and a dread disease. For the sick spouse, you are unlikely to be able to purchase such loving care on the open market. For the caregiver, being in a position to uphold the marriage vows you made 40 years earlier is a great honor, likely held in high esteem by God. And no couples get there without weathering some serious storms along the way.cropped-lse-masthead6.jpg

Changing Direction

As of September 2017, this blog is no longer formally associated with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Carmel, Indiana. The Love’s Sacred Embrace ministry has been discontinued at the parish in favor of other efforts directed toward celebrating Catholic marriage.

The focus of the blog will, at the same time, change from ideas about how to joyfully achieve 42 years of marriage to how 42 years of marriage helps hold couples together when one of them receives a serious medical diagnosis.

Without examining any data, I suspect the typical reader is younger than me, as I am in my mid-60’s. If so, the posts to come may be of help in thinking about stuff going on with your parents. I think about images of Nancy and me from the 80’s, and look at young couples with small kids today oblivious, as we were then, to the trials awaiting them in their futures, to the crosses they will be asked to bear together, if they’re blessed enough to stay together for the duration.

This is my promise not to violate Nancy’s privacy as this goes along. I will share thoughts and lessons learned along the way, mostly for my own benefit, as I tend to work things out as I type. I have a weekly conversation with Jesus in the prayer chapel at OLMC to try to get him to see things my way which is generally fruitless.

Obviously, the reason I choose to undertake this now is because we’re finally in one of those life trajectory-altering situations I’ve always been thankful that we, as a family, have managed to avoid up until the summer of 2016. I have been “on hiatus” since then dealing with the changes going on and yet to come in my life as husband and caregiver. I feel I’ve covered enough ground mentally and spiritually that I can engage with people about these things and help others approach peace, to seek and accept God’s will.
If you are interested in updates concerning Nancy’s health specifically, please visit her CaringBridge page.

 

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Marriage

Not sure how I found my way to Bridal Guide magazine, but I did, in searchman and woman of something suitable for this site now that my regular second job is on hiatus, leaving some time to work on marriage issues. The article from which these ideas are stolen is one of those multi-page things that most of us hate, but I encourage you to stick with it and read them all. Very sound secular advice.

1. Thou shalt be fun.
2. Thou shalt be sexy.
3. Thou shalt be financially honest.
4. Thou shalt be grateful.
5. Thou shalt keep confidences.
6. Thou shalt keep thine own lives.
7. Thou shalt be an extended family.
8. Thou shalt let bygones be bygones.
9. Thou shalt be faithful in every way.
10. Thou shalt live a healthy lifestyle.

Had this article been prepared with a more spiritual outlook, it probably would have dropped a couple of these in favor of, say, “practicing thine faith together” or “thou shalt respect the sanctity of the marital bed.” Actually, it’s not too hard to imagine a Catholic magazine publishing this same article and replacing items #1 and 2 with these two directives.

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleWhich, in my opinion, would be a mistake. The first two items on the list deserve their place of prominence not just because they apply to young brides and grooms, but moreover because they enable couples to navigate the waters from “newlywed” to “golden anniversary.” Being fun, or funny, is one of the failsafe techniques for keeping relationships blooming. I like to think that my wife of 40 years has laugh lines around her eyes partially due to me; lacking any number of social graces, I’ve always tried to at least keep her smiling, if not laughing out loud.

Item #2 is, likewise, important during the entire course of our marriages. old-couple in loveAs we age, our sexual abilities, wants and desires change.   However, these changes do nothing to our ability to be interesting, perhaps playful, to show interest, to initiate intimacy, to be clean, shaved and fresh, to put clean sheets on the bed, light a few candles, put on some music, etc. Sexual encounters, once a couple is empty nesters, are fairly simple to arrange, but sometimes difficult to execute in the conventional way, or ways. With young kids in the house, it takes real commitment to intimacy to find time—or even a place—to enjoy each other’s presence. There’s some frustration built into each scenario—having the ability and not the time, or having the time with diminished skills—but it remains important to keep fun and physical intimacy in your relationship, else couples risk ending up living together as brother and sister, polite and considerate with nothing resembling passion ar mutual engagement. This is NOT how to keep a marriage strong and healthy.

I think items #3-10 are pretty intuitive. Gratitude, forgiveness, faith, maintenance of self are all qualities that we easily maintain with our friends, but not always so easily with our spouses. The one commandment that is REALLY missing, the one that is more important than perhaps any of the others, goes something like this:

Thou shalt be friends first, foremost and forever.

holding handsAs we have remarked often in this space, couples have a much better chance to make it to their golden anniversary—roughly 2-3% of married couples accomplish this—if they are friends as well as lovers. Friends don’t cash in their relationship because of a fight or disagreement. Friends tend to usually fight fairly with their friends; spouses perhaps not so much. John Gottman, in his book we have virtually worn the cover off of in this blog, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, states unequivocally that friendship before and during marriage is one of the great predictors of a couple’s likelihood of staying together, happy and content.

God bless all married couples during this busy and exhausting season of joy.

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Want More Love? Be More Lovable.

One of the consistent themes of this site is that a lasting, fulfilling and spiritually rewarding marriage is not about finding the right person, but about being the right person.  We have also embraced, since day one, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which lays out the Church’s position on the importance/sanctity of physical Theology of the Bodyintimacy in a loving sacramental marriage.  Yet, it has become something of a running gag in American society that couples continue to have serious, relationship-threatening issues about sex, regardless of whether the marriage was blessed by a priest, or whether the couple is even married at all.

Focusing on married couples, it’s no big revelation to assert that sex is complicated. Ignoring for the moment (mostly male-specific) concerns such as frequency and variety, the reality for most couples is that both spouses work and must deal with work-related issues including fatigue, overnight travel, stress, shift work, and being connected to their jobs 24/7 by text and email.  Add a few kids, with their homework, social and extra-curricular activities.  Some couples must Busy-Parentscare for elderly parents or relatives. Money is often a source of conflict.  Throw in time spent with friends, the pursuit of separate hobbies and interests, housework, yard work and even time devoted to church ministries, and it’s a wonder most couples are having any sex at all.

Though there are no easy answers for much of this, there are a number of things spouses can do to improve the overall quality of their relationship and, by extension, their sex life.  Some of you may recall a book popular back in the 80’s called The Five Minute Salesman, the main premise of which was that in order to get what you (the salesman) want, you must help the customer get what he or she wants. Here are some examples we hope may be useful to you and your spouse:

  • We have occasionally expressed an idea here suggesting that rather than seeking a 50/50 sharing of marital responsibilities (which inevitably leads to some form of score-keeping) we, as spouses, should be willing to give 60% in exchange for 40%.  Going the extra mile, without seeking praise or recognition, will almost always enhance our esteem in the eyes of our spouse, in some cases making us appear more desirable.
  • Take the time to pay attention and learn what he or she likes.  This lies at the heart of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languageswhich expounds on the idea that all of us have a love language we prefer when receiving love and another, possibly different, language we prefer when giving or showing love. Guys, if your wife’s preference for receiving love is words of affirmation or spending time together, a bunch of flowers from Kroger is unlikely to flip her switch.  Both of you need to figure out how the other likes to be shown love; if you can’t do it on your own, read the book together.  I’ve observed that many of us are not loved in the way we want.  If this describes the two of you, you can fix it.
  • Worship together.  If you share the same faith, attending church together is a high quality hour, feeding both your soul and your relationship.  If you attend different Stained Glasschurches, try to arrange your attendance so that neither of you must take your small children to church.  (If you want to do so, that’s different.)  Facilitating a peaceful hour apart is another act of love.  Finally, if one of you does not attend church on a regular basis, that spouse can volunteer to get up early and look after the children while your spouse goes to church.  In any case, there are plenty of ways to show you love your spouse connected to the observance of your faith.
  • Cook for each other, or cook together.  The drudgery of getting dinner on the table during the weekday scrum can be offset by serving her breakfast in bed on Saturday morning or cooking up something fun together when the opportunity arises.  Try a new dish.  One of you can chef while the other preps.  And you never know where a late dinner after the kids are asleep might lead.
  • Talk to each other.  Statistics suggest that the average married couple spends seven (7) minutes a day talking with each other.  If your busy lives make you feel like “ships passing in the night,” commit to finding 15 minutes a day, just the two of you, talking about stuff other than work, the kids or money.  Recall when you were courting how you could literally spend hours like this.  Now that you’re married, you need this time to maintain your connectedness.  Even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal, this is time well-spent.
  • Observe the power of random acts of kindness.  Taking her car out on Sunday afternoon for a fill-up and a wash means she can go to work on Monday with a shiny ride and a full tank.  If he’s been out of town for a few days and gets home later in the evening, a hot meal and a beer, served in some sexy pajamas, might fulfill his every (unspoken) wish.  The key here is to do whatever it is without being asked.  Complying with a request is one thing; showing kindness on your own initiative is something else.
  • TOE time refers to what we call the Touch of Eden.  During TOE time, spouses get naked, get in bed, and simply hold each other close, without any sexual agenda.  Spending 15 minutes like this helps spouses reconnect in an intimate way, without any pressure.  It is not meant to be a prelude to sex, but allows room for the agenda to be amended by majority vote.  Sorry guys–she holds the tiebreaker!
  • WP_20150421_001Pay attention to your personal hygiene.  When you find an opportunity for a physical encounter, make sure you are clean, that you smell good, that you’ve shaved, that your breath is, um, unobjectionable; in short, send the message that this is a special moment and that you want to make it as pleasant as possible for your partner. [These may not be universally shared.  I read recently of a note Napoleon sent to Josephine in which he wrote, “I will arrive on Saturday, Do not bathe.”  Different strokes…]  A little background music, some candlelight and his favorite scent can put an exclamation point on things.

If you and your spouse have some different suggestions, please share them.  God tells us that the marital bed is a sacred place, and we honor Him when we approach it as such.  In the 21st century, we may miss the spontaneity that accompanied such encounters when we were first married.  Maintaining a healthy physical relationship in a world spinning a million miles an hour takes commitment, planning and thoughtfulness. Being the right person for each other can only help.

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Quora.com–a rich source of marital wisdom

Recently I tripped over a site dedicated to creating conversations around a multitude of topics.  I happened to be searching on the word “happiness” and found myself on a page with a number of thoughtful responses to the question, “What habits do healthy couples have?”  After reading responses from a number of members, I decided to cut and paste what I think is a typical response from a reader named Tim Grahl.

Using Quora.com is easy.  Sign up, list the topics you’re interested in, complete your profile, and the site will feed relevant content to your desktop.  Bookmark the site, and you’re ready to go.

happy older coupleWhat habits do healthy couples have?

My wife and I recently celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary and we dated for three years before we were married.  Also, for context, we have two young boys ages 6 and 4 and she doesn’t work outside of the home.  While we have fights from time to time, we are generally a very happy couple.  Here are the things we’ve put in place to make sure it stays that way:

1. We constantly communicate about anything remotely important to us as individuals or a family.  When I was growing up my mom used to drill into me that “99% of marriage is communication.  If you can communicate, you can get through anything.”  At this point in marriage, I would say that’s completely true.  We talk about our hopes for the future, where we want to be individually, as a couple and as a family.  If there is a disagreement or a fight, we never just “let it go”, we talk about it until each of us understands the other’s point of view and we come to an understanding, apologies are said, etc.  We talk about how we’re raising our sons, we talk about how we spend our time, we talk about our schedules to make sure we aren’t too busy.  On anything remotely important, we make sure we stay on the same page and come to an agreement before moving forward.

2. We tell the truth. I don’t know where this idiotic idea came that you have to lie to your significant other.  An early rule was established in our house… “Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to.”  If she asks if she looks fat in an outfit, I will say “yes” if it’s the truth.  But you know what?  When I tell her “no”, she believes me.  This goes for everything.  I’ve been on a diet for a bit now and lost some weight.  I asked her the other day if she could tell and she said “no”.  The truth.  Sometimes it hurts, but I appreciate it and know she’s telling me the truth when she says good stuff.

3. We continue in our choice and commitment to love each other.  Contrary to how I see the word “love” used in most contexts, it is a choice as much, or more, than it is a feeling.  My definition of love is “to look out for the other person’s good as more important than my own.”  Nobody has made me feel more angry or feel more love than my wife, however, through it all my choice to love her (seek her good above my own) is unquestioned and she does the same for me.  This alone provides an extreme level of security.  Divorce or separation is never an option because we both made a choice to love each other and never leave each other and to treat each other as more important than the other.  While this obviously falls down from time to time when either of us want to be selfish or are going through a rough spot, etc.  But day in and day out, we choose to love and care for each other no matter how idiotic or selfish the other is being.

4. We treat each other like grown ups.  One of the things we always say when we joke around is “I’m a grown-ass man”.  Or “woman”, of course.  But this is true.  Inside the parameters we’ve agreed to in #1, we let each other do pretty much whatever we want.  I watch whatever, dress however, go out whenever, etc.  We have our own hobbies that we don’t feel like the other has to be a part of.  She doesn’t nag me and I don’t nag her (usually we don’t have to; see #3).  We have freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want.  Since our #1 commitment is to each other and to our family, we can trust each other to make good decisions outside of that.  For instance, I like to go out with friends to movies, drinks, etc.  Since I don’t overdo it because she comes first, she never says ‘no’ or even questions it when I do.

5. Constantly inject your creativity to make things easier and better.  Some of the other things I’ve seen in these answers like keep separate bank accounts, play together, have lots of sex, exercise together, laugh together, surprise with gifts, etc. are all just tactics that may or may not work for you.  When you have young kids that need cared for, it’s hard to exercise together or go throw the frisbee; does that mean your relationship is doomed?  Of course not.  We’ve all had friends that brag about all the sex they have but you wouldn’t want their relationship.  The point in all these things is to constantly look for ways to grow your love, maintain your commitment and make sure life doesn’t squeeze the joy out of your relationship and/or drive a wedge between you.  My co-worker and good friend has a great relationship with his wife and she calls him throughout the day to talk.  It drives me nuts when my wife calls me (unless it’s important) because I’m trying to work.  To each their own, as long as you’re putting work and creativity into making your relationship easier (don’t be too busy, spend time together, etc.) and better (puzzles, movies or whatever), then it’s going to work.  Don’t be lazy and put the other’s good above your own.

So that’s it, that’s what we do to stay happy as a couple.

Do You and Your Spouse Do These Five Things?

CBurrowsphoto #1Huffington Post strikes again, this time in Facebook survey results compiled by staff writer Yagana Shah, who tallied responses from a FB survey that asked married couples what they believe helps them maintain lively, enriching marriages.  Ms. Shah’s interests include, presumably among other things, “health news, bucket lists, and the British royal family.” Not sure where this particular article fits within all that, but there are some suggestions in here that are worth your time.  If these are old news, it means you spend too much time on Facebook.  My guess is that if you read this blog regularly you’re already doing a number of them.  If not, it’s never too late.

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1.  Travel together.  I remember vividly when we were first married and Nancy was flexing her New Jerseyism she told me she thought we ought to take separate vacations. This was back in the day when “open marriage” was a very hip concept and married couples were exploring all sorts of ways to do the same things they did when they were single.  (She also told me she like the idea of deer hunting, which shocks me to this day.)  But couples active on Facebook say traveling together is one of the joys of marriage, and both Nancy and I agree.

Though we do occasionally take separate vacations (she went to Africa with two of our ???????????????????????????????kids and their husbands back in 2013, and I went to Malaysia on a junket last fall) we generally travel together.  If you believe that the only difference between you today and you a year from now is the books you read, the people you meet and the places you go, traveling together is a third of the whole trip.  We have pretty indelible memories of our trips to Ireland, Alaska and Spain, and look forward to more such jaunts in the years to come.  Day trips and weekend getaways have much the same restorative effect, though you may need to take some pictures to capture those memories.

Man-Laughing2.  Laugh together.  I make a conscious effort to give Nancy a good laugh or two every day, as I believe this is one thing that keeps her looking young and, well, beautiful.  She has an active sense of humor too, although I’m not sure why I look so beat up and worn out.  For most couples, the funniest jokes are the inside jokes that only the two of them get.  Our parents had expressions we repeat on a regular basis that make us smile and help us remember them, and they’ve become part of the fabric in our marriage as well as our relationships with our kids.  If your marriage is in good shape it is probably easier to look back over the years and recall the funny episodes than it is the not-so-funny ones.

3.  Keep dating.  This is somewhat trickier than it sounds, based on whether you’re a husband or a wife.  Most husbands, I suspect, equate date night with sex, while fewer wives make the same connection.  One book I read suggested that couples pursue several varieties of date nights:  a) sex dates, b) outings that don’t include sex, and c) the Swiss army knife of dates, a fun outing that includes sex.Wedding

The important point here is that getting married doesn’t/cannot signal the end of dating.  Nor is it necessary that a date be expensive; a bowl of popcorn and a movie after the kids are in bed counts.  For whatever reason, guys are still, I suspect, expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to arranging non-lame dates, so guys, turn off the TV and gather some fun ideas.  Play your cards right and you may end up enjoying a Swiss army knife.

Couple-planting-tree4. Work toward a goal together.  Not as easy as dialing up dinner and a movie, but the possibilities are virtually endless.  Growing your faith together by taking up a ministry at your church, taking on a project like landscaping the backyard, finding common items on your bucket lists and checking them off together, these things can contribute to a sense of common purpose, especially during the empty nest years.

Certainly, parents with young children have some built-in common goals, i.e., get them kids raised and out of the house. Once they’re gone, though, couples have the freedom, if not the responsibility, to find some common activities that provide a healthy sense of pursuing shared objectives.  HINT:  Our experience shows that taking up tennis, paddling canoes and wallpapering a small room together can have negative outcomes.

5. Hold hands. Always.  Although neither of us are prone to much in the way of PDAs, this is a healthy practice, as it provides a physical connection in a world in which they are increasingly hard to come by.  There’s no way a healthy emotional/spiritual relationship cannot be enhanced by increased physical contact.holding hands

Recall when you were 13 and held someone’s hand for the first time, the jolt of electricity that traveled through you.  25 years later, the physical jolt may be long gone, but the value of the touch itself remains.  This is especially true for spouses whose “receiving” love language is physical touch.  So, when you’re out together, hold hands.  Keep in mind that if some teenager sneers and tells you to “get a room,” you can, without having to tell him to “get a girlfriend.”

The common thread in all of this, I suppose, is that each of these five activities releases endorphins, to a greater or lesser degree.  For married couples in committed relationships, endorphins are rocket fuel–you can’t get too much of them.  If you have additional ideas for releasing endorphins, please comment and share.

God bless you.