How to have an active love affair with your spouse, even when life gets in the way.
A few weeks ago, I visited my wife’s family for the holidays. As part of the visit, I spent a fair amount of time with my wife’s aunt and uncle. Uncle Dave is in his mid-eighties. He has always had a wit and charm about him. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been able to see that Uncle Dave is starting to lose a little pep in his step. He has struggled to stay alert and to remember things he normally would recall with ease. This visit in particular, I could see how he is heading further down the path of Alzheimer’s (though I’m not sure if he has officially been diagnosed).
Uncle Dave and Aunt Donna have been married for over thirty years – second marriages for both of them. They have always had an active love affair with each other. They used to work together. They golf together. And they go out for coffee every morning together. Their habits have clearly bolstered their marriage.
During my visit, it was obvious that Uncle Dave’s mental health was frustrating Aunt Donna. She appeared more tired than normal, and she struggled at times trying to keep Dave in-line at meal times. Throughout my visit, I thought a lot about her and the hard times she is having as a result of Dave’s fading memory. The day I left for home, our family went to church together. In the middle of the service, I noticed the two of them holding hands. I couldn’t help but smile. I even snapped a picture while nobody was paying attention. This small gesture reminded me of the commitment they made to each other and the one I made to my wife. Even when times get tough, I ultimately want a marriage that goes the distance.
Marriage is hard. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of marriages in America end in divorce. Throw health, job, or parenting challenges into the mix, and it doesn’t get any easier. It takes commitment, diligence, and discipline to overcome these challenges.
Here are seven habits to help build a marriage that goes the distance:
Say “I love you” every day.
Saying “I love you” seems easy when you first get married. You profess your love at the altar, and your professions taper off as time passes. This shouldn’t be the case. A little love every day goes a long way. Make a daily habit of telling your spouse how much you love her.
Remember when you first held hands with your spouse for the first time. There was magic in the air. You could literally feel a tingling sensation as your fingers interlocked. Holding hands shouldn’t end when you say “I do.”
Keep dating your spouse.
Before you married one another, you found every excuse to be together. You dated all the time. When marriage and children creep in, dating often gets kicked to the curb. Commit to yourself and to each other to keep dating. Block time on your calendar every week or every month to make sure you go out on a date with your wife and without your kids.
Eliminate words like “always” and “never” from your vocabulary.
“You ALWAYS leave your laundry on the floor.” “You NEVER get home on time.” Wouldn’t it sound better like this: “I would appreciate it if you would put your laundry in the hamper or put it away instead of leaving it on the floor.” “I know you are working hard at the office, but I would appreciate it if you made an effort to arrive home by 6PM, so we can eat dinner together.” These are just a few examples. Always means forever, and never means not even once. By watching the words we use when we communicate with our spouses, we are sure to make things pave an easier road for our marriages.
Choose to resolve conflict and anger.
Unresolved conflict is a recipe for bitterness which ultimately leads to isolation and eventual separation (physically or emotionally). Confronting our anger is not always easy, but the outcome is almost always positive. It’s worth seeking resolution.
Prioritize your time to reflect the priority of your relationship.
Look at your schedule. Is there any room for spending time with your spouse? It’s time we said no to a few things, so we can have more time for the most important person in our world – our spouse.
Take the time to affirm your commitment.
Take a moment to reaffirm your love and commitment to yourselves and one another each day. These small opportunities to have conversation will keep you united even when the world is going crazy all around you.
The days continue to be challenging for my wife’s aunt and uncle, but they are committed to each other, and they are still practicing these habits. Their dedication to each other has been a great reminder for my wife and me as we seek to build our own marriage that goes the distance.
This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.
Photo: Sean McGrath/Flickr