The bottom line for my marriage is that God has called my wife, Cheryl, and me to invest in the lives of other people. We know we can’t continue to pour into others until we pour into each other and allow God to pour into us. That takes intentionality. Plus, we both know from experience that the enemy is always looking for holes in our marriage. We must guard our hearts and our marriage.
So Cheryl and I are very intentional about protecting our marriage. We’ve learned mini-breaks from our routine help us maintain a healthy marriage. We may take a long weekend, a day trip, or just time with the television turned off, to talk. We don’t want to drift apart, so we look for warning signs we need to take some extended time and invest in our marriage. Here are seven things we look out for:
- When our relationship seems to be drifting further apart rather than closer together. This is a big one for us. If one of us feels our marriage closeness is slipping, it’s time to take action. We’re proactive rather than reactive. So ask yourself: On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your marriage? Is that higher or lower than a few months ago? If you try this exercise, both spouses should write the numbers on a piece of paper and share them with each other. One is usually more perceptive than the other.
- When life has been routine for too long. I’ve learned in counseling and ministry that a leading cause of marriage troubles is boredom. We all get into patterns, habits, and routines. That isn’t all bad, but over time and often for one spouse more than the other, depending on the season, boredom can become dangerous. Occasionally we need to do something spontaneous, adventuresome, or out of the norm.
- When conversation with each other becomes tense or short-fused. As a rule, we talk “nice” to each other. We believe that’s how marriage works. All of us can have a bad day, but when the number of bad days extends over time, we know we need a break from our routine to address our marriage.
- When too many nights go by without us spending quality time together. Strong relationships are built over time. This includes quality and quantity of time. We need time when we can talk deeper than “How was your day?” When those conversations become rarer, we have to intentionally plan them.
- When we have pressing issues we need to discuss, but haven’t found time to do so. That discussion could be about finances or health, the children, our marriage, or some future hope and dream. When something is on one of our minds long enough, we often have to invest extra time to address it.
- When either of us is at a point of “stress overload” for an extended period of time. Stressis usually work related, but may also be due to a health concern or even situations involving extended family. When our boys were still at home, our stress often involved something happening in their lives. We’ve learned that stress on one of us — or both of us — always impacts us as a couple.
- When one of us sense in our spirit that we need to “get away.” We’re both believers — spiritual people who have a relationship with God. It could be that there’s been a weakening of our spiritual life that’s causing tension in our marriage. When one of us senses our marriage needs some intentional time together, we take that feeling seriously.
Now here are a few disclaimers. All of these warning signs may not apply to your marriage. You may both love routine. That may not be an issue for you like it is for us. You may have other warning signs unique to your marriage.
Or perhaps your marriage needs more intentionality than I’m suggesting here. This is more about maintenance for a good marriage. If you’re beyond that, get help. A good marriage is attainable when two people are willing.
Also, we don’t have children at home anymore. That gives us some unique advantages. We’ve learned we tend to fill our time either way — with children in the house or not — but the point is clear: Cheryl and I can be more flexible if we need to be. (It’s a good season.)
I also should point out that being intentional doesn’t mean you have to “break the bank.” Some will argue that they can’t afford to travel out of town for the weekend or that they can’t afford childcare. I understand. So find other ways to be intentional. You could trade time with another couple where they watch your children one day and you watch their children another. The key is to break the routine to address the marriage — not to spend extra money.
Finally, I realize these suggestions are especially challenging for marriages where spouses are apart frequently, mostly because of work. I spent most of my life in a military town so I know this type of advice can be more difficult to apply. Most of us can make the extra effort to invest in our marriage if we choose to do so. For those with unique situations, you’ll have to be even more creative. Even if your intentional time together is via Skype, it’s better than allowing your marriage to drift apart.
Used with permission of Ron Edmondson. For more blog posts like this, check out Ron’s website, ronedmondson.com