Quick, think of something you can start and then ignore and expect it to thrive. Okay, maybe a pet rock, but I’m having difficulty thinking of anything else. The reason I bring up this pop quiz is that it seems many folks have put their marriage on auto-pilot and now wonder why it is not flourishing. Most of us get married with the greatest of dreams and hopes and expectations. And in the early days, weeks and months we do indeed invest much into the relationship. But somehow we get to a point where the glow begins to wear off. We begin to see flaws in our partner that were likely always there but were obscured in our state of infatuation and new love.
We begin to question whether or not we’re getting out of the marriage benefits equal to what we’re putting in. And slowly, but surely, we begin to drift apart from each other. If such a couple fails to recognize their situation and take appropriate remedial steps, they are bound to join the thousands of others who have endured the pain of divorce. The very good news is that this does not have to be the case. Marriage can thrive and be all you hoped it would be when you first said: “I do.”
If this sounds familiar to you (or someone you know) one important step in rejuvenating a marriage is to remember what attracted you to each other in the first place. Think back to those early days when you first met and began to get acquainted. Remember the positive qualities you saw in the other and why you wanted to be with him or her. Chances are that he or she is still that same admirable person.
Remember the little tokens of affection you gave to each other in those early days – the silly cards or notes, the innocent pranks you played on each other, the time you took to really listen to each other and discover each other’s personality and heart. Especially remember the fun times you had together going on walks or picnics or to the movies, etc. Now ask yourself a question: “when was the last time we did any of those things we used to do?”
Michelle Weiner-Davis is a superstar in the field of marriage enrichment and restoration. According to her website www.divorcebusting.com “Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW is an internationally renowned relationship expert, best-selling author, marriage therapist, and professional speaker who specializes in helping people change their lives and improve important relationships.” I personally know her to be a dynamic speaker and trainer. I love her self-chosen nickname as a “Guerilla Divorce Buster.” Michelle is shameless in her approach to encourage folks that divorce need not be the only option for a troubled marriage. I so agree with her that it is rarely even the best option, let alone the only one.
One of Michelle’s key concepts in turning around a marriage which has gotten off track is for the couple to resume doing the fun things they did when they first fell in love. Her premise is that they will find the love still there. Now that is, of course, assuming those things were legal then and still are now. But seriously, in the early days spending fun time together is no challenge at all. It’s what we live for and almost all we can think about. We have so much fun together that we decide to do it forever, and we solidify that decision with a wedding.
And the fun times do continue, but over time with the addition of children, mortgages, jobs, etc. we find the time for fun to be less and less automatic. I’ve met numerous couples over the years in my practice as a divorce mediator who admit they decided to put the children first and stopped paying attention to each other or to the marriage. Well, here’s a hint: if you really want to put your children first, pay extra attention to your marriage.
The importance of fun in maintaining a healthy marriage cannot be overstated. So let me share with you two ideas for how to improve if this is lacking in your marriage. The first comes from researchers at the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. It’s called the “Deck of 10”. Each spouse gets ten index cards, and on each card, they write down something they would like to do together as a couple – and only as a couple. It’s important to write just one activity per card. These opportunities for fun can be as small as exchanging back rubs or as large as going on a cruise. You can list activities you know your mate might not really enjoy, but please keep those to a minimum and don’t ask him or her to go any further out of their comfort zone than you are willing to go out of your own.
Once each has their deck completed one spouse goes to the other’s deck and pulls out a card. It is then that spouse’s responsibility to make the event or activity happen – typically within the next 14 days. It is then the other spouse’s turn to go to the other’s deck and pull out a card and make sure that it happens. The neat part of this exercise is that you know you’re doing something your mate would like to do because it was his or her idea in the first place. The fact that you are making it happen is bound to get you at least a point or two. If you happen to draw a card such as go on a cruise simply break it up into manageable pieces. You could schedule a time to visit a local travel agent or cruise specialist and begin to do research on where you might want to go and develop a plan for how you might begin to save up to pay for it, etc.
For the second tip, you’ll need to visit www.marriagebuilders.com. This is the website for Dr. Willard Harley, author of (among many other books) His Needs, Her Needs, a mega-bestseller on how to do marriage well. Once at the site do a search for his Recreational Enjoyment Inventory. You’ll need to print out a copy for each of you and begin to fill it in separately. After you have each completed the inventory, you’ll combine your answers to hopefully discover activities you both would enjoy doing together.
Am I suggesting that all marital problems can be fixed by having fun together? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting that fun is crucial to maintaining a healthy marriage and to repairing one that is somewhat broken? Absolutely yes! Why not give it a try and find out for yourself?