In a 3-day period, I had the joy of unplugging and cleaning two toilets, and having to pour a bucket of drano down a shower drain in hopes of opening it up. There is something about clogged shower drains and 4 women with long thick hair that seems to go hand-in-hand…I’ll have to look into that.
After I was done working in the bathroom yesterday, I started thinking about the work I need to do, regularly, to keep the toilet clean and the shower drain open. Here at the camp, we’re on a well and the hard water the well produces creates that beautiful orange-ish stain in the bottom of the toilet. In order to keep it clean, I have to spend more than one day a month working on it. I found some chemical-free cleaning agents that will, supposedly, work hard “so I don’t have to” and keep my toilet stain free. Likewise, the shower needs daily attention (c’mon spray-n-go treatment!) for hard-water, and weekly attention for free flowing drains.
Oddly, this actually got me thinking about the marriage of a friend of mine. Traci and I have known this couple for years and have watched the struggles in their marriage with some sadness. The distance between them is often not wide, it’s just really deep, and the challenges of “fixing” it have become almost overwhelming to both of them at different times. While neither of them wants a divorce, neither of them is doing much maintenance to keep their marriage strong.
Like trying to keep the water flowing in my shower, keeping the love flowing in a marriage requires daily and weekly work. You don’t end up with a solid marriage because you want it that way. You end up with a solid marriage because you work hard to create, keep and maintain a solid marriage. Here are a few of the regular ways that Traci and I have worked to keep our marriage going strong. What’s worked for you (share in the comments):
Communicate daily: Seems like a no-brainer, right, but 16 years of pastoral ministry, and years of watching friends’ marriages end in divorce, have taught me that not everyone does this well. This is more than just talking about the grocery list or the kids’ sports schedule for the day, I’m talking about taking time each day to really communicate about what’s going on in life. It’s almost like you have to date your spouse every day of the week.
When most of us were dating, we took a lot of time to communicate with our potential new spouse. You weren’t told to communicate, you just did it because it was the natural way to get to know them, to enjoy them and to engage them on a deeper level than you did your other friends. That need to connect should be even stronger in marriage, which means your need to communicate daily is even stronger.
Maybe you can get quality time in the morning, or you can grab lunch together each day, or maybe you can workout at the same time or you can steal a few quiet minutes after the kids are in bed. Whatever it takes, you have to communicate daily to keep your marriage strong.
Date weekly: Every week, Traci and I have at least one date. Here in Michigan it’s been a little more challenging, but we’ve found creative ways to get out together. In Salem, it was usually Thursday nights. Here it has most-often been lunch dates after all of our little monsters are in school. Where ever you can squeeze it into your schedule, you must date your spouse!
Here are a few guidelines for good date:
- Be creative, and try to avoid the ruts. I often hear couples say, “We tried to date, but ended up at the same theater every week…” Most towns have a lot going on, you just have to spend a little time searching for it. Remember, it’s not so much what you do on your date that matters, it’s that you take time to enjoy each other.
- Kill the phone. More than once Traci and I have been on a date and watched out couples who are also out together. We wonder why they left the house, because they sit at the table, pretty much ignoring each other, while they are both texting and posting to facebook on their own phones. Yes, you might need the phone so the kids or baby sitter can reach you in an emergency, but apart from that — leave it in your pocket or purse. Make your spouse the priority of your date, and give her a reason to make you the priority!
- Be consistent. If you make date night a regular part of the week, you’ll both start looking forward to it. There is something fun knowing that a date is on the calendar. When you hit the middle-of-the-week blues, having date night waiting for you is refreshing and energizing. Keep it consistent and watch how much date night improves!
Get-a-way regularly: My wife and I have been honoring the following commitments for several years now.
Weekend away (ie. No kiddos) every 4 months.
Week away, once a year.
We share this with couples and get the same response we first had to the idea: “We could never do that!” That’s where we were when the idea was introduced to us, and I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong. Our weekend get-a-ways have been awesome ways for Traci and I to connect, enjoy rest, activity-free schedules and lots of time reading, watching our favorite movies or walking on the beach.
The week away, each year, is one of those things we circle on the calendar and count down to! Yes, it’s incredibly challenging with the kids’ school schedules and sports and church and…. but it is so worth the work. We start organizing child care and travel arrangements two months before we leave, but when we finally get out the door and on the road, there is a great sense of joy and relief.
While most couples resist the idea at when they hear it, after they experience a week away, they understand why it has become a priority for us. We’ve done a week away on a cruise, in Hawaii and at the beach. Now that we’re in Michigan, we’ll find new places to escape to, and new ways to enjoy time together.
The point is this: your marriage needs regular work. God’s commands about marriage involving loving each other, submitting to each other, building each other up, parenting on the same page etc… cannot be done with careful attention. Failed marriages are easy to come by, but painful to live with. Overboard marriages take work, but the results are worth the effort. In 17 years of full-time ministry, I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Having a great marriage has been a horrible waste of time in my life!”
Go ahead and take the plunge, marriage is always better on the water!