Life isn't always predictable," an old proverb says. I think I'd change that to "Life is never predictable—except for all the things you have to do." If we could take a few things out of the equation—such as work, finances, church or community service, and household duties—having time to develop more closeness with a spouse would be so much easier. Add to that the people equation—friends, family, coworkers, and children—and even more gets in the way of your couple time.
So in the midst of such a busy life, how can you take your marriage to the next level of friendship and intimacy? Just try these seven quick, doable, guilt-free tips for a month, and watch your marriage soar!
1. Lighten up!
I've heard well-meaning people say, "Marriage is all hard work." Well, they're partially right. Dealing with another person's quirks, day in and day out, can be trying. However, many couples work so hard at making their marriage work that they lose the fun. After being married for 11 years, Peter and Ann felt their marriage had become stale and they wanted to grow closer. So they attended a marriage enrichment seminar and did the follow-up exercises from their workbook on their date nights. After a month, though, they both started to dread that time instead of enjoying it. "No wonder!" Peter says. "We were making our marriage all work and no play!" So the next time they had a date night, they went to the zoo and had a blast. No work, no heavy discussions, just fun.
So lighten up! Remember the silly, romantic things you did while dating—such as talking in funny accents, tickling or wrestling with each other, playing footsies under the dinner table, or kissing under the stars—and do them again. After all, laughter's still the best medicine—even for a marriage that isn't ailing.
2. Show your appreciation.
Who doesn't like a pat on the back? Yet, most often, the person we forget to thank is the one closest to us. Hey, he's my husband, you might think. He's supposed to do things such as take out the trash and shovel the driveway. Why should I thank him for that when I do the dishes all the time? But you'd be amazed how a little appreciation can fine-tune an already good relationship. One of the busiest—and happiest—couples I know is Annette and David. Although David works full-time and Annette freelances, and they have four young children, they're always doing nice things for each other to show their gratitude—such as decorating the dining room with balloons just to say, "Welcome home," or baking a favorite dessert to celebrate a hard-working mom.
Another couple sets aside five minutes each night before bed to tell each other "what I love about you." Even a tiny dose of appreciation reaps great rewards.
3. Talk your spouse's language.
Every person has a unique way he or she best feels loved, the way they understand and receive love. My favorite way, for instance, is when my husband, Jeff, listens to me. If Jeff wants to increase his intimacy with me, he knows the secret: Just let me talk, listen (without eye rolling), and you'll keep my heart. I know the way Jeff best feels loved too: Provide adventure, and allow me to take risks. That means saying a happy "yes" (without subtle guilt games for leaving me behind with a three-year-old) to his once-a-year ski retreat with the guys.
Other examples of giving or receiving love can be: "Provide for me financially," "Give me surprises," or "Write me a sentimental message." If you don't know your spouse's favorite way to feel loved, ask, "What makes you feel most loved? Most accepted? Most excited?" Then learn to speak that "language" and watch your spouse's eyes shine.
4. Dream together.
Never underestimate the power of a dream. Before you even met your spouse, you dreamed about the person you'd marry someday—and what your life together would be like. Why not talk about, and renew, those dreams together? For Kara and Cullen, one night a month is "Dream Night." They swap baby-sitting with a neighbor, cozy up to a blazing fire, eat their favorite hors d'oeuvres, and just dream together. Such nights have led them to a reorganized, heated, and artistic garage that has now become a year-round play area for neighborhood children. The rewards of dreaming together are huge—they provide not only some fun goals to shoot for, but a renewed passion for soul intimacy.
5. Adopt a vision!
To maintain an exciting "couple vision," look for a shared passion. For Zandrah and Dan, it was over caffe mocha at a coffeehouse on Valentine's Day when they realized they both longed to reach out to "unwanted" kids. Three months later, with the backing of friends and some of their coworkers, they launched a ministry to street kids. Today, seven years later, this shared passion continues to keep them close in heart.
6. Pray for—and with—each other.
The old adage is true: "The couple who prays together stays together." That's because prayer itself is such an intimate activity. When you pray not only for, but with someone, you're agreeing to make yourself vulnerable. As you and your spouse pray together, concerns may arise that otherwise could become big issues and cause division in your relationship down the road.
Natalia and Jamie discovered that truth when they decided to spend brief daily prayer times together. "Jamie and I always prayed over our food," Natalia admitted, "and sometimes we prayed together for other people's needs. But it wasn't until we began to pray directly for and with each other that I was able to reveal to my husband how I felt about myself. and the past he knew nothing about. Praying together was the most important step we've taken in our marriage. It helped us work through our backgrounds and make us stronger as individuals and as a couple."
7. Don't forget the surprises!
Everybody loves surprises. But let's admit it—after you've been married for a few years, there are fewer and fewer of them. Many times that's good; after all, who wants always to be on their toes? But a life without surprises can be a dull one indeed. There's nothing like a surprise to say, "I love you! And I'd choose you all over again."
I experienced this a few years ago on a Sunday afternoon when Jeff and I were driving around aimlessly, admiring houses. I didn't have a clue that he'd scoped out a craft fair (something he knew I loved) and was taking me there. For the low cost of a $5 entry fee and the gas to get there, I had a wonderful surprise. That my husband would take me to a place where he wouldn't normally be caught dead proved he was celebrating me, even if my interests are vastly different from his.
So go ahead, don't wait for a Hallmark holiday. After all, every day with your spouse is a special occasion, because out of all the people in the world, your mate chose you. Now that's certainly something to celebrate!
Ramona Cramer Tucker, a senior editor for Tyndale House Publishers, lives with her family in the Chicago area.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.