In June of 1803, Meriwether Lewis wrote to William Clark: "My friend If there is anything in this enterprise [that] would induce you to participate with me in its fatigues, its dangers, and its honors, believe me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in sharing them as with yourself."
It wasn't a proposal of marriage, of course, but an invitation to a life-changing, history-making adventure. Clark consented and after thorough preparations, the Lewis and Clark Expedition launched up the Missouri River in search of a continuous river pathway to the Pacific. Their odyssey spanned a continent as they explored the ever-changing terrain of a new nation .
Fast forward to 1983, and meet Louise and Clark. (Get it?)
They were wed in October at Louise's home church in North Carolina, and their "expedition" began right away. Not content to remain in one location, their honeymoon was a virtual bed-and-breakfast-inn tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They hiked a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and rafted the Nantahala River.
Louise and Clark launched their marriage as explorers, open to adventure and a variety of new experiences. They communicated freely, with genuine interest in each other. Then somewhere along the way they traded in their explorer's pack for a settler's porch—and their marriage suffered as a result. Instead of continuing to explore the ever-changing landscape of their own personal worlds, each other's life, and their relationship, these co-captains of a promised adventure found safe but bland territory in which to settle.
In fairness, there are certainly some advantages to being a settler. There's something to be said for the security derived from familiarity and routines. But after years of singing Home on the Range, Louise and Clark transformed their tranquil tune into a lullaby that was rocking their marriage to sleep.
A predator stole into their comfortable camp—a sneaky menace named Boredom. In their book When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott insist that boredom is one of the greatest threats to an otherwise healthy marriage. Many marriages are suffering not from the emotional bruises of conflict but from the numbing effects of boredom.
Marital boredom is the result of routines and repetition, a side effect of flying the marriage on autopilot. Consistency may bring security, but it may also shut off the supply of variety and spontaneity. Marital boredom causes a couple to look across the supper table and to be unable to think of anything fertile to talk about. It makes a spouse instinctively grab the TV remote when he has a free evening. Marital boredom happens upon a weekend of wide-open possibilities, but causes couples to retreat into separate busyness or separate inactivity because they've forgotten how to play together.
Marital boredom often leads couples to seek relief from sources outside the relationship. Partners may escape through a greater focus on career, by investing energies in outside organizations, activities, and causes, or by giving telescopic attention to their children. A spouse may seek boredom relief through overeating, impulse buying, alcohol or drug use, pornography, or even an affair.
As Louise and Clark's expedition reached the point of marital boredom, they finally realized they needed some help recovering their pioneer spirit. But where would they begin?
At the same place they began years ago—talking and sharing. That's the bridge to intimacy.
Someone has suggested that intimacy be pronounced into-me-see. Genuine intimacy calls for a deep and personal version of Show-&-Tell. Most couples likely did this during courtship, asking each other questions about their past and current experiences, their hopes and dreams, their likes and dislikes, interests, abilities, opinions, convictions, beliefs, and feelings. But somewhere along the way, the probing questions stopped, replaced by fascinating settlers' questions, such as, "Did you write the check for the car insurance?"
Most married couples become increasingly uncreative in the questions they ask each other. Two factors contribute: (1) We think we already know everything about our spouses. But they, like us, are always changing, their thoughts and emotions drenched anew by experiences, encounters, conversations, readings, observations, and reactions. Our spouses' stories are constantly updated. (2) We've become household managers, with our communication centering around our "home-based business." We discuss personnel issues (children), facilities (house and lawn), accounts payable/receivable (finances), scheduling (soccer games, PTA meetings), and transportation (car pools). Our communication has become functional and concise rather than intimate and free-flowing—even on our date nights.
How can we break out of the rut?
Be an explorer!
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were explorers in the fullest sense of the word. Not merely driving toward a destination, they were traveling researchers, observing and interacting with God's creation throughout their journey. The Corps of Discovery made detailed maps and careful notes on weather and terrain, took soil and mineral samples, and catalogued 178 plants and 122 animals previously unknown to scientists.
But they didn't concentrate on just the natural world around them. Their daily journal entries reveal that Lewis and Clark were also attentive to the interior geography of their own thoughts and feelings.
How tragic that husbands and wives will be content to remain settlers when there's much to explore. Are you ready to get off the porch?
Successful exploration requires proven methods. Here are three solid strategies to re-launch your expedition:
1. Take daily exploration time. Dr. Gary Chapman says "every couple needs a daily sharing time to give each other undivided attention and to share life with each other." And that means going beyond the typical exchange of "how-was-your-day/fine-and-yours?"
That's what Louise and Clark had been doing. After spending nine hours apart during the work day, engaged in various activities and conversing with numerous people, they'd return home to summarize a combined 18 hours of life experiences into 18 seconds. Granted, the instant Clark arrived home wasn't the ideal time for them to connect and explore. They found the best time for them was after they put the children to bed, but before they began to nod off.
Some couples need to be more flexible with scheduling their share time. But you don't have to be legalistic about the frequency or length of your sharing time. Daily is a recommendation, not a requirement for success. Try starting with three sharing sessions per week, and go from there.
2. Ask thoughtful questions. Once you've set aside a sharing time, what next? Ask creative questions to jump-start conversation. Start with this: "What are two things that happened today, and how did you feel about them?" The description of feelings here is as important as the event details. Here's another good one: "Is there anything you read, heard, or saw today that made an impression on you?"
3. Plan new experiences. Fresh experiences move couples out of the settler routine. Life and relationships can become stale because routines become ruts. Husbands and wives need special moments not only for the actual enjoyment of those times, but for the anticipation as well.
We all need things—such as a concert, a play, or a weekend vacation—to which we look forward. Without special events or activities on the horizon, we drag ourselves through the day and through the week.
Start the expedition
So what new experiences should you and your spouse plan? Start by trying any of these—and remember that the word new is your objective:
Visit a new place. Go out of town to do it. Take in a seasonal event in a neighboring community or state. Stay in a bed-and-breakfast instead of a chain motel. Explore a quaint town.
Eat at a new restaurant. A fancy or expensive meal isn't required. You can even afford the extravagant restaurants by going at lunch, or just for coffee and dessert. Something fun is to find cafes that are popular with the locals, the kind with red vinyl tablecloths and photocopied menus.
Try a new activity. The activity should be physically possible for both partners and of mutual interest. It's okay if it stretches you out of your comfort zone a bit. Try mountain biking together. Even if you've never done it before, you'll see spectacular sights and will retell (and exaggerate) the trail stories for years to come.
Attend a new event. Take in a sporting event, concert, play, festival, or seminar. Be the kind of couple who'll dress up for a Mozart concert by the local symphony one weekend and cruise down to a neighboring county for a demolition derby the next.
Watch a new movie together. And make it a springboard for conversation. Which character or scene made an impression upon you? Which character or scene could you identify with? One great movie to watch is The Rookie with its theme of fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams. The movie will lead into a great talk about your current season of life and future hopes.
Read a new book together. Share your reactions to your readings. If you're reading nonfiction, the completion of each chapter provides a natural place to reflect. You can do the same thing with magazine articles or audiotapes.
Get to know a new tribe. Much of what made the Lewis and Clark expedition so fascinating was meeting diverse tribes of Indians throughout the journey. Forging relationships with the Lakotas, Mandans, Blackfeet, and Sioux made their trek far richer in its adventure. We can do the same by investing in new relationships. Invite an unchurched couple from your neighborhood over for homemade ice cream. Ask the nice couple you chat with every Saturday at your daughter's soccer game to join you for pizza back at the house. Invite two couples from your church or Bible study class to your home for a cookout.
New experiences open the windows in your marriage and invite refreshing breezes in through the frame. A new experience interrupts routine, and sharing your reactions makes it even more meaningful, promoting intimacy.
Which brings us back to Louise and Clark. They're tired of settling for boredom, and they're ready to go exploring again. They'd like you to join them on the adventure of a lifetime.
And it won't require exchanging your house for a 55-foot wooden keel boat and 12 tons of supplies in order to do it!
Ramon Presson, a marriage and family therapist, pastor, and author, lives with his family in Tennessee.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.