Someone once asked my husband, Mike, “What’s it like being married to a psychologist?” Mike answered, “It’s great. I get to sleep with my therapist.”
In all seriousness, there are some very frustrating things about having a wife who is a psychologist. Probably the greatest drawback is that I always notice what is wrong. Remember the story of “the princess and the pea”? She could feel the slightest item under a pile of mattresses. That’s how I feel sometimes in family life. I notice when there is the tiniest hint of conflict, and I am super aware of how we should be improving our marriage and parenting efforts.
To be fair, this may be more the result of being a woman than of being a psychologist. Most women are far more sensitive to relational problems than their husbands are.
My marriage and family “perfectionism” went to a whole new level when I worked at Focus on the Family where my job was to interview marriage and family experts. Practically every day I’d come home with the latest strategy to improve our marriage or a new concern about how we were raising the boys. While Mike was interested to hear what I was learning, he was also realistic about living in the real world rather than in a marriage and parenting utopia. Some nights I’d lie awake worrying about all of the things we were doing wrong, frustrated that my husband wouldn’t “get with the program.”
I can become so uptight about all the things we should be working on that I forget one of the most important elements of family life: enjoying each other. Even with all of my sophisticated knowledge, my husband’s approach to marriage may be better than mine. He continually invites me to “play” with him. “Juli, it’s time to come out of the submarine and join the rest of us,” Mike playfully teases me when I’m deep in thought.
Mike loves vacation, laughing, and wrestling with our three boys. About once a week, he will remind me, “You are my favorite person in the world! I wouldn’t want to be spending time with anyone else but you.” Now that’s worth about 10,000 pages of advice in any marriage book.
If it weren’t for my fun-loving husband, I might work our marriage to death. When we were dating, I was so serious about our relationship that I often squelched the fun of it. One day, Mike was playfully kissing my face and I pushed him away and said, “Those kisses don’t mean anything!” It’s a wonder the guy stayed with me. Talk about a wet blanket!
Yes, there is a time to resolve conflict and learn about having a sacred marriage, but there is also a time to laugh. One of the most effective marriage counseling strategies is to help couples learn to have fun together again. Your brain chemistry actually changes when you and your husband can laugh and truly enjoy each other. Do you remember how to simply delight in each other’s company? Here are three simple things you can do to build fun back into your marriage:
1. Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
Rekindling love and romance sometimes begins with remembering. Get out some pictures from your dating days or watch your wedding video. Go out for dinner at a nostalgic place. Reminisce about your engagement, your honeymoon, or your favorite night together as newlyweds.
2. Try Something New
Your brain likes novelty. When you and your husband do something as simple as going to a restaurant you’ve never been to, your brain will release dopamine, which is how it “rewards” you with pleasure. Pursue a new hobby together or do something random on a date like painting pottery or cooking a gourmet meal.
3. Create a Work-Free Zone
A few years ago, Mike and I got away for a romantic weekend alone. While he was excited to be with me without kids, I was planning how to bring up an issue I thought needed to be resolved. What better time than a weekend away to address difficult topics, right? While we were enjoying a leisurely stroll, I brought up the issue. Mike felt blindsided. His guard was down and we were supposed to be having fun.
I learned the hard way to separate fun from working on our marriage. There are times to talk and pray through difficult problems, but those times should be separate from recreational time together. If you need to address things in your marriage, have a “meeting”—don’t sneak it in on a date.
Your marriage isn’t a project to build; it’s a gift to enjoy. If God made one of you serious and one of you fun, thank him for the balance your husband brings to your life and your marriage.