Learn to create a thriving marriage by sharing activities you both enjoy.
The reality is that passion naturally dims over time for most married couples. Love doesn’t necessarily lessen, but the way it’s shown gets watered down. So, how can you avoid that fade? The key is to understand why it happens and how to create a thriving marriage by sharing activities you both enjoy.
Beware the termites of comfort
Most people work hard to “win” their spouse. But once the rings are on, we tend to ease off the throttle. Over time we grow quietly content and satisfied; we become comfortable. Sometimes too comfortable. We can become complacent.
The initial excitement of getting to know our spouse, trying new things together and deepening our intimacy, eventually dulls as we settle into routines. We start to idolise newer interests like careers, children and hobbies — and then marriage feels stale as we deal with day-to-day aspects of our relationship in light of more exciting pursuits.
A couple can still be very much in love yet take each other and their marriage for granted. They can let those termites of comfort eat away at their bond as husband and wife. And when marriage becomes too familiar, too predictable — even boring — the sparks of passion are snuffed out.
“The grind of life can create a vacuum of intimacy, laughter and fun in marriage,” notes author Ted Cunningham. “But you don’t have to allow duty and responsibility to trump passion and creativity.”
Marriage becomes special because you make it so
In the busyness of life, love isn’t self-sufficient. Marriage must be constantly fed and nurtured by spending regular time together. Opportunities to enjoy each other’s company should not be few and far between.
Instead, they must be part of the fabric of a couple’s life. That means making together-time a priority. And that requires intentionality — after all, talking and doing things together doesn’t just happen.
That’s why it’s important to plan regular date nights and time together. And do whatever it takes to prioritise and faithfully keep these commitments (like arranging for babysitters or carving time out of work schedules).
Learn how to pursue each other just as you did back in the days before you were married. If you want time to share your hearts, your hopes and your dreams with each other, you’ve got to make up your mind to fight for it.
How much time should you spend together? Answers vary, but the best researchers generally say, “As much as you can.” Recommendations range from eight to 15 hours per week.
Naturally, the quantity of time that husbands and wives spend together is only one piece of the puzzle. Quality is also crucial to the health of your relationship. And there are at least three critical ingredients to the kind of togetherness that help a marriage thrive: intimacy, variety and fun. Let’s take a closer look at each.
A thriving marriage has intimacy
Intimacy in marriage involves physical, emotional, relational and spiritual closeness. And all aspects of intimacy are nurtured by spending time together. What that time looks like in a meaningful way, however, is usually different for husbands than for wives. Renowned sociologist Dr. Deborah Tannen points out that most men are drawn to activities to build connection and most women are more fulfilled through sharing at a deep emotional level.
For a woman, intimacy often looks like talking face-to-face with her husband about matters of the heart. She connects by locking eyes with him in what’s called the “anchoring gaze,” and she shares her inner life through words and deep conversations — her feelings, desires, hopes, dreams, spiritual journey, stressors, worries and fears.
For a man, actions speak louder than words. He connects through activities where he is working or playing “side-by-side” with his wife. Because a man rarely looks deeply into anyone’s eyes, the best way to get him talking about his inner life is to go for a walk or some other side-by-side activity.
So, how can spouses make space for a balanced his-and-hers approach to meaningful intimacy? Recognise the reality of your differences and talk through individual assumptions and unique needs. Then make time for face-to-face, side-by-side and belly-to-belly togetherness. (Who says you can’t run errands or do yard work together and, at the same time, talk about how you’re looking forward to sex tonight? Just make sure the children are out of earshot!)
A thriving marriage has variety
The more time we spend together as husband and wife, the easier it is to get stuck in a rut. We consistently watch our same recorded shows, revisit the same coffee place, go to the same movie theatre — we even have an established route through the grocery aisles.
Again, it’s true that spending any time together is important, whether we’re doing laundry or having dinner at our usual hangout. But time itself isn’t enough; same ol’ routines won’t elevate our relationship. We need something new.
In fact, researchers found that couples who engaged in “new and arousing” activities reported greater satisfaction in their marriage than those who spent time doing “mundane” tasks. (Think dancing, hiking or attending concerts in contrast to Mamak Fridays, visiting the same friends or re-watching a favourite movie.)
Turns out, exciting activities alter your brain chemistry by activating the same brain circuits that were ignited when you and your spouse were first dating. The takeaway? Re-create sparks of early courtship by doing something new or unusual together. (We’re not talking about anything reckless, just things you might not normally do.)
Discover a new restaurant or coffee house. Have fun at an amusement park. Laugh at a comedy club or improv troupe. Cheer on your local sports team. Set up a tent in your backyard or throw down an air mattress in the living room. Whatever you choose, reinvent your togetherness by sharing exciting experiences together.
A thriving marriage has fun
When date nights are adventurous and exciting, even in understated ways, they’re also fun. And fun is essential.
Research shows that new activities activate the brain’s reward system, creating excitement, exhilaration and joy. Husbands and wives who have fun together strengthen the bonds that unite them without even realising it. In a hundred different ways, they create powerful incentives to stick together and keep coming back for more.
Couples who stay together tend to be couples who find ways to keep this kind of fun alive at the heart of their relationship. These are couples who laugh, love and last. The fabric of their marriage is strong because they know how to weave spaces into their times of togetherness and maintain threads of connection even when they’re apart.
Rather than just living under the same roof and sleeping in the same bed, they draw strength, energy and life from being in each other’s company. They are intentional about incorporating togetherness into their relationship. How can you do the same?
- Participate in a shared hobby. Go golfing or fishing or motorcycling. Play badminton or build something together.
- Spend time relaxing together. Read, cook, paint, complete a jigsaw puzzle, play board games, fill out a crossword or listen to music.
- Get physical. Yes, this includes mutually enjoyable sex. But don’t underestimate the benefits of hugging, kissing, holding hands, massage, cuddling or a tender touch on the cheek.
- Do something active. Get outside! Explore new parts of your city or walk a new path through your neighbourhood. Try gardening. Hike a shady trail. Try dancing, rock climbing or another sport.
- Volunteer together. Serving alongside your spouse strengthens your marriage and helps ease burdens of your community. Collect items for a food bank, clothing for a local shelter or toys for children in need. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Donate blood. Clean up a park, roadside, beach or elderly neighbour’s yard.
- Learn something new together. Learn to play a musical instrument, take a class at your local college or learn a new language. Join a book club, visit a museum, take up photography or expand your world through travel.
Put it into practice
If all of this sounds overwhelming, remember that you’re building a marriage to last a lifetime; you can’t do everything in a single day! To get on the right track, try this adventure for your next date: Have a progressive dinner on the town. It’ll check all three boxes of shared enjoyable activities that help a marriage thrive:
- You’ll nurture intimacy with face-to-face and side-by-side time.
- You’ll find variety by trying new restaurants.
- You’ll have fun as you find joy in the random moments of life.
First, stop at a place known for its appetisers. After that, move to the finest salad bar in the area. Want soup? Find an out-of-the way café that specialises in creative recipes and give one of them a try. Then visit a hidden gem that’s famous for its gourmet entrées. For dessert, choose your favourite ice cream shop or a specialty bakery that serves elegant sweets.
If you live within walking distance for each place, set out on foot (there’s your active part!). Or, if you take the car, choose the scenic route (that’s where relaxing and learning something new can come in!).
What matters most is finding things you enjoy doing together that will help strengthen your marriage. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just intentional.
© 2021 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.