Far too many married people switch their relationship – one of the most important relationships of their life – into “cruise control” and stop thinking about it. Instead of being an exciting adventure shared with someone they love, their marriage is lost in the endless succession of busy, ordinary days, one after the other, the regular routine of life.
Compared to the tremendous amount of excitement and passion and thought that goes into finding and meeting someone, falling in love, and getting married, it’s astonishing to see how little thought people put into what happens afterward, even though a marriage lasts (usually) many years longer than courtship.
It’s almost as if people heave a sigh of relief after they say, “I do,” and figure their work is done. Now they can pay attention to their careers or their children or other things.
But it’s vitally important to keep thinking about your marriage and how to keep it healthy, how to improve it and make it an extension of the great adventure that meeting and falling in love was in the first place. Here are a few questions to consider that can really help your marriage, if you really think about them and try to answer them honestly.
1. What Am I Grateful For?
Some people make a list like this on a regular basis – even daily. When they wake up in the morning, they scribble down a list of all the good things in their life, from their health to the roof over their head to their career or a beloved family pet. You don’t have to do this every day, but it’s a great idea to ask yourself this question in regards to your marriage every so often.
Take a piece of paper and write “What am I grateful for about my marriage?” at the top. Then take five or ten minutes to write down anything and everything you can think of as an answer. What do you love about your spouse, and about yourself in your marriage?
Does your marriage give you hope and courage? Does it keep you from feeling lonely? Does it reassure you that you are an attractive, interesting person worthy of being loved? Do you and your spouse have interesting conversations, or go on fun trips together? There are no limits to what you write down.
Remember, this bit of paper is just a “thought exercise” – it’s just for you and no one else, not even your spouse, needs to ever see it. So don’t be reluctant or embarrassed to write down anything that comes into your mind, even if it seems silly. Even if you’ve written down something on a similar list in the past, you can write it down again.
The object of this exercise is to cultivate a habit of gratitude around your marriage. You’re reminding yourself of all the positive things about your relationship. That’s very important in a busy, exhausting world where spouses argue with each other and often remind each other of the negative sides of their relationships. It’s important to remind yourself often of how great it is to be married.
You don’t have to share these ideas with your spouse, but if you do share your gratitude, it will have tremendous positive effects.
2. What Are My Dreams?
No dream can come true unless you have a dream. Think about that. Do you have personal dreams you hope to accomplish in the short term and the long term? And do you and your spouse have joint dreams that you hope to achieve?
Some should be small, perhaps painting your bedroom or buying a new car. Others should be big dreams, like moving to another country, taking a tropical vacation, or buying your dream house. It doesn’t even matter if all your dreams are realistic – some of them should be big and fantastic. It’s important to keep dreaming, both as an individual and as a married couple. Talk to each other regularly about what your dreams are, and enjoy trying to achieve them, together.
3. Where Are We Going?
During courtship, most couples know where they’re going – towards marriage! But after they say their vows, some couples lose their way. It’s vital for you and your spouse to ask this question sometimes. Where are you going as a couple? In a way, this is related to the previous question about dreams. But this one is a bit more down to earth.
Check in with each other now and then about where your marriage is going. What do you hope to accomplish someday? Do you want to have children? If you already have children, what do you plan to do when they grow up and move out? You don’t even have to have all the answers, as some of these questions are difficult. But it’s important that the two of you work together to discuss the purpose and progress of your relationship.
4. What Is True Intimacy?
This is something of a question for you to meditate on, rather than struggle to answer right away. But the answer is important in the long run. Modern people tend to confuse sex and intimacy, even though the two are not really synonymous. Sex is more accurately described as a part of intimacy. And how big a part it is changes over time.
Don’t get lazy and start thinking that just because you’re having sex regularly (or irregularly) that you’ve checked the “intimacy” box on your marriage score card.
Plenty of marriages have floundered even though the partners were having great sex. Great sex is great, but it isn’t enough of a foundation to build and sustain a marriage on.
Real intimacy is a true sharing of yourself with your spouse. It means letting them know about how you’re doing, about how you’re feeling, and about what’s going on in your life. It’s important to develop habits of regular, honest communication with your spouse. This can take the form of periodic “check ins” where you each talk about how you’re feeling, and about what’s going on at your job or in other areas of your life. You could also write letters to each other – the way you check in isn’t so important as the fact that you do it.
So spend a little time pondering what intimacy means to you.