How do you enrich a marriage? Do you treat it like a full time job where it means having to work overtime, engaging in team work and putting in your 110% to achieve objectives? Enriching your marriage is an ongoing effort. It goes beyond the traditional roles that husband and wife play. It means much more than sharing a mortgage, raising children, cultivating relationships and rejoicing when a son or daughter graduates from university.
There are many ways to enrich a marriage. Marriage counselors can write a book on this subject because they’ve had the opportunity of dealing with many couples with all sorts of problems. Some problems are more difficult to detect than others. For example, fighting couples pin the blame on money issues, or on unsatisfying sex or on irreconcilable differences. But there are problems that are “hidden” or “disguised” because they stem from certain emotions that are not expressed openly.
But the one thing we’re sure of is that the only way we can enrich our marriage is to change our attitude. By changing our attitude, we actively seek ways to enrich our marriage instead of finding reasons to justify a divorce. Divorce is the easy way out because “people get divorced everyday.” The challenge begins when we change gears and say to ourselves, “I want to save this marriage. Not only will I save it but I will also enrich it because that’s where lasting happiness comes from.”
1) Enter marriage with an open mind
Wayne and Carol Mack, authors of Sweethearts for a Lifetime: Making the Most of Your Marriage (P&R Publishing Company, New Jersey, 2006) said that “more often, people tend to structure their marriages according to their own ideas or according to the world’s current ideas of what marriage should be about.” We tend to view the institution of marriage the way our parents and grandparents do, or the way our friends and colleagues do. We’ve talked to women who think that when they get married, their husbands will work while they stay at home with the kids. We’ve talked to men who think that their wives must accompany them at office functions and must therefore look nice and know how to carry on a smart conversation. Some men and women also tend to enter a marriage with fixed ideas of spousal responsibilities. “He’s to take out the garbage and I’m to fold the laundry.” When roles are “pre-assigned”, the concept of a real partnership becomes a blur. What happens when he’s out of town or she’s ill and has to stay in bed for several days? The answer is, of course, obvious. The other spouse takes over.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it? But you’d be surprised to learn that when there’s a clear division of labor that reigns in the household and controlling spouses get angry because of unfinished tasks, the marriage is under pressure.
2) Listen, for goodness sake!
This is the classic argument in favor of open and honest communication. It is far more important to listen and to try to read body language. We learn more by listening. Sometimes a distraught spouse will say things he or she doesn’t mean. Take the case of this couple who was described by Dennis and Barbara Rainey in their book Starting Your Marriage Right (Thomas Nelson Inc, Tennessee, 2000). This couple – Mark and Allison – had accepted a gift vacation in North Carolina for the weekend. Since they had not packed beach towels, they decided to shop for towels. They ended up fighting over the cost. Mark was angry that Allison spent a fortune and he started to think what a lousy money manager she is. When they got to the beach, they had more reason to be upset. There were about 50 dogs in the beach while their owners were sunbathing nearby. Allison, who never cared for dogs and was still upset from the earlier incident, took off her straw hat and started walking back to the hotel screaming, “this marriage is over.”
When both calmed down later, Mark did not confront Allison about what she said earlier. Instead, he put his arms around her and said gently, “what’s wrong with us, what can we do?” Mark was really listening. He knew deep down that Allison loved him and did not want to end their marriage. She was only reacting emotionally, and instead of challenging her, offered her the olive branch by touching her.
3) Don’t lose interest in sex
Sex is an act that must not lose steam and inertia as you celebrate more and more wedding anniversaries. It should not be relegated to the back burner on the pretext that you’re tired, the children will hear, or it’s no longer an enjoyable experience. The lack of sex is often the main reason why spouses stray and become unfaithful. Rejecting the advances of a spouse could be wrongly interpreted as loss of love, a lack of interest or plain indifference to the other’s physical and mental needs.
4) Don’t suffocate each other!
Enriching your marriage does not equate with being together 24/7. Give your spouse some space and encourage him or her to pursue a favorite hobby or spend time with friends outside your regular circle of acquaintances. Set up a weekly schedule wherein you can “do your own thing.” If you have different ideas of how to spend your summer vacation, then by all means see if you can agree to take your vacations separately. There is no rule that says husband and wife must vacation together. If his idea of a vacation is to play golf everyday while she prefers to visit museums, certainly that can be arranged so that husband and wife are happy? Leave each other alone and be with other people. At the end of the day when you’re back together at the dinner table, the stories you tell each other would be much more interesting!
5) Be clear about money management
Next to sex, money matters are another hot issue. One spouse likes to spend, the other would rather be frugal. If you find that you’re consistently arguing about money, wait for a moment when you’re both relaxed and receptive. Sit down with pen and paper and figure out a way to create a budget and stick to it. You can both decide what major purchases you will allow yourselves this year and next. You can also decide what items you can do without while you’re saving money for more urgent purchases. Both spouses must be actively involved in the financial affairs of the marriage because money is a shared responsibility.
When there are constant fights over money, we’re not enriching our marriage, we’re leading it into the path of ruin.