Are you “keeping” your love alive within your marriage? Are you putting forth intentional effort to grow your love? It’s not too difficult to keep your love alive before you marry. But afterward, it takes more effort. It takes more than “luck” to grow your love. You can’t just let love take it’s natural course. It will crash or sizzle out. Please let me explain.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “lucky in love.” Before Cindy and I (Steve) married more than 47 years ago we probably bought that “lie.” We can assure you now luck has had nothing to do with the longevity of our love relationship. There are multiple thousands of you reading this that would agree. There are also thousands who are asking, “Then how do we keep love alive in our marriage?” We’re glad you asked.
We know this is an important topic. That’s because nobody enters into marriage thinking your love will die. But if you came from a home of divorce you probably never saw this modeled. So, we’re going to share five principles we’ve used to keep the love in our marriage alive. Of course, there are many more. However, if you can master just these five you’ll be off to a great start.
Keeping Love Alive
The first is:
• Stay Committed to Making the Marriage Work.
On the Brides.com web site people shared what helped them keep love alive in their marriages. Varda, married 37 years said this:
“It’s going to sound silly, but the secret to staying madly in love over time is staying married, no matter what. That is easier said than done.
“The early years can be quite difficult. And many couples don’t make it through. If you stick with it, you’ll find the love grows. You learn to pick and choose your issues. You learn that not putting the seat down is not a reason for divorce, even if he doesn’t learn after five years. Additionally, you learn that we aren’t our mistakes; we are our intentions. And most of all, over time, you become family, as much as giving birth to a child makes you a mother or a father.
“It’s a lasting, tight bond. But you’ve got to be committed and see it through to get to that place.”
Here are a couple of linked articles to read and use that you may find helpful in living out this mission. Prayerfully read, glean through and apply what will work for your marriage:
The next point goes hand-in-hand with the first:
• Put Forth Effort to Keep Love Alive Even When You Don’t Want To.
As former United States president, Theodore Roosevelt said:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Putting Forth Extra Effort
Here’s one of the best summary’s of what putting forth effort looks like in keeping your marriage alive:
“Let me suggest to you seven promises I have made to [my wife] that you can make to your spouse: 1. I promise that I will always love you. 2. I promise that, after God, you will always be my first priority. 3. I promise that I am forever committed to this relationship and will always work on this marriage. 4. I promise that I will always forgive you and work through conflicts. 5. I promise that I will always be faithful to you. 6. I promise that I will always be truthful with you. 7. I promise that I will always be there for you. These seven promises need to be renewed on a consistent basis. Like hugs, genuine covenant promises are hard to overdo!” (Dr. Fred Lowery, from: “Covenant Marriage”)
People Don’t Fall Out of Love
People often tell us that they’ve “fallen out of love” with their spouse. If you feel that way, consider this:
“We don’t fall out of love. We fall out of caring and sharing, out of communicating and connecting. Plus, we fall out of recognizing the importance of taking the time to appreciate moments we have together. And then we wonder whatever happened to love!
“Love begins with passion and thrives with perseverance. Like any important project, it can’t be taken for granted. It requires constant work and effort. And its greatest enemy is indifference.
“Lovers don’t usually go from love to hate. But they do very often go from love to boredom, from love to silence, from love to neglect and to lack of attention.” (Rabbi Benjamin Blech, from, “The Three Greatest Mistakes People Make About Love”)
Keeping your Love Alive Despite Feelings
Here’s one more thought on this that may resonate with where you are at in your marriage right now:
“There are times in a marriage that you may not feel in love anymore. Choose to love anyway. There are times when you may not be attracted to your spouse. Choose to love anyway. Marriage is a commitment, in good times and in bad. Those vows are sacred. They don’t say ‘if you have bad times.’ They say “in good times and in bad”, implying that there will be bad times. It’s inevitable. So choose to love anyway.” (Karen Lodato, from the Growtrac.com article, “10 Marriage Tips Every Wife Needs to Hear”)
The Apostle Paul wrote to us about sticking it out when things aren’t going like we wish they would in our marriages.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Here’s something else that’s critical in keeping love alive in our marriage. It is to
• Consider Each Other’s Feelings.
I (Steve) know I do a lot of confessing of where I messed up royally earlier in our marriage in these Marriage Insights. Well, this is another one of those times. I believe I am like most other men entering into marriage. I’m pretty much clueless on how to: a) understand my wife’s feelings; and b) know how to express my own feelings.
Psychologist Daphne M. de Marneffe P.h.D gives some good insight on this. She writes:
“In my years of counseling couples, I’ve learned that husbands really don’t want to make their wives angry. That doesn’t seem possible, you’re probably thinking. If he’s so worried about me getting angry, why won’t he make it a priority to keep track of the kids’ activities or talk with me about my day or check in with me first before he goes and plays basketball with his friends?
“You may be familiar with this common cycle: You feel overwhelmed and get annoyed because your partner isn’t giving you the support you need. You sound irritated, he thinks you’re ‘yelling’ at him, and then he either tries to get away (reads his phone, goes for a run) or defends himself (“Here we go again”). In the end, you both feel unfairly criticized and blamed.
“As a therapist, I’ve seen that men and women often have different approaches toward emotional discussions. Women are more likely to bring up issues and believe that having a conversation will make them feel better. Men tend to be more wary. They have a gut fear of their partner getting upset and worry they’ll end up being seen as ‘the problem.’” (From the Parents.com article, “5 Ways to Help Your Partner Understand How You’re Feeling”)
What Dr. de Marneffe P.h.D described was definitely me. There’s no doubt that most wives are hard wired at birth to be better communicators of feelings than us men. And it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around “what” we need to do to be better at sharing our feelings. Yes, it’s hard; but it’s not impossible. And this goes back to the point above where we need to put forth the effort even when you don’t want to. We have a lot of articles to help both of you understand the importance of considering each other’s feelings. Just go into the Communication And Conflict topic as well as the Communication Tools topic on our web site.
One caution we must make as we talk about “feelings” in our marriage. We cannot let our feelings dictate our behavior. Cindy wrote about this in the article, Bossing Your Feelings in Marriage. As she said, when you are tempted to dump raw emotions with brutal honesty with your spouse, boss back those feelings. Speak the truth in love, YES! But be mindful of whether or not you should. And if you believe you should, be careful of the timing you deliver it, your posture while saying it, your tone of voice, and your motives. If you are doing this out of love and concern, you are right on!
There are so many other times when we should boss our feelings into better emotional places. But hopefully, you get the idea.
Learn and unlearn what you need to so you keep your love alive.
For us, this has meant that we have had to learn how to better handle our feelings. We’ve also had to unlearn the habit of letting our feelings have free-reign. It’s a matter of wisely choosing that, which we want to grow. We each got into the childish habit of nursing sour attitudes when we were younger. But marriage is for grown-ups. And just like the Apostle Paul said when I grew up, “I put away childish things.”
And then, to keep your love alive within your marriage:
• Continue to Talk Together Through Conversation and Asking Each Other Questions.
This fourth principle was not easy for me initially. But, in recent years, I’ve come to realize its power. I think it’s safe to say that most women crave this and most men fear it. (I did.) Now we’re not talking about discussing issues of contention; that’s a separate matter.
It’s usually easy to tell a dating couple from a married couple in a restaurant. The dating couple is looking into each other’s eyes. They’re holding hands and hanging on every word the other says. (Although we need to say that cell phones are starting to causing problems in this area of dating. We’ve seen a rise in more couples holding onto, and even using their cell phones, rather than each other’s hands.) Most often, however, it’s the married couple that either sits silently or has their heads buried in their devices.
To keep love alive in our marriages we have to learn how to have simple conversations. We also need to ask questions that can deepen our relationship. What changed the pattern in our marriage was Cindy brought a small book full of questions on our vacation. It was called 201 Great Questions. What we did is we sat with a cup of coffee and went back and forth randomly picking questions from the book. And then we asked each other those questions. To give you an idea of the type of questions these were:
- “If you knew that tomorrow would be the last full day of your life, how would you spend the day?”
- “What is the one thing you never did in high school that you wish you had done?”
- “If you didn’t have to worry about making a living, what would you most like to do for the rest of your life?”
You can actually use these questions and experiment with this idea. But when you do this activity it’s important that the spouse listening to the answer given and DOES NOT make a judgment statement afterward. Nothing can break the connection faster than hearing a response like, “That could never happen.” Also, it’s invalidating and dishonoring to state, “That’s stupid” to your spouse. These questions are designed to open each other up to learn something new about your spouse.
When we started this Cindy suggested that we do it for only 15 minutes a day. She was smart. She didn’t want to overwhelm me. But by the end of the vacation I wanted to do the “question thing” for more than an hour at a time. There is no doubt in my mind that God used this to help me break through my non-communicative shell.
To this day, all these years later, when we go to restaurants we often take along a “question book” and go back and forth. Yes, even after 47 years of marriage we can still learn something new about each other.
The following linked articles can help you get started. (We’ve done the hard work of putting these conversation starters together for you.)
You can find even more in the Communication Tools topic. Whether you’ve been married five days or 50 years the time you take to do this will keep love alive in your marriage.
Lastly, in Keeping Your Love Alive
The final principle we want to talk about is the importance of physical touch.
• The Power of Touch is Key to Staying Connected.
Don’t dismiss this idea. There is a lot of evidence that couples who hug, cuddle, hold hands, give back rubs/or foot rubs, etc. have very strong marriages.
According to married researchers and authors, Dr. Charles & Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz,
“Touching is also a key factor to a lasting relationship. To touch someone you love is to acknowledge their presence and to communicate your desire for them. That’s why the most successfully married couples amongst us do it so often.” (From their article, “Why Physical Touch is So Important to Relationships”)
They even noted that touch outranks sex in characteristics of a successful marriage. The Schmitz’s believe it’s the “the accumulation of touching” or it’s the reciprocity of touch that increases intimacy and relationship satisfaction.”
Here are a couple more points they make on this subject that support why we feel this is so important:
• “Your Spouse Needs at Least 8 Touches a Day: Research has shown that it takes 8 to 10 meaningful touches a day to maintain physical and emotional health.”
• “Humans suffer from social isolation but react positively to physical contact. This has to do with the fact that when we hug someone, a hormone called Oxytocin is released in our body, which effectively reduces our stress levels. Additionally, our blood pressure sinks and we experience less anxiety during a hug.”
For Cindy and me this is such a natural part of our marriage. Whenever we watch TV we sit side by side (cuddle). We’re always holding hands. Even in church we’ll either hold hands or I’ll have my arm around Cindy. It’s not for “show” or to prove something. It is just a natural outflowing of our love for each other. In fact, it’s important to note that neither Cindy nor I grew up in homes where there was a lot of physical touch. But we know it’s important. So, we modeled it for our sons as they grew up. And today they are very affectionate to their spouses and children.
You can never underestimate the power of physical touch in keeping love alive in your marriage. What’s so great about this is you don’t need to read a book or take a class to learn how to do it. You just start. As the old TV commercial used to say, “Just Do it!” And that is our advice to you.
Keep Marital Love Alive One Step at a Time
Cindy and I hope you know that there isn’t one thing we’ve ever shared with you in our weekly Marriage Insights or web site articles that we haven’t put into practice ourselves. We suggest that in the coming week you and your spouse sit down together in a quiet setting. Then review these five principles we’ve laid out. Pick just one of them that you both agree on to start working on. Discuss how you can implement it into your relationship—and then start doing it.
After a week come back together and discuss (another word for communication) what you think about the past week. If it’s going well, then pick another principle and repeat the process. But in the meantime, keep working on that first principle.
Here’s what we can almost guarantee you. If you do this for five weeks you too will be on the road to growing, and keeping your love alive in your marriage…for as long as you both shall live.
Steve and Cindy Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further to keep your love alive, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below to do so:
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