After 16 years of marriage and six children, my husband and I thought it timely to park some couple time aside this year and signed up for a marriage retreat. It was obvious to us, that after a season of coping with parenting young children in our twenties and thirties, along with career and family transitions, our marriage had lost some of its initial shine with the daily wear and tear of life.
Marriage too is subject to seasons. The early years of marriage, while sweet, felt akin to walking a tightrope in order to balance each other’s expectations. Midway, in trying to establish financial stability, the demands of work and hopeful ambition ate into our attempts at real connection.
After children came on the scene, marriage became not just about “us”. Our time was mostly consumed in taking care of their needs first, leaving us with barely enough energy and time to address each other’s. Our moments were no longer exclusive but shared – our children would tag along with us to celebrate our wedding anniversaries.
To be fair, all marriages go through change. After all, some of our initial conceptions of our spouse and ideas of what marriage would be like will evolve. Adding to that, our personal experiences and emotional growth may shape us into different people from the original two starry-eyed individuals who had vowed to stick together for better or worse.
It was a timely weekend; Covenant Marriage Retreat 2019 in Singapore taught us some practical handles on how to iron out the kinks and rev the engines of love that would sustain our marriage in the decades to come.
If you can identify with what we have experienced, here are five specific questions that will help our marriages go the distance:
1. How can I focus on the good in our marriage?
As the years go by and we see the person we married for who he or she really is, it may be easier to magnify their weaknesses and flaws than recognise the good. Focusing on the good means accepting your partner for who he is and where he’s at. It is also about choosing to acknowledge your partner’s efforts and strengths.
My husband is not a natural romantic who plans surprises or buys me flowers. However, I’ve learnt to appreciate him for the practical hands-on husband that he is, rather than focusing on what he is not. I appreciate his quiet ways of expressing love: Allowing me to take a bath first after a long day, swapping dishes with me when his order looks better than mine, doing the dishes without being asked and changing nappies. These are the many sweet ways he makes me feel special and loved!
I’ve learnt to appreciate him for the practical hands-on husband that he is, rather than focusing on what he is not.
2. How can I fill my spouse’s emotional fuel tank?
Craig Hill, founder of Family Foundations International and author of Two Fleas & No Dog: Transform Your Marriage from Fleadom to Freedom, reveals that men and women perceive value totally differently. “Every person has an emotional fuel tank and Value is the fuel.” Men perceive value through respect and women perceive value through love.
For a woman, practical love means ensuring she is given high priority, that attention is given to address her feelings, and responsibility is taken when her spouse hurts her. For a man, practical respect translates to acceptance, admiration and appreciation of his work and efforts for the family.
Understanding this difference helps us do what matters most to our spouse and fills their emotional tanks. We need to consciously and intentionally fill our spouse’s emotional tank so that marriage becomes a safe harbour for them to rest and refuel instead of a battleground.
3. How can I better communicate to my spouse his or her value?
Most of the communication failures in a marriage arise from the things we say and…the things we don’t. While words can be used to accuse, tear down and manipulate emotions, sincere, affirming words have the power to build up our marriage relationship regardless of how we feel.
For every gripe we have about our spouse, think of three things we can thank and honour him for. Choosing to speak life-giving words will feed the heart and soul of our marriage. At the same time, “Only 7% of a communicated message is contained in the words spoken. Another 38% is in voice intonation and 55%, body language,” says Hill. That means a whopping 93% of all our communicated messages are non-verbal! We must be mindful that our tone and bodily gestures, such as touch and eye contact, have a direct impact on our relationship too.
Sincere, affirming words have the power to build up our marriage relationship regardless of how we feel.
4. How can I put his or her needs first?
Our marriage can run the risk of becoming transactional if we choose to prioritise our individual happiness above our spouse’s. The world has conditioned us to think that every relationship should offer some kind of payback.
“What’s in it for me?” “Can my spouse provide me with enough money?” “Will we be able to afford yearly holidays?” reflect attitudes that can prove toxic to a marriage.
Instead, we can shift gears by asking questions like, “How can I serve my spouse?”, “How can I make his or her day special?” and “How can I prioritise my spouse’s needs first?” The adage, “It is better to give than to receive” is definitely applicable to how we treat the one closest to us.
5. How can I prioritise my marriage more?
Are there any hobbies, people, activities that might be competing with our desire to spend time with our spouse? The year-end holiday season is a good time for couples to reconnect and spend time together. Go on a short vacation or just take time out away from work or the kids.
It is easy to confuse building our families with building our marriages. They are complementary but not the same thing. In fact, spending time to intentionally improve our relationship with our spouse will ensure that our children and family relationships benefit as well.
Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.
© 2019 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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