There has never been a time in history when more is expected of marriage. Keeping a relationship loving, passionate and growing for a lifetime is a challenge that all couples face. The ‘spark’ grows dim, boredom or routine sets in, exhaustion from work and children leaving little time and energy available to keep the love fires burning.
Today, we expect marriage to be more than an economic arrangement that provides for the security for raising children. Most couples want their marriage to be loving and a refuge from the stresses of daily life. Some of the most common threats to a marriage are:
- Work pressures – long hours, business travel, two income earners, 24-hour cell phone availability and distraction
- Child care pressures – the balance of home life and work life is complicated
- Aging parents – requirements to take to appointments, care for their greater needs
- Money problems, health problems, alcohol and drug use, depression and anxiety
The traditional marriage of 50 years ago, with the management of the household and childcare left to women, meant work outside the home and income provision was left to men. This undermined gender equality, but it was also probably less stressful. Clearer roles, less negotiation, less teamwork with shared responsibilities, likely made for less conflict.
Another pressure on modern marriage is how long marriage is supposed to last these days. The average age that couples are getting married in Canada today is 33. (A high proportion live common law for several years before marrying). Average life expectancy these days is about 82 years. This means that a marriage has to last almost 50 years, on average. Only a hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was under 50 years of age. Most marriages would have been expected to last 25 only years. That means marriage is supposed to last twice as long in only one century!
Along with needing to sustain a marriage longer, we expect love to endure longer than ever. In addition, with many more stresses noted above, and extended family support not as available as it was a hundred years ago, is it any wonder so many couples struggle as their marriage ‘matures’?
Most marriages do not end suddenly – or deliberately. They tend to die slowly of neglect and inattention. Other things get priority: long hours at work, business travel, the care and activities of the children and taking care of aging parents. Efforts to strengthen the marriage take a back seat. Many assume that while busy with other things, a marriage can take care of itself. Marriage like any relationship, needs attention to keep the love alive.
Nine Ways to Keep Love Alive in Your Marriage
Sue Johnson, in her book Hold Me Tight, has the following suggestions for keeping your relationship strong and enduring:
- Know how to nurture the bonds of love. Tell each other how you feel about things that matter to you. Create and sustain a connection that provides a dependable refuge from life stresses, a safe haven and web of intimacy. Remind yourself as often as you can that this is what gives your life meaning.
- Learn to reach out to each other and create a secure relationship; become skilled at solving everyday problems in a cooperative, open and flexible way. Confide in your partner all your important concerns and encourage your partner to do the same.
- Know the danger points or raw spots within your relationship and avoid sliding back into negative patterns of blaming, criticizing or avoiding. Remember to detour around these spots and get back to a secure connection with your partner.
- Remember to deliberately defuse arguments and create a sense of safety for each other so you can discuss contentious or difficult issues.
- Celebrate the positive events big or small. Reflect on the impact each has had on the other. Talk about the turning points in your relationship when your love intensified.
- Mark moments of time spent apart and reunions, with rituals such as kisses and hugs, conversations about what happened when away, arrange to have meals together or make time for emotional and physical intimacy upon return from a business trip.
- Remind yourselves of examples of how you have got unstuck when in conflict, repaired rifts, reconnected and forgiven one another in the past.
- Enjoy a satisfying sex life by ensuring the emotional connection is secure. Physical intimacy reinforces emotional intimacy, openness, gentleness and love.
- Create a story about the future of your relationship. What does your marriage look like in five or ten years? How would you like your partner’s help in getting there?
When I celebrated my grandparents 60th anniversary as a teenager, I had no idea that they had an unusually long marriage for the time. I do not know that their marriage endured based on the nine suggestions above. In those days, duty, loyalty, honour of family, shame of divorce or fear of poverty kept people married. Keeping love alive in a long-term relationship or marriage requires attention. We live in very busy times with many competing pressures including the distraction of personal devices. Finding the time and making it a priority to attend to your relationship is a challenge worth doing.
The view of love described above, fits with the beliefs of American monk, social activist, poet and writer Thomas Merton, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another and all in one another.” When we seek cooperation, mutual dependence and a secure emotional connection in our most intimate relationships, we are embracing this concept of the nature and purpose of love.