As Valentine’s Day rolls around again, I find myself reflecting on love relationships in general and marriage in particular. You may be wondering why I am writing about marriage in a parent resource magazine. The answer is simple: the model for marriage (or any committed relationship) we provide for our children has implications for generations to come.
The intricate connection between marriage and parenting can perhaps best be illustrated by comparing a family to a mobile. If you have ever carefully observed a mobile, you probably noticed that all the connections make it impossible to touch one piece without moving all the others. Some may teeter wildly while others barely quiver, but they all move. The same is true of families. What affects a person in one relationship will affect all of her other relationships. In short, your parenting will be affected by your marriage and vice versa.
I have been puzzling over the question of why we assume dating and courtship are active and stimulating, whereas marriage is passive and routine? Most wedding ceremonies are chock full of action words — promises to love, honor, cherish, support, nurture. So far, I haven’t attended a wedding in which one of the vows was, “I promise to become less attractive, less affectionate, uncommunicative, distant, and to take thee for granted for as long as we both shall live.”
All too often, I see couples investing more time, energy, thought, and money on planning and preparing for their wedding day than they will ever spend on their relationship again. Maybe we need to require that couples be married for at least a year, better yet five years, before they get a wedding. If only we were as committed to creating lifelong, satisfying relationships as we are to throwing perfect weddings! Then maybe all our talk about the importance, value, and even sacredness of marriage would be more than just talk.
One of the most common excuses for a marriage gone stale is lack of time. Well, I’m here to tell you that courting couples have the same 24 hours in their day as married couples. Courting couples are often full-time students who hold jobs, or are both employed full time, or employed full time and have children. Married couples who complain of having no time for each other somehow find time to chat and text or do lunch with friends or co-workers, watch television, surf the net, and participate in social media.
Clearly, what has changed are a couple’s priorities, not the amount of time available. When you care about someone, you make time to let them know it. If only couples would work as hard to keep each other as they did to get each other in the first place. The key word here being “work.” Every one of us who has ever been involved in a committed relationship knows how to court. We must have been fairly good at it at one time. There is no good reason for stopping. Marriage doesn’t extinguish the desire to be courted.
As a culture, we are in love with falling in love. Unfortunately, this obsession with falling in love is not conducive to long-term, committed relationships like marriage. But perhaps it could be if we changed the rules a bit. We tend to believe that falling in love with a person can happen only once. Then when you fall out of love with that person, you move on to the next. The fact is, you don’t have to fall out of love to fall in love. I have personally fallen in love, on numerous occasions, with the same man: my husband of 29 years. Each time has been different, surprising, exciting, and deeply satisfying.
Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is the real challenge. Here are a few suggestions for meeting the challenge:
Continue becoming yourself. I once heard a university provost say, “Becoming is superior to being.” “Being” describes a static state, while “becoming” recognizes the active, evolving nature of the self. Becoming also suggests that the process is one over which we have control. Take responsibility for knowing what your needs are, for communicating them to others, and for getting them met. Your spouse is not capable of knowing or responsible for fulfilling all your needs. And the only way he can know what you need or want is if you tell him. Have realistic expectations for yourself and others. Remember, the only person you can change is yourself. Continue becoming the best version of yourself.
Learn and practice effective communication. Increase your feeling word vocabulary. The more accurately you can identify your feelings, the more likely you are to effectively express them and get the associated needs met. Accept conflict as a natural part of any intimate relationship. Arguing does not have to be destructive. Learn and practice rules for fighting fair. Learn and practice the steps for problem solving. First and foremost, identify and define the problem. The more accurately you define the problem, the more likely you are to arrive at a mutually agreed upon, effective solution. (If you discover issues in your marriage that you are not sure how to address, get professional help. Marital therapy is not restricted to couples with serious problems. Seek help before what is simply irritating becomes a crisis.)
Revisit your courtship. Research has shown that one characteristic of couples in lasting marriages is a fond recollection of their earliest times together — their meeting and courtship. Take time to recall how you met and what you did to attract one another in the first place. If it worked then, chances are it will work now. Expressing appreciation, noticing when your partner looks especially attractive, leaving notes, holding hands, calling just to say hello — all those little things you did when you were courting are just as important now as they were then.
Create opportunities for falling in love. Schedule time to spend together regularly. Spur-of-the-moment outings are lovely, but don’t depend on them happening in the fast-paced lives we live. Take a walk and talk. Learn how to do something new as a couple. Choose a book and agree to read and discuss it. Better yet, read aloud to one another. Time together doesn’t have to be spontaneous or expensive to be meaningful.
Relationships that last involve two people committed to spending a lifetime falling in love again. So that is my wish for you this Valentine’s Day. May you look for opportunities and find reasons to fall in love with one another over and over for as long as you both shall live. You and your children will reap the rewards.
Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman has degrees in Child Development, Family Studies, and Marriage and Family Therapy. Waterbury-Tieman has been married for 29 years and has two sons, ages 24 and 14. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To read more, visit www.aparent4life.com or follow A Parent for Life on Facebook. To contact her, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.