Your rich uncle in Manchester passes away, leaving you his nearly new Bentley convertible. According to the terms of his will, the car is shipped to you free of charge. One day you’re driving a 10-year-old Toyota; the next day you own a Bentley!
There it sits in your driveway—$250,000 worth of refined British driving machine. The Horizon Blue paint gleams, the parchment leather interior shines with a deep luster, the tan convertible top raises and lowers with the mere touch of a button. Staring at it one day you realize that this car is worth about what you originally paid for your house!
Would you be willing to change the oil occasionally, keep the tires inflated, and do some routine maintenance to keep your new inheritance in first-rate condition? Is that too much to ask, now that you own something so valuable?
Just imagine owning a nearly new Bentley but letting it waste away day by day, because you were too busy, or too focused elsewhere, to care about maintaining your beautiful automobile. What a tragedy! Yet it’s much the same for your marriage—which is worth far more than a British car.
Something of such great beauty and value—your relationship with your life partner—needs regular care and attention in order to stay in great shape. New marriages are particularly vulnerable to swift decay in the quality of the couple’s relationship. As the rush of hormones and endorphins gradually yields to childbirth, financial stress and the pressures of life—intimacy and togetherness can suffer.
“Why doesn’t he pay attention to me like he used to?” a young wife may worry.
“What happened to that fun girl I used to know?” a young husband may wonder.
The lack of maintenance produces feelings like these—and many more. As we allow our hopes and expectations to go unexpressed, our wishes and needs tend to go unmet. Living with unmet needs can produce unhealthy emotions such as anxiety, self-pity, resentment or a martyr complex. Before long we start blaming our partner for a wide range of issues and problems, while seeing ourselves as innocent and noble victims. This is a distorted and inaccurate view of reality, made possible only when we ignore our issues instead of focusing on them and dealing with them.
Time for assessing
Even the best of marriages needs regular attention in order to avoid gaps in communication, the potential for misunderstanding and the buildup of unmet needs in one or both partners. Without careful and regular tune-ups, any relationship—even one that has lasted for decades—may begin to show signs of wear, damage and decay. That’s why it’s so helpful to purposely sit down with a third party just to talk about your marriage.
Write it onto your calendar and make a marriage tune-up a regular part of your annual or seasonal schedule. A marriage retreat may work for this purpose, too—but only if the two of you are interacting with the material, not just sitting in the crowd as passive listeners.
In order to form a more perfect union … take time to regularly check up on how your relationship is doing. Sit down with a counselor or your minister, or share a quiet, intentional evening with a wise married couple that’s been through these things before. While you’re both together in a safe and supportive environment, carefully unpack any misunderstandings or disagreements you’ve had.
You don’t need to wait until there’s a crisis or a major issue. Wise couples know that if you take care of the small things—while they’re still small—they don’t blow up and become big things later. Healthy couples realize that every relationship has petty disagreements and daily misunderstandings—until you resolve them by paying better attention to each other. These couples understand that if you pay attention to these seemingly small things on a regular basis—giving your relationship a fresh tune-up—your marriage can not only go the distance, but also shine brightly while doing so!
The Frisbies serve together as executive directors of The Center for Marriage and Family Studies in Del Mar. They are the authors of dozens of articles and 25 books about marriage and family life, including their recent book “Becoming Your Husband’s Best Friend” (Harvest House Publishers)