Alan and Mary have been married ten years. For most of their marriage, neither of them has felt happy or fulfilled. They seem to be trapped in the grip of a joyless routine. Their marriage isn’t exactly bad, but their marriage is flat, like old Coca-Cola that has lost its sparkle. They endure their marriage, like one endures a gloomy room on a rainy day. The sunshine seems gone forever.
It wasn’t always this way. The early years of marriage held many challenges, but they always found ways to keep their marriage enjoyable. Not now. Now they can’t remember the last time they had a good laugh together. By degrees their marriage has become a little more dreary and a little less delightful. They only see each other at the end of a long and busy day. They seldom talk, and seldom smile either. Alan and Mary don’t have a bad marriage, exactly, just a dull one.
In some parts of the American West, and in most of the Australian outback, you can drive for hundreds of miles, on perfectly straight roads, through a featureless landscape. Nothing unexpected, nothing interesting, nothing but you, the car, and the long, long road. After a few hundred kilometers you start craving something, anything, different and exciting. That is precisely how Alan and Mary feel about their relationship.
A Greek poet (who by coincidence, has the same given name as our surname) wrote these words in 1908:
One monotonous day is followed by another monotonous, identical day.
The same things will happen, they will happen again–
The same moments find us and leave us.
A month passes and ushers in another month.
One easily guesses the coming events;
They are the boring ones of yesterday.
And the morrow ends up not resembling a morrow anymore.
– Constantine Cavafy, 1908 (Translated from the Greek)
Many husbands and wives would say that Cavafy’s words describe just the way they feel about their marriage. It’s a life without real tomorrows.
Monotony leads to apathy, that dangerous feeling that neither of us can do anything to get rid of the boredom. Husband and wife feel trapped. Like a sail boat becalmed on a vast, empty ocean, no breezes come to ripple the sails and refresh the sailors.
For many sailors, the doldrums are worse than the storms. Both have their dangers, but in the doldrums, there is not a breath of wind to move the boat or refresh the crew. Tempers flare, and hope dies. The same happens to monotonous marriages.
Apathy is only one danger of monotony. It can also can lead to unfaithfulness. Please understand. I do not, and will not, condone unfaithfulness, no matter what the cause. Still, if we can do something to prevent it, shouldn’t we? Keeping our marriages enjoyable, and being enjoyable ourselves, brings new freshness every day.
Put Some Wind in Your Sails
Sailing ships differ from marriages in one very vital way. The sailor cannot manufacture wind to move his ship, but any couple can break out of monotony and make their marriage delightful. Here are some ideas to get you going:
Many couples think celebration is optional, but it is really essential.
When God called the Israelites to be his people, he established, in the rhythm of their years, times of celebration. Those times became focal points of refreshing for them. You can do the same thing in your marriage. Celebrate your anniversary every year. Celebrate birthdays, and give thanks for each other. Rejoice over achievements, accomplishments, or just plain survival. We have friends who really knew the art of celebration. New job? Celebrate! Completed project? Celebrate! They absolutely looked for reasons to rejoice.
Never go into debt to celebrate. Always celebrate within your means. It’s not how much you spend; it’s how much meaning you bring to the celebration that counts.
Develop a Joyful, Positive Perspective
Remember Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street? He is a grumbler, and lives, appropriately, in a trash can. Is that you? Have you lost your joy? Have you become a constant complainer? God can fix your heart, and restore your joy. Get rid of the grumbles, move out of the trash can, and enjoy life with your sweetheart.
Surprise Each Other
Remember that surprises should not put you in debt or overtax your budget. They can be as simple as a phone call, or a single flower. Or your surprise could be something more elaborate, but still not costly. Planning and imagination cost nothing, but they can lead to some great surprises.
Kathy had a really busy day, one of those non-stop marathons that squeezes all the life out of you. Her husband (who was home that day) decided to plan a special treat for her. He filled the bathroom with candles, put a CD player in with some soothing music, bought some inexpensive, but very invigorating bubble bath, and made a sign for the door that said, “Dead Mommy Therapy Center.” When she came home he escorted her to the bathroom and told her to take as much time as she liked. Kathy loved it! Total cost: about five dollars. Total value: immeasurable! Oh yes! I forgot to tell you that he did not do any of that with sex in mind. He did it for her with no strings attached. It is important for us to develop delight and joy in our marriages apart from sex. But I would not be surprised to find out that there were a few fireworks that night.
Save Some Money for Special Treats
One of our favorite treat is ice cream. We don’t need much; a single scoop will do. We definitely believe that good ice cream is a glorious gift from a loving Creator. A special treat, no matter what it is, can provide a moment of relaxation and refreshment for both of you. You might even find a lost smile or two, and maybe even a great big laugh!
Will those ideas help you fix the deeper problems in your marriage? Probably not, at least by themselves. But they will bring some times of refreshing to you. Then you might find it easier to tackle the deeper issues.
Dull or Delightful? A Short Test
Answer each question Yes or No. Answer truthfully. If you’re especially brave, ask your spouse to take the test on you.
- I cannot remember the last time my spouse and I had a good laugh.
- My friends often tell me that I take myself too seriously.
- I often forget birthdays and anniversaries.
- I cannot remember the last time I gave my husband or wife a pleasing little surprise.
- I am more charming to everyone else than I am to my spouse.
- My voice has developed an edge, like a knife.
- I have become a nag.
- I have become a bully.
- I often hear myself complaining.
The more Yes answers you have the less delightful you are. You’re probably under a lot of pressure, too. Can you find a way to give yourself, and everyone else around you, a break?
The Fallacy of a Stress-free Life
Admit it: life is stressful. As true as that is, some stress is avoidable. Reducing the amount of avoidable stress makes marriage much more enjoyable, even in difficult circumstances.
- Think about the difference between avoidable and unavoidable stress. On a sheet of paper make three columns. Label the first column Stresses. In that column list some of the stresses in your lives.
- Now label the second column Avoidable or Unavoidable? For each stress mark whether it is avoidable or unavoidable.
- Now label the third column, What We Can Do. Think of some ways to eliminate or decrease each stress. For example, it is stressful to have to get up early to go to work. But it is unavoidable (if you want to eat and make the house payment). You could reduce the early morning stress by putting things out the night before, and maybe even getting up just fifteen minutes earlier. That’s the idea.
Think, Act, Pray
1. What are some specific ways I can make myself and my marriage more enjoyable?
2. Why do I forget to make marriage enjoyable? How can I remember?