Keeping Marriage Alive: Sustaining real love

Published 8:46 am Saturday, September 11, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the final in a five-part series on keeping the life in intimate relationships.

Most of us have high expectations of married life. We gather up a host of hopes and dreams and put them into one basket called marriage.

It stands to reason, when you think about it. When we are dating, our passions are a flame, adrenaline is flowing, and we have the courage to dream of a future filled with the completion of our heart’s desires.

David Larson, Power for Living

Email newsletter signup

In a way, you might say, biology plays a trick on us. Our hormones are raging and physiologically we are wired for optimism, excitement and dreams come true. Our friends and family often join in the excitement, sharing in our heart-felt aspirations.

In addition, we see the happiness of those joining together in elaborate (or at least uniquely special) preparations and ceremonies on TV and in the movies, scenes carefully crafted to fit romantic ideals, with any hints of disappointment or the challenges of actually working out a relationship overlooked or left out.

Yes, we are programmed for high expectations. We emphasize joy, and resist thinking about the challenges. Potential disappointments are minimized. We have the confidence that love will conquer all.

Gradually, real life hits us. The bills come. We have problems on the job. The car breaks down; laundry piles up. Another diaper to change. Another feeding at 3 a.m. We get tired. We get the flu. The checkbook bounces. So many distractions now. Hard to keep focused on our most important friend — our spouse.

Now we’re just living together. We stop talking. Where did that specialness go? The dream starts slipping away. It’s harder than we thought. It takes more work now. What’s wrong with us, we think.

We start to pick at our mate because we’re disappointed. We see his/her shortcomings. Why can’t she change that harping? Why doesn’t he listen to me? Where did the spark go? We slip into ordinary. This is not what we signed up for. Now what?

Hang on … there’s hope! Yes, we can get it back! We don’t have to “settle.” What we do need is time to get refocused.

The challenge here may be that we forgot we married to serve. When we were engaged, we thought, “I want to make you happy.” Lately we’ve been thinking, “I’m not happy with him.” The distractions and responsibilities are real, yes. Yet this is the challenge and gift marriage gives us. How can I continue to love with zest and enthusiasm when the stakes get higher, when I’m no longer receiving the attention I once did from my special one?

One possibility lies in renewing my commitment. This is when I remember I married in order to support and care for, because I wanted to give, because I wanted someone to love.

So the important questions become: What am I no longer doing that I once did that kept our relationship exciting? Am I willing to do these things again? How can I surprise her? What meant the most to him earlier in our relationship? What does he/she need from me now?

This kind of love takes effort, more effort than it took in the beginning. But that’s OK. It’s still worth it. I have been given someone to love. It is part of my purpose on this planet. I will not forget this. I will remember there is joy in serving, in giving, in planning how to make someone’s life special. It remains a mission. I will help my mate grow into the best he/she can be. I realize I made this commitment in the beginning, and that this commitment was part of what brought juice to our relationship.

How will I treat my mate special today, tomorrow, this week?

I will spend five minutes today thinking about how to be love to my spouse. I will emphasize it. I will initiate, because I know I want the spark back. I will talk about my wishes with my spouse. I will ask what he/she needs. I will tell him/her what I need.

We will dream again together. We can! We can again have common goals and desires, and work together to achieve them. I will see a counselor or marriage coach if I need to. I’m open to receiving help. I will not be stopped.

What is it you both need? What is it you both want? Remember the old adage, “United we stand, divided we fall.” Around what goal can you get united? How can you make it fun to work at it together?

David Larson, licensed psychologist, is a counselor and personal coach. He can be reached at the Institute for Wellness, 507-373-7913, or at his website,