Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Keeping Marriage Alive

This week's Woman-to-Woman topic has to do with marriage.

The challenge reads thus:

"Whether you've been married for 38 years, 8 years or are a newlywed, you've probably picked up a few of the keys to a happy marriage, one which is nurturing and continues to grow. Maybe your marriage has struggled, but you've found a road back to each other and have insights for those in similar situations. What would you say are the three most key elements in your marriage that keep the romance alive and the heart aflutter? "

There are many things I could write about. I've said before HERE how I feel about the man I'm married to.

But if I have to pick just three key factors that keep our love alive, I'd list these:


Now to explain.... (warning ...not TOO graphic, but may be a bit PG13. Sorry if this is just TOO MUCH information, but it's something I think matters that is worthy of talking about.)

MINDFUL INTIMACY: When most folks hear married people (or other romantically involved partners) talk about "being intimate" they immediately think that means sex. It can. Sometimes. But I think it is very important to build deliberate intimacy into the relationship that does NOT involve intercourse. Face it, no matter how loving or generous your intent when you start making love, there comes a point when the whole universe -INCLUDING your partner- becomes secondary to the ferocious building up torrent/release of sensation in your own body. At least that is how it is for me.

So we make sure we make time for lots of pleasuring touch that is NOT foreplay, but something to savor for its own. Being able to "pinch and tickle", give lots of deep, passionate kisses, body massage and experimenting with what each of us likes with no expectation for it to be leading up to sex can be incredibly bonding.

There is so much laughter, occasional silliness, sometimes quiet wonder as we explore just sharing ourselves with each other in cuddling, time together ways. Those times make it so that when we DO choose to have sex it's all that much richer, more mindful, more chosen.

Enough said.

POWER OF WORDS - We have this silly little tradition in which I relate any mundane, routine chore to being an expression of devotion. When I'm sorting sock I'll say to my man: "And WHY am I sorting these socks?" He'll tease me at first with some ridiculous answer like "well, it's better than chasing an aardvark!" I will put on mock outrage at that and insist he come up with a better answer. Then he will get a huge grin on his face and tenderly say "Because you love me." To which I will answer some variation of this: "YES, I sort these socks because I do love you. It means a lot to me to be able to help make a home that is comfortable for you, where you can come home secure in the knowledge of having matched socks. I may not be saving the world. But I'm loving you the best way I know how."

Pure mush? Yep. But this little "game" that we play reinforces for BOTH of us that we DO love each other, and that even in all the minutia of life - taking out the trash, sorting socks, picking up dog poop in the yard, washing the car, ANYTHING that makes our home more sane, more ordered, more cozy can be done as an expression of love. There is POWER in that. (And a lot of silliness, which is ok too.)

It keeps us from getting annoyed or overwhelmed with the chores. If we have a big enough WHY, the how just falls into place. It helps us live in a more deliberate state of experiencing and expressing our love in even the most mundane moments.

DEAD PRESIDENTS - my reference to money. So many couples I know have conflicts over cash, or the lack there of. We don't. Ever. Never have in 25 years. In our early years we were poor as church mice. Now we are considerably more comfortable. But no matter where we were on the economic spectrum we have scrupulously followed these rules.

1) PAY TITHING FIRST - no matter what. It is our way of acknowledging that ALL we have comes from the Lord, and that we trust Him to provide for our needs.

2) PAY BILLS NEXT - We are far from rich, but our credit rating is "super prime". On our signature alone we could get many thousands of dollars if some emergency were ever to arise. That comes from having regularly paid our bills on time even if it meant sacrificing other things. We have learned to separate needs from wants and we know which comes first in line.

3) SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY. Even though I grew up in Arizona, I know that eventually, it WILL rain. It helps to have a little nest egg set aside for emergencies. Besides, having grown up poor and known what it felt like to live on the fringe, that nest egg does plenty to provide comfort/security/peace of mind EVERY DAY even when it is not raining. I think this comes under the category of "When ye are prepared ye shall not fear."

Now, if there was anything left after rules 1, 2 & 3 THEN we could make some choices. There were plenty of years when we joked that the reason we didn't fight over money was because we had no money to quibble about. Seriously, it was just plain GONE by the time we took care of our prime directives. So be it. At least we knew the important stuff WAS taken care of.

But in recent years we've had more disposable income than we ever dreamed we would back when we were paupers. And the way we handle that is some extrapolation of the $50 rule.

What's that you ask? From very early on when I was a stay at home mom we BOTH acknowledged that we BOTH contributed to the household in meaningful ways even though he brought in income and I didn't. So we made a pact that each month he would get $50 and I would get $50 to spend ANY WAY WE LIKED with no questions, no complaints, no criticism, no eye rolling. There were times when I thought he needed another fishing pole like he needed a hole in the head. There were days when I'm sure he questioned why I was forever buying yet ANOTHER book when I had plenty sitting on the shelf I had not yet read. But it didn't matter. We were grown ups with the right to choose what was important to us without having to ask permission or worry about censure.

Now, over the years the AMOUNT of the $50 rule has changed substantially. At one point it was closer to $5. Now it is bigger. But the amount really isn't important - that just depends on any given couple's financial means. The key principles are that we are TOTALLY honest with each other, don't "SNEAK" or hide purchases and give each other room to have preferences, desires, etc that make no sense to our spouse. (My husband is a sucker for kitchen gadgets and other wonder items sold on TV infomercials. I spend lots of money for things that never "SHOW" in the house, like getting massage or going to trainings or retreats.) We are DIFFERENT in what we value. But that's ok. He and I BOTH contribute to our family and we BOTH should be able to benefit from our means - that was true when I had no financial income, it was true when he made way more than me and it is still true when I earn more than him.

We don't fight over little pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents. Our love is just too important for that.

There are plenty of other things which keep our magic going. I've mentioned a few of them in my comments to some of the other entries to this topic.

The bottom line is that keeping love alive is a CHOICE, not a matter of luck or having been exceedingly wise in choosing the perfect person. We are all married to human beings therefore, like us, they are imperfect. But we can choose to focus on what we treasure rather than what we deplore. Sure, I wish he wouldn't leave his dirty socks in the middle of the floor. But I'll keep picking them up, keep washing them and keep sorting them into pairs - NOT because there are no Aardvarks in this neck of the woods. I do it, because I really, truly DO love him.

Co hosts Lei over at My Many Colored Days and Morning Glory at Seeds From My Garden have link lists leading to what other women have written on this subject.


Montserrat said...

This was very enjoyable to read (and not too graphic either). You've picked the two biggest 'squabble areas' in marriages - sex and money - and shown how you've used them to nurture your marriage instead of letting them break it down. Your last paragraph sums it up beautifully. Keeping love alive really is a choice. I'm so glad someone values me enough he chose me to keep love alive with.

Morning Glory said...

Oh, this was just wonderful! I enjoyed every word of it and I agree wholeheartedly. I really liked your $50 a month plan. That sounds so much fun and I think I may discuss the idea with my husband. Even after 37 years there are ways to add good elements to an already good marriage. Thank you for chiming in this week.

Lei said...

Ah, finances. I was waiting for someone to jump on that one! It's a really important one, too. I like the don't ask rule with your discretionary fund! Gives you a little freedom. :)

Belladonna said...

To all - YES, the $50 rule has been a tremendous blessing in our marriage - a great way of showing trust and respect for one another.

The flip side of it is that any time one of us wants to buy something that is OVER whatever the line in sand amount may be we DO talk about it. Even then, it's not a matter of "asking permission", but truly counseling together as equal adults about what in in our best interest financially. It has been wonderful in our relationship to have a long established pattern of honest communication about money. Dollars equal POWER to so many people and sadly far too many relationships get unhinged by manipulative, selfish or sneaky behavior with finances.

I just had a pow wow last night with my man because I wanted to go over our $50 rule to spend a chunk of change on a white water rafting trip in a couple weeks. We are both grown ups, we both know what we earn and what we owe so TOGETHER we could decide if this was a good time for that sort of non-essential expense. Granted, it was my idea, but we need to be in agreement for it to remain fun.

Look out river here we come!

mumple said...

The money thing is soooo true! We don't have the exact same rule, but we do respect that money can be (and usually is) the downfall of many a marriage.

Jaquandor said...

Can I just say that it makes me happy to see that your recent "I won't blog as much in the future, if at all" stance has apparently reversed itself? You're on fire with interesting stuff!

The Woman said...

Dead Presidents? ROFL

I gleaned much from this post, and I thank you most sincerely. :o)

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