By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
Do you remember what it was like to really enjoy one another’s company? Chances are when you and your spouse fell in love, you did everything together, couldn’t stand to be apart, and your fun times outweighed the stressful times.
Yet it’s only a matter of time before reality sets in and the familiar replaces the fun, the routine replaces spontaneity, and your financial or vocational concerns replace your ability to throw caution to the wind and enjoy being together.
For years, my husband and I were two people who, in some ways, walked alone in our marriage. We never intended for it to be that way. We lived in the same house, shared the same bank account, slept in the same bed, spent nearly every Friday of our married life together on a “date day.” We even raised a daughter, although I wouldn’t necessarily say we were good at raising her “together.” He did his part. I did mine. And that’s the way it was.
Both of us had no idea how to give up our own ambitions, expectations, and conveniences in order to really walk together. But once we started incorporating some really simple activities that we wish we’d done years ago, it profoundly affected our marriage. Here are five activities that will strengthen your marriage and sense of togetherness:
1. Share a Project
Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.” And when you share a project with your spouse, you can experience a greater sense of togetherness.
For years, I figured my husband, Hugh, and I wouldn’t work well together in ministry because we had different personalities, and I tended to try to dictate to him how he should do things. But when Hugh invited me to teach a class with him several years ago, it became a wonderful experience for us to depend on each other’s strengths and balance each other’s insights. He provided solid biblical research and instruction on our study of the confessional Psalms, and I added insights for application. We joked about how he provided the intellectual “man” portion of the class, and I balanced it with the emotional, more feminine aspect. We ended up attracting several couples to the class who enjoyed learning from the “he said, she said” approach. A Bible class became a project that we worked on together. And I learned a lot about following Hugh’s lead (and how it was a better lead than I could’ve provided).
Scott and Patti remember some projects they did together that made for good, if not laughable, memories. One of them was when Patti was seven months pregnant and called Scott on his way home from work and told him, “I want to remodel the bathroom – tonight.” So they did, and while it took almost the entire night, today it’s one of their favorite stories to share with other couples.
Another couple we know finally grew closer together after 20 years of marriage when they designed and built a house together. They learned a lot about each other and gained a new level of respect for one another through that project that fortunately turned out wonderful. Building a house together isn’t for everyone, but it worked for them because they learned how to work with and for one another.
Sharing a project doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get the tools out of the garage. Think in terms of setting a goal and accomplishing it together. What is something you both can work on? Maybe it’s a meal the two of you can whip up together. It could be completing a giant jigsaw puzzle you both like and then framing the puzzle and hanging it in your home. You could work together on fixing a flat tire (talk about spontaneous teamwork!), or working toward a weight loss, diet plan, or body conditioning project with one another. (Doing that with your spouse adds accountability to the project and makes it more fun.) You probably have more projects under your nose than you even realize. Maybe it’s time to complete one of them – together.
2. Find Your Getaway and Get There Often
How long has it been since the two of you have been able to get away together? Several years ago, Hugh and I realized that the only times we ever vacationed were when we visited family. Because of a need to spend less money, we stayed with relatives, and our vacations were built around visiting family. That’s when we realized we needed a place of our own. We needed to go to a destination, just the two of us, just to be together, take in new sights, and experience new memories and much-needed time together. We found a mountain resort about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from our home that feels like our very own, and we try to get there at least once a year.
You and your spouse need your own getaway, too – a place that you love to go to that stirs up fond memories, triggers loving feelings for each other, and makes you smile just at the thought of it. It doesn’t have to be expensive or hard to get to. It should be easily accessible so you’ll go often. We try to go to our getaway - which has become our hideaway - at least once a year. It’s now something we look forward to on our anniversary, as a late summer trip before the busyness of Fall rushes in. It’s a place where we can feel like honeymooners again—a place where we can reconnect with one another.
Talk with each other about where you enjoy slipping away to, and also about where you’d like to go that you’ve never been. And then begin planning your getaway. If money is scarce, try a hotel near your home that has a nice ambiance like tropics in the foyer to make you feel you’re further away. Some friends of ours have annual passes to an amusement park, and occasionally they stay overnight at the hotel on the site.
If money’s even more scarce, try making a getaway in your own home. Field the kids out to friends’ houses or clean up the house, put on soft music and candlelight, and make it a date night right in your home. String up some blankets to make a hideaway (Men: Think “fort”) in your bedroom or clear out a walk-in closet and make it a special place to hide away with your spouse (be sure to install a lock on the door, too, if there are others in the house). Try something different, mix it up, go to some effort to make something special for your spouse. The whole idea is to feel like you’re away from it all – the pressures, the phone, the workload, the schedule, the laundry, all of it.
3. Take a Walk Together
It sounds simple, but it can profoundly affect drawing the two of you closer. After all, there is something therapeutic about taking a walk. In a society that tends to literally be on the run, taking a walk requires you to slow down and enjoy life – together.
My Uncle Owen and Aunt Alice, who have been married 65 years, have discovered the beauty of taking a walk together. Having raised four children and weathered the storms of life together (including the loss of their two oldest sons), they still try to walk together at least three times a week.
“Talking isn’t so important while we’re walking,” Owen said. “When you’re walking, you can be together, and you don’t have to talk. And other times, it’s good to have that time together because we do get more of a chance to talk.”
Try walking with your spouse in the evenings, before or after dinner, as a way of reflecting on the day, talking about your blessings, or reconnecting away from the busyness of life. Even if you can only do it once a week, find your “walking day” and make it an activity you do together – for your physical health, as well as for your relational health.
4. Take a Day to Play
Have you ever just taken a day to play together? We make sure our children have regular play days when they’re young. And when we were teenagers, we recognized the value of playing, as well. But playtime can never go away in a relationship if you want to cultivate a closer connection. If you’re a hard worker and feel guilty taking a day to play, consider it an investment in your marriage. Also, consider it a spiritual activity. God wants us to play, enjoy life, and have some return for our labor.
King Solomon, known as the wisest man who ever lived, penned the purpose of life in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”
Did you get that? Playing is a gift from God! God knows you will one day leave this earth, so in addition to glorifying Him with your life while you’re here, He wants you to enjoy this life, as well, within the means of right and pure living – and especially with your spouse!
Steve and Rhonda love the loud roar of motorcycles. To them, that’s play. “We have motorcycles and love to go for long rides,” Rhonda said. “It’s an inexpensive way to travel and an enjoyable way to spend time together and be quiet.”
My husband and I enjoy taking a day to hike, even if it’s near our home. Exercising together feels like play for us, and we’ve realized both – exercise and play – are necessities, not luxuries. Take at least one day a month to play (although one day a week is far better), and here are some ideas if you don’t yet have any:
- Rent a movie (or stream one online) and make popcorn at home
- Run out for ice cream after dinner at home
- Walk through nurseries and home improvement stores, dreaming about how to make your house and yard look better
- Pull out your old board games and play for a couple of hours
Are you starting to get inspired? There’s nothing that will bring back your youthful vigor than taking a day to play together. Consider it a form of worship. And go for it!
5. Rediscover Your "Us" with Something New
Robin and Jeff Reinke, who are both marriage and family counselors, are rediscovering each other after more than 30 years of marriage and how much they enjoy being together now that their youngest child has left home and it’s just them again.
“In the last five years as we enter into the new season of our marriage as empty-nesters, we truly have become “one” – and discovered our new ‘us,’” Robin said.
“After persevering through some difficult seasons, we are stronger than we’ve ever been, we are more connected, and we have a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another. Our ‘us’ is neither completely like my husband nor me, but it is this third species that seeks the best for the purpose of the marriage. It is a new creation, much like a child that has its own unique purpose and shared interest for the sake of pleasing the Lord. For example, I love to attend musicals or the theatre, but my husband loves to attend professional baseball games. But our new ‘us loves to go hiking and mountain biking. We value ‘us’ more than we value our individual likes or hobbies. We seek the growth of the marriage over our interests. I now love to go to baseball games because I can share the joy of my husband’s childhood pastime even though I do not love the game, but enjoy him and our special time together.”
You don’t have to wait until your kids are out of the house, though, to invest in your “us.” You can start reinvesting in each other now. Seek to compromise. Seek to find something new the two of you enjoy together that isn’t necessarily like either of you, but like the “us” both of you are together.
For more on strengthening your marriage, see Cindi’s book, 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, or the book Cindi and Hugh co-authored: When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection.
Related article: 10 Ways to Renew the Zeal You Once Felt for Your Spouse