Sadly, as someone who works with a lot of marriages, I see more and more of them going through the routines of marriage without really enjoying the journey. At the same time, I do know couples who have learned how to make their marriage work for the good of both spouses and are truly enjoying life together.
Cheryl and I want to be included in the latter group.
What does it take to put or keep fun in a marriage? How does a couple keep the spark alive. I’m not pretending every day will be a romantic sitcom, but I do believe we can keep enjoying life together – through the good and more difficult seasons of life.
Let me explain this is not intended to be a theological discussion of the purpose of marriage. I could – and have – talk more about the way a marriage is to glorify God and how two imperfect people become one (Ephesians 5). The point of this is more on the practical side. I have in mind as I write this marriages which have grown stale. They aren’t necessarily in trouble, but one or both spouses just isn’t experiencing the joy in marriage they once had.
The original audience for these suggestions were when I shared them at a pastor’s retreat years ago, but I believe they work for all of us.
Here are a 12 ways to make marriage fun (again):
Prioritize your marriage
If you want to have fun in your marriage, you have to make your marriage a priority in your life – above your hobbies, work and even your children. All of us would say our marriage is a priority, but do we practice what we say we believe? Our marriage should take precedence over every other human relationship and every other activity. My wife knows when I am putting her first and when something else has my greatest attention. (And, as the pastor of a large, growing church there are plenty of other things to grab my attention. I have to discipline myself.)
Schedule time for fun
Couples need to schedule time to simply enjoy life with our spouse. Everyone I know is busy, but we should make sure our schedule never gets so crowded we cannot enjoy time with the love of our life. As a pastor, I am never really off from work, but I try to be home when I am home. Candidly, I have heard my wife (and my boys when they were home) ask me something like, “Are you really listening to me” They knew my mind was wandering to my next appointment. We must set boundaries between our home and our work or other activities. I try to add to your calendar opportunities to have fun together. (When our boys were home and we were pulled in so many directions – this went on the calendar first.) When is the last time you and your spouse went on a date? (By the way – You can be wise with your expenses and still plan for date nights. Read HERE about some ways to intentionally date.)
As much as possible – Let worry go
Worry is like a cancer to ourselves and our relationships. When worry abounds we begin to see everything around us in a more negative light – including our marriage. We often hurt most those we love most. The reality is struggles will never completely disappear, so we should learn how to balance the need for control in our lives and the desire to live at peace and trust God through the hard times of life. It is important we not allow struggles which come into the marriage to tear the marriage apart. Instead we should let our trials draw us closer to each other.
Stuff happens! We know it – we see bad things happen everyday, but for some reason we are often caught off guard when they happen to us. We should not be surprised when our marriage needs a little extra help because of the struggles of life. Cheryl and I have discovered the tough times bring us closer together if we don’t act as surprised when they come and, from the beginning, commit to working through them together and not allowing them to distract us from us.
Celebrate along the way
I have been told it takes three or four positive life occurrences to offset every negative. If this is true then we need to look for opportunities to celebrate the good things of life – as much as possible. When times are especially stressful, Cheryl and I try to make sure we are remembering the positives in life. We count our blessings – even name them one by one. The blessings are always there, but sometimes we have to look harder for them than other times. Have you ever just taken time to reflect together how many things you have for which you are thankful? At times we have a better life than we think we do – once we take time to celebrate.
Enjoy each other’s interests
It’s okay to have outside interests, but one of the goals of marriage is to enjoy life together. This usually involves enjoying each others activities together. I don’t like to shop necessarily, and there are certain stores where I sit on a bench as Cheryl shops, but I go shopping regularly with Cheryl. I go, because I love her, want to spend time with her – and she loves shopping. It has always amazed me when I invest the time to shop with Cheryl she always tries to give back to me by allowing me to enjoy one of my interests – with no guilt.
Get away together (alone)
We all need time away from the demands of life. On a pastor’s income, I can’t always take fancy vacations, but I am not afraid to invest in my marriage. My wife and I love to travel. One of our more fun things to do together is to plan inexpensive day trips. There is something about physically leaving the environment, in which we are comfortable, that pushes us closer to the ones we love. For years, while my boys were younger, I gave Cheryl a trip for Christmas to be used sometime during the year. She looked forward to the gift and the trip every year. On bad days during the year, the thoughts of the gift or trip to come fueled her positive emotions.
We have discovered the more we serve other people together the more fun we have in our marriage. It gives us more common ground with each other. Taking mission trips have become a fun way to spend time together. Serving our church together brings us closer to each other. Sharing ministry stories and experiences helps us draw from each others strength.
Realize little things matter
Moments in a marriage, which may seem to be minor details, have the potential for major impact on the marriage relationship. It is important to handle little issues or conflict before they become big things. If a husband and wife have a minor disagreement it can easily escalate into a major division in the relationship if left unattended. Keep the relationship fresh and free from minor drama.
We should also allow little pleasures to bring happiness to the marriage. One of my favorite times of day is the walk Cheryl and I take at night. These few minutes each day keep us close relationally, allow us to catch up on our individual days, and help me enjoy Cheryl in a fun setting.
Laugh at life
I read a statistic once that preschoolers laugh an average of 300 times a laugh an average of 17 times a day. I don’t know if that’s statistically accurate, but it sounds about right. I can certainly view life and see the older we get the less we tend laugh. (We have lots of senior citizens and preschoolers in our church. There is a difference.) Laughter is good for our health and laughing together builds stronger relationships. Couples need to learn to laugh through life together. Cheryl and I laugh much – and often!
Keep dreaming together
When couples are dating they seem to have fun discussing their future plans. Once we get married we tend to lose the art of dreaming. Dreaming inspires and encourages the heart. Dreaming together as a couple keeps the relationship fueled with new passions and desires.
Spread the pain
I try to model my pastoral responsibilities like the Acts 6 model in the Bible. I have learned I cannot do everything. I must be a good at delegation. Don’t be afraid to say “no” in order to protect your marriage. (I wrote about the tension of being accessible and available HERE recently.) Many couples I know are so busy they never have time just for the two of them.
It is also important, however, to have some close friends with whom we can share life’s burdens. None of us were meant to live on an island to ourselves and the same is true for married couples. Cheryl and I intentionally build relationships with other couples we can trust. (Yes, pastors, you can do this too – and should.)
Try these suggestions, practice them for a while, and see if more fun comes back into your marriage. Marriage can continue to be fun!
What tips do you have for making marriage fun again?