Before I say anything, I want to start by saying that this subject applies to more than just married people. It applies to all committed relationships. There are few relationships that wouldn’t benefit from some intentional pursuing of closeness.
Kyle and I have been married for 7 years now. During this time, we’ve been through graduate school, job changes, moving, moving out-of-state, children, and a million, less dramatic life events.
During our time together, probably the most important aspect we can address in our marriage (and really any relationship) is us being intentional about nurturing each other. The hardest periods of our marriage have been when we let other things take priority over growing our relationship.
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When I was pregnant with Bash, and we needed some extra money to help cover the looming hospital bills, we both took on extra jobs. I started back working shifts at Pure Barre Naperville in addition to my full-time teaching job, and Kyle started working evening shifts at our local Dick’s Sporting Goods on top of his full-time job working from home. For that 6 month period, we maybe had a couple of hours together each day. And that was on the good days.
It didn’t take long for us to start feeling more like roommates than a married couple. Even when we went on a little baby-moon trip (we rented an AirBnB in the city), we still felt distant. We let the anxiety and stress that comes with preparing for a new baby take priority over us.
Once Bash arrived, and we settled into who we were as a family, we were able to get a little perspective on our marriage and start to get back on track.
Those 6 or so months were some of the loneliest ones of our marriage.
Now, maybe more than ever, we’ve both come to recognize how important intentionally serving each other is, but for sure it’s a practice that we’ve been better at in different points of our marriage.
These past 6 months in particular, Kyle and I have pursued a growing marriage relationship by implementing a few practices. We’ve been pursuing each other in the same ways we remember pursuing each other while we were dating, and just getting to know each other.
That was the part where we fell in love. When we didn’t have the impression that we knew everything there was to know about each other. Before we had all the adult burdens that come with marriage, children, and growing more mature.
As I mentioned before, these activities and strategies can be used in any relationship. But since we’ve used these explicitly in the context of marriage, that’s how I’m going to describe them below. Feel free to adapt them as necessary to fit whatever context you’re in.
1) Use a conversation starter/activity consistently and frequently.
When you’re dating, you can talk for hours. You want to know everything there is to know about each other and you want to know it, like, now. It’s as if you can’t get enough of being with each other.
After some time passes though, you stop talking for hours. Maybe you stop having true conversations much at all. And who wants a relationship where you don’t have real conversations? So that’s what this tip is about: helping you remember what it’s like to learn about each other.
Before Bash, when we were newlyweds, I’d run across fun questionnaires in magazines or online and we’d answer them just for fun. We made a bucket list. We’d go to marriage-centered small groups at church or conferences. These were our authentic conversation starters.
Currently, we’ve been doing an activity we borrowed from the Being Women podcast (shout-out to Jordan & Sarah for giving us the idea on their episode!). Every Wednesday, either over dinner or after we put Bash to sleep, we answer 3 prompts: a) I assume… b) I don’t like… c) I appreciate…
For example, last Wednesday I said: a) I assume you are okay with me not texting you a lot while you’re at work b) I don’t like that we’ve been too busy to see each other the past few days c) I appreciate that you brought up all the Christmas decorations for me, even though you didn’t want to decorate for Christmas yet.
We have a rule that we have no more than 3 things for each prompt, but we can have fewer than 3 things if we want. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with “I assumes…” or “I don’t likes…”!
We’ve seen lots of benefits come from this fun activity. I often learn things about Kyle I didn’t realize and things about me I didn’t realize; and it helps make sure we’re having authentic conversations. Sometimes, life gets busy and before you realize it, the only conversations you and your spouse have are shallow, functional ones like, “What are we having for dinner?” or “I’m going to be late tomorrow.”
As an added bonus, it’s fun when your “don’t likes” become your “I appreciates”. For example, Kyle once said he didn’t like that, sometimes, when he would come home, the first things I would have to say to him were the struggles I was having that day.
I didn’t even realize that was something I was doing. Voicing how hard my day is FIRST made it seem like I was miserable all day, but that wasn’t true at all. My doing that was causing him to think that I was unhappy being home with Bash, but the opposite was true! And I didn’t even know that was happening.
So now, I make sure that’s not how our first conversation goes when he comes home. Not that I don’t express my frustrations to him, but I make sure I don’t dump on him when he first comes home. And he noticed! Last night it was one of his “I appreciates”.
It’s brought us closer to each other.2) Go on fun dates.
When we were in the early years of our marriage, we did all kinds of fun things together. We went someplace new for our anniversary each year (St. Louis, New Orleans, Asheville, etc.) We aren’t big gift people, so this was our way of celebrating. We went out to celebrate achieving things we’d worked hard for, like when I finished my graduate degree or he got a raise.
But somewhere along the way of moving to Illinois, our purse strings tightening significantly, and having our first child, we stopped doing fun things. Honestly? We felt like we couldn’t afford them anymore. Time became very costly.
All of our time was spent working in some fashion, either at church or to make ends barely meet. Planning even the cheap nights out requires time. Not only did you have to have time to plan them, but you had to have the energy and motivation to actually do them on the rare night you have the time available.
Then we had a baby. And our fun, new things all became wrapped up in Bash. Which really was fun, but once he got a little older and Kyle got a new job, we started to miss the fun we had before moving to Illinois.
So, for the past 3 months, Kyle has been taking me on “surprise” dates. He has come up with new, fun activities that we go and do once a month. I typically have no idea where we are going or what we are doing. He gives me enough info to know how to dress for the evening. It’s exhilarating to be dating again!
On the first date, he took me to a fancy restaurant in Naperville that had live music (and the most amazing steak of my life). I got dolled up, and we had drinks while listening to music and just talked, like we did when we were young and infatuated.
On the second date, we went to The Main Event in Naperville. We went to see a movie (our first one in MONTHS), although we had intended to bowl (we didn’t anticipate it being so crowded!).
A couple weeks ago, we went all the way into the city to this little hangout called Kibbitznest. We had drinks, played a couple of games, and just soaked in the ambiance of a cool place.
The best part of these dates? We have a month of anticipation to get excited about them (and I wasn’t the one doing all the planning!). I look forward to these dates even more than when he would take me out while we were dating. We get to simultaneously remember and discover who we are as a couple again.
3) When you’re together, BE together!
I’m not one for abolishing all social media or technology (I suppose I’m too practical, since realistically speaking, we both work using technology; and they have their beneficial sides), but you do have to be conscious and careful with them. Just like any tools, using them to excess can be problematic.
Really think about it. When was the last time you had time with your spouse without your phone?
When we have dinner together (and, at least right now, we generally have dinner together at our table every night), we turn our phones face down and set them to the side. While we’re together, we’re together.
Do not underestimate the effect of undivided attention and eye contact in making your conversation partner feel valuable. I’m sure you’ve noticed this, too. How insignificant do you feel when the person you’re talking to is more interested in their phone
Don’t make your spouse feel insignificant.
There are a lot of ways you can be intentional about pursuing your spouse. The point here is that you have to make it a priority, and lip service alone isn’t enough. If you just let it “happen naturally”, it won’t happen. Over time, all things tend towards chaos right? Don’t wait until it’s too late. Show your partner just how much you value them by investing in your relationship.
Written by Becca
What do you do to keep your marriage fresh? Got ideas on new and fun ways to date your spouse? Comment below!