Some couples would liken their marriages to fairy tale storybooks. They jet off to Paris on a whim and frequently post photos from tropical beaches. But I have a sneaking suspicion that most of us would say our marriages are far more Reader’s Digest than anything else. We can predict with reasonable certainty what the year will hold and a weekend in some exotic locale isn’t in the forecast.
I once heard a pastor say that keeping a marriage vibrant required quarterly weekends away together. It didn’t have to be France, but it was supposed to provide some time away from kids and daily pressures to regroup and refocus on each other.
I thought that was a great plan, but as months and quarters passed by without such a holiday being possible, I started to wonder if my marriage was lacking because we were missing out on these idyllic couple times. I was perfectly happy in my marriage, but I was stuck on the idea that we were supposed to be doing something more.
And if not the quarterly getaways, then we at least needed to do a weekly date night. This should be a time of connection and conversation that included fully realised thoughts and completed sentences. But with kids in the mix, these evenings required childcare and sometimes tearful goodbyes with a toddler clinging to my date-ready shaved legs as I tried to get out the door.
All so I could get to a restaurant, sit down across from my husband and rack my brain to come up with all the sweet endearing things I wished I could say during the week, but never did. I thought our relationship should be the only topic of conversation lest we end up talking about work or the very kids we were getting a break from. We felt pressured to make the night count. And, in this crazy-paced world, one thing a marriage doesn’t need is more pressure.
Feeling the Pressure
In his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, psychologist Dr. Christopher Peterson explains that many couples think happiness – and by extension romantic happiness – needs to be spontaneous. There’s an assumption that as soon as you start to schedule in romance, the romance is lost.
Many of us, then, are feeling the pressure. We have to get away, make the time away count, make it spontaneous and make it as romantic as possible.
On top of all that, it’s actually quite hard to nail down what is in fact romantic. It’s usually a fuzzy concept that seems to involve gazing longingly into each other’s eyes and feeling loved. Most of us don’t know how to get there, but we’re pretty sure we’ll know it when it happens. So we search and fret and hope and wait.
What is romance?
According to Google, romance is “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.”
At a glance that seems fabulous, but – if you really think about it – is that what you want for your marriage?
Mystery is fun at first, but after fifteen years of marriage I love the fact that I know things about my husband that no one else does. He may be a mystery to others, but I want to understand him and for him to understand me.
The idea that romance is exciting is something I can get behind more because I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky. I like excitement in certain situations, but it’s usually rooted in the thrill of unpredictability. This is really exciting because I don’t know what’s going to happen next! I don’t want that for my marriage, though. I find security in the fact that my husband’s love is unchanging and that our marriage is stable and, dare I say, predictable.
Which brings us to the third idea that romance takes you away from everyday life. Perhaps this is why romance is usually bound up in things like holidays or times out on the town. Being dressed up is often a part of it because you don’t usually dress up to go to the supermarket. All of this creates an experience that is different than the ordinary pace of life. It is fun and good to do these things to enjoy special moments with your spouse. But let’s not conclude those are the only times romance is found.
A More Realistic View of Romance
It’s less about seeking remoteness from everyday life and more about finding romance in everyday life. A relationship can’t be measured in gifts, restaurants or trips away. A relationship is made up of so much more than fleeting moments because moments come and go, but love is what is really needed day in and day out.
Love doesn’t always wear a suit and tie. Love is often right before you, but because it is humble and doesn’t draw attention to itself, it’s easy to overlook. Here are some of love’s less flashy forms: bringing home a pay cheque, taking out the rubbish, doing a load of laundry, changing a nappy, driving the kids, walking the dog, making a meal, watching a movie, fixing something that’s broken, a morning kiss, a simple “Good night.”
When my eyes were opened to seeing these everyday acts as loving and romantic, it changed everything. And in the wise words of Elsa, I learned to “let it go.” I let go of the grand European holidays and set aside the requisite weekly date nights. I stopped worrying so much about what other people said we should do and considered what we actually like to do.
The truth is, my husband and I are usually away from the house during the day. Nothing is better than knowing we have an evening to ourselves when we can get into PJs and curl up on the couch. Why go back out when we’re happy just being home together? So we’ve discovered the joy of ordering in. This is a date night that doesn’t need childcare because we can pull it off with the kids at home. We get the kids in bed, order the food and eat at a fashionably late hour. So in an ironic turn of events, we now consistently have weekly date nights. It’s not a meal at an exclusive resort, but it’s perfectly us.
Value the Uniqueness of Your Marriage
God has carefully crafted every person into a distinctive personality. In a marriage, two personalities take on a new form of oneness that results in a unique pairing. It therefore makes sense that each marriage will have its own definition of what is considered romantic. There is no one-size-fits-all romance equation that universally produces amazing marriages. Your marriage is one of a kind.
Gary Thomas, in his book Cherish, even goes as far as to warn couples against accepting generic marital advice without first considering the uniqueness of their relationship:
“When you read books and blogs by marriage authors like me, never forget that what matters most is your marriage and your spouse. . ."
"If you cherish what you think your wife should be instead of what she really is, you’ll actually do harm to the relationship. If you cherish your husband the way most husbands would like to be cherished, you’re going to run into a wall if your husband isn’t a ‘typical’ husband."
"Your husband is who he is; your wife is who she is. Find out who that person is, and cherish that person as they desire to be cherished.”
So maybe it’s time to free yourself, and your spouse, from finding that perfect moment that proves just how much you love each other. Whatever you end up doing this Valentine’s Day, I hope it’s a wonderful reflection of your marriage, the interests you share and the love that is your foundation for the other 364 days of the year.
This is your everyday life that you’ve built with your everyday spouse and it’s a blessing every day. Which means a Reader’s Digest is a pretty great Valentine’s Day gift after all.