Does Marriage Really Take Work?

My friend “Devon” told me something unexpected at lunch the other day. In hushed tones (we were near his place of work), he told me that he and his wife were seeing a marriage counselor. His revelation surprised me. I believed him to have a rock solid marriage, and he had never confided any problems to me in the past. “Oh, we aren’t having any problems,” he said, “but we go once a year just to talk about issues that may be cropping up.”

Brilliant! So many couples that go into therapy to “work” on their marriage remain unhappy or end up divorced. By the time they seek help, their relationship is already on life support. It’s like expecting a medical miracle after arriving at a doctor’s office with metastasized cancer, having ignored symptoms for months or years. Sure, miracles do happen—but not that often. Unfortunately.

But working at a marriage before you really have to work at it, like Devon and his wife are doing, makes so much more sense. It recognizes that making marriage last is a strategic enterprise (not surprisingly, Devon does strategic planning at a Fortune 500 company). The more inspired work you do up front, the less mess you have to clean up later.

While a trained professional can successfully tease out troubling issues so that they can be proactively resolved, there are DIY options too for “working” on your marriage in ways that are fun, and don’t feel like drudgery. Here are three ways my husband and I are “working” on ours:

Be captivated by each other’s interests: It’s natural for couples to have separate interests, and my husband and I are no exception. My husband is a runner; I like yoga. He opens the Arts section when the paper arrives; I leap for the Lifestyle insert. But, rather than retreat to our separate corners of interest, we support each other’s passion. I will go cheer my husband in his races and am always an enthusiastic date at cultural events. He routinely sends me links to stories about relationships that he knows will interest me, and joins me at yoga from time to time. “Playing” in each other’s world means sacrificing our own leisure time, but builds that important connection.

Make family more of a priority than work: It’s a busy, stressful world out there and too many falsely assume their spouse should “understand” their need to work late, continuously check email, or cancel date night. My husband and I make family dinners a priority. We don’t use an excuse like “too much work” to make it home on time (even though my husband has an exceptionally busy and stressful career, and many of his peers routinely bail on their spouses). We conscientiously take charge of our calendars to put family first. This often means working late into the night after dinner, but that daily dinner routine is sacred. Re-grouping at the end of the day supports work-life balance, important nutrition, and keeps the lines of communication open.

Take mini get-aways: It’s so easy to get hijacked by the minutiae of day-to-day life, that couples can forget the fun that drew them together at the start of their relationship (when they made lots of time for each other). My husband and I started an annual tradition when our two children were small (they are both in university now) to get away together even if it was just for 24 hours. Yes, it was difficult to afford at the time, but we knew the investment was worth it. The day-to-day busyness of our lives (career, family, etc.) was naturally putting distance between us. Going someplace new even for a day, and experiencing each other in a new light without the distractions of daily life is a good reminder of why we got married in the first place.

My husband and I have been a couple since 1984. We both agree that if our marriage ever felt like too much “work”, it would be time to evaluate whether it had gracefully run its course. Marriages can run out of steam when a couple has had to work too hard for too long. Perhaps the better approach is to make time to have more fun along the way.

[Originally published on The Relationship Deal]

Sue Nador hashes out expectations in the messy world of love. Follow her on Twitter: @Sue_Nador and her weekly blog The Relationship Deal.