Building a marriage – a short course

This leaflet sums up a short course for established couples wishing to deepen their relationship. It can be used in a group setting or by each couple at home.

Building Your Marriage
Spending time together
Most couples marry because they want to spend their lives together. But as pressures of jobs and family increase they can find that the time they do have together is spent in routine chores instead of the exciting ‘‘dates’’ they enjoyed to begin with. So it is good to write into your diaries time to be together, evenings, whole days and vitally important holidays. This must be ‘‘quality time’’, not just those moments when you are too tired to care. Remember what it was you really loved about each other in the beginning, and make time to enjoy those things again.
It helps to plan to do some of the fun things you used to do (and
always wanted to do) when you were courting; moonlight walks, candlelit dinners, sports and games, theatre trips, whatever you enjoy together. And don’t be afraid of spending some money to treat yourselves sometimes: your marriage is worth it!
 Book some dates in your diaries NOW. An evening together each week for the next month when you will go out somewhere and do something together. A weekend together when you will go away, or just stay indoors and enjoy being married.
 Talk about some of the dates you enjoyed before you were married. Dig out the photographs and relive the past a bit.
Enjoying common interests
As well as making sure your marriage has plenty of exciting activities, it is important to develop some common interests you can talk and learn from each other about and enjoy together from day to day. It is too easy to end up only talking about your job(s) or the house and family matters. It is important that each of you has your own friends and hobbies, but these should not exclude the other. You can enjoy sharing your wider experiences and conversations with each other.
 Think of some things you would both like to do which you haven’t ever tried before and book a date now!
 Try to put together an A to Z of activities you could do together from time to time.

So many couples are so tired that they spend whole days glued to the TV (sometimes even to different sets in different rooms). Lazy evenings with a favourite programme are very valuable but TV, computer games or the internet must not be allowed to stop a couple from talking to each other. What you talk about can be less important than the fact that you care enough just to say something. Many couples can enjoy each other’s presence without needing to say anything, but long cold stony silences can damage a marriage as much as too many rows.
It is important to learn how to disagree agreeably. For some couples an occasional ‘‘frank and productive exchange of views’’ can be a valuable release of tension, as long as you make up properly afterwards. But too much shouting can be destructive, especially if children are around. It is important to be able to tell each other how you are feeling, and to express irritation or anger in a way which does not harm each other or your marriage. It can be good to make a specific time to talk through big issues and solve them, rather than have a running battle of short exchanges over many days or weeks.
Communication between husband and wife should be based on complete honesty, openness and trust. Marriage should be the one place where we can be completely ourselves without fear of rejection. It is a bad sign if folk want to talk more openly with anybody else (except their doctor, counsellor or minister) than they do with their partner. The strength of any marriage lies in being able to resolve differences positively, by learning to communicate (especially in times of stress), thinking of your partner before yourself, and adapting to their needs, moods and attitudes.
 Set aside an evening just to talk together. Talk about anything you like, but if you’re stuck try some of the questions on the back page to get you started.
Sharing burdens
A vital part of marriage is supporting each other through life, not just in the crises but starting in the everyday pressures of job and family. This can begin by talking through things, but must also be expressed in practical help where necessary. One partner cannot sit back and watch the other being weighed down. You share all the loads as a family.
 Try to arrange to spend part of a day with your partner at work.
 Tackle one of those household jobs your partner has always done.
 Think and talk about ways in which you can support each other and share the load in your job(s) and in your home life together.
Building each other up
In marriage a couple should be stronger together than they would be apart. Husband and wife should encourage each other and make each other feel good about themselves, rather than put each other down all the time. Compliments are more appropriate than criticism (however justified). A couple should stand together against the world, not take sides with outsiders (even in-laws and old friends) against their partner.
 Write a love letter to your partner listing ‘‘The top 10 things I love about you’’.
 Make time to talk openly about ‘‘times I feel you have let me down’’.
Enjoying each other
A good sex life is an important (but not the most important) ingredient of a happy marriage. Not only the physical pleasure, but also the closeness and vulnerability are vital to a deepening marriage. Part of the marriage commitment is that husband and wife are to be for each other the most exciting fulfilling sex partner the other could wish for. So you must set aside times to enjoy each other when you are relaxed and not exhausted. Variety helps excitement, predictability kills it.
 Book a date for a romantic dinner together when you know you won’t have to get up early the next day and see what happens.
 Plan a day when you will be able to stay in bed all day.
 Talk about how you feel about your sex life. Share your fantasies.
 Make some plans to explore new possibilities. Good books can help.
‘‘I love you’’ or ‘‘you please me’’?
“I like you, you please me” love, comes from our response to our partner, what they look like, the things they do, the kind of person they are. That kind of starry-eyed romantic love is mostly passive. It depends on our partner. “I love you” ought to convey a much more active kind of love, which gives rather than takes, seeking the best for the one I love and not just what’s best for me. That is not an emotional response but an act of mind and will. Marriage involves both these kinds of love. We need to make time for each other, so we stay in “you please me love. But we also need to work hard at the active giving “I love you” love, to make each other as happy as we can be.
Buy each other a surprise present, the simpler and more unusual the better.
Think of ways you could give to your partner as well as receiving.
Think of ways you take each other for granted.
Think of ways your partner is boring. They can’t always have been like that! Now think of what you are going to do to liven them up again!
Questions to talk about
One way of approaching these questions is to take them one by one. Start by thinking what you think your partner’s answer would be. Then find out their real answer, but be prepared for a few surprises!

1. Where would you most like to go for a holiday, and why?
2. What is your favourite television programme, film, song, piece of music?
3. What is your favourite food and drink?
4. What is your clearest memory from childhood?
5. If you unexpectedly inherit £10,000, what would you do with the money? ( car, long holiday abroad, etc. – ignore boring answers like paying the bills.)
6. What animal would you most like to keep as a pet, and why? (Ignore practicalities – if he wants an elephant and she wants an aardvark, that’s fine!)
7. What would you like to change in your partner, if you could?
8. What are the three most important things you wish your partner understood about you?
9. When was the most exciting, earth-moving time you have made love?
10. What does your partner do which makes you angry or upset, but you’ve been too scared or hurt to tell them?

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