Marriages cannot be sustained in a healthy way, let alone grow, if—as couples—we set them on ‘cruise control.’ All marriages need to be nurtured from the first day to the last of our lives.

In all relationships we seek to know and understand the other—just as the other mutually comes to know and understand us. This takes time, attention, and a vested interest. When we experience someone taking the time to know us by asking questions, listening, and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, we feel connected.

Engaging the other in dialogue while being fully present requires putting aside “all the cares of this life.” This attentiveness demonstrates care, concern, and interest. We all want to feel that our spouse will respond and be there when we call out to them. Ultimately it is about trust; as if to say, ‘Will you be there and can I count on you?’ If the answer is ‘Yes,’ each person will experience two extremely important components to a healthy marriage: safety and security.

When a marriage is put in ‘cruise control,’ there is the belief that the relationship is good and has no pressing issues. This point of view looks at marriage from a ‘problem-free’ perspective. If there aren’t any real concerns to address, then all time and attention can be directed toward other things such as children, work, friends, and fun.

However, the danger of this is that it opens the door to disconnection between the spouses. This disconnect may not be felt immediately—just as a plant won’t show it’s in distress without water for a couple of days. In time, though, the lack of water will manifest itself in the leaves and flowers. In the same manner, a marriage relationship without regular ‘watering’ will, over time, begin to show signs of distress in one or both spouses in ways such as:

  • Irritability
  • Sarcasm
  • Complaining
  • Withdrawing
  • Nagging

Our typical reactions may come out in abrupt questions and statements such as:

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Why are you so rude and mean?”
  • “Stop already! All you do is complain.”
  • “You’re never around anymore. Everything else in life is more important to you.”
  • “Give me a break! Stop hounding me about everything.”

These comments come out of our own frustration, pain, and fear of being neglected, abandoned, and isolated. A better way to respond would be to engage our spouses in a way that invites them to kinder dialogue.

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been a little irritable lately. Please tell me what’s going on.”
  • “That comment was hurtful. Is everything okay?”
  • “You seem like you have a lot on your mind. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “I feel like we’ve been drifting apart. Can we take some time to talk about this?”

Marriage is like a dance where we work together, learning to synchronize our steps with our spouse. This can’t happen if we don’t nurture our relationship daily.

Here are a few suggestions to nurture our marriages:

  • Dialogue with Christ every day in prayer.
  • Learn the “love language” of your spouse. (For more details, see Gary D. Chapman’s The Five Love Languages)
  • Offer encouraging and supportive statements to one another daily.
  • Listen carefully to understand each other and don’t assume.
  • Cultivate a spirit of gratitude for the blessings in your life.
  • Spend quiet time together—just the two of you.
  • Take an interest in activities your spouse enjoys.

God is the source of love and, through Him, there is no limit to the love that we can experience with our spouse. If we intentionally nurture our marriage daily, there is no limit to the intimacy we can feel for each other.

Fr. Timothy Pavlatos is the director of the Family Wellness Ministry of the Metropolis of San Francisco. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Fr. Timothy has been married since 1995 to Presvytera Vicki and they have nine children ranging from ages three to nineteen.

Is Your Marriage Struggling?

Sometime the challenges we face in marriage need someone from the outside to help us sort them out. Deciding to go to marriage counseling does not indicate that you have failed in marriage or as persons, but rather that you are seeking assistance to strengthen your relationship. For assistance in finding help speak with your parish priest or visit www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com or www.aapc.org (American Association of Pastoral Counselors).