So why doesn’t our beloved spouse deserve at least the same consideration? If one partner goes to bed earlier than the other, arrange for a signal that you are in bed and the other should come up for a similar intimate goodnight. Hugging, snuggling, and briefly putting to rest any leftover tensions with “I’m sorry. Let’s have a better day tomorrow.” It is a reaffirmation of the caring and respect you have for each other. It allows each to go to sleep with a sense of being together, even if it is at different times.
When going to bed at the same time, it is equally important to do more than just say goodnight. The old adage about never going to bed angry is truly valuable. A few moments of bodies warmly snuggled together releases a lot of tension and, again, reaffirms “coupleness.” One of the common complaints I hear about snuggling at any time during the evening, especially in bed, is from wives who say their husbands always interpret this as a signal to try to have sex. Usually this complaint comes from a couple whose sex life is unsatisfying. The role of sex in a marriage will be covered in a future article. But for now let it suffice that couples must talk about this and allow for affection that is not a signal for having sex.
Much of the connecting discussed so far has involved talking (and some physical affection). For some, especially men, connection is not always verbal. For these husbands, the male emphasis on intimacy as being side-by-side as opposed to face-to-face needs to be honored and nurtured. Again, this may require men to be creative and think of ways to communicate their caring. I think of one husband who used to leave for work before his wife awoke. He would make coffee for her, including setting out the cup, and he would write a short note each morning that he leaned against the cup. The content was often just something practical about the upcoming day’s events, but it always ended with a “love you.” His wife was able to appreciate this special intimate act from a husband who was particularly verbally challenged.
The side-by-side intimacy should focus on doing activities together. I’ve already mentioned walking or other exercising but doing something fun together should really be at the top of the list. Often couples have forgotten how to have fun together. Life has become all about work and tasks and becomes much too serious.
Yet when couples reflect on what led them into marriage, high on the list is nearly always a shared memory of having fun together. Sometimes it is a matter of thinking about what you used to do and making it a priority to get it back into the schedule. Other times, couples will talk about how their interests have changed and they don’t have that much in common anymore.
This requires some creativity, along with being committed to wanting to have fun again. Couples have ended up trying new activities together ranging from kayaking to cooking classes and rediscovering that there is a huge assortment of experiences out there to be tasted and shared.
One of the frequent barriers is that parents of younger children often feel they don’t spend enough time together as a family and Saturday nights typically become renting a video and sharing popcorn with the kids. While there is certainly value in this, it should not become the rule at the expense of the marriage. Remember what I said about the most important gift you can give to your children. So taking some time from the kids and investing it in the marriage is still doing something for the children.
I would like to end this article with a quote from the other book I urge couples to read, Judith Viorst’s “Grown-Up Marriage” (2003):
But if we imagine that marriage is where we can let it hang out day after day while continuing to excite and delight in each other, we are mistaken. If we imagine that marriage is where we can bitch, burp, snicker and snipe day after day without paying a price, we are wrong. We’re indulging in a fantasy of unearned, effortless love, the love an infant seeks from a perfect mommy. We are indulging in a fantasy that has little to do with love in a grown-up marriage.