Who would ever have thought that romance could be rekindled by toilet cleaning?! Our recent househelp drought has been hard for me physically. It’s been tiring but strangely, or not so strangely…wonderfully even, it has caused me to fall more in love with Edric. Somehow this week of discomfort has drawn us closer to one another.
Edric has paid close attention to how exhausted it has left me, and his thoughtfulness has been professed in sweet statements like, “Do you want me to take the day off? I want you to know that I will rescue you. I will always rescue you.” He said this to me yesterday while I was wiping the dining table clean. And I looked up at him, tempted to cry a little, but I smiled instead – a deeply appreciative smile and he knew that he made my day. He held me for a bit as I stood there rather bedraggled like a Cinderella who didn’t have a fairy godmother to doll her up, and I told him how much I appreciated him.
I’ve said it often that we don’t have a perfect relationship. We go through our ups and downs. But we have learned some key relationship principles that have allowed romance to last well past the honeymoon stage and cushion the challenges of yaya-less seasons like this one.
There are lots of ideas out there on how to cultivate romance in marriage, but I wanted to write about six particular things that have made an impact on our own marriage:
Don’t focus on your spouse, focus on what you need to change and improve on. It is very easy to hold your spouse to a set of expectations and forget that you have a lot to work on in your own person. I was like this at the beginning of my marriage. And so was Edric. We would nit-pick on each other’s shortcomings and it wearied us both out. Instead of enjoying one another, we were so focused on correcting each other’s mistakes. At a certain point, we realized that it wasn’t our role to change each other. That was God’s role. I began to pray for Edric and he began to pray for me. In the process, God also revealed to each of us what character areas we had to fix. I had to learn to be a more submissive and respectful wife. Edric, on the other hand, learned to be more spirit-filled and tempered, and to lead our family spiritually.
Till this day, we need to practice controlling what we can (our own attitudes, responses, character, spiritual growth) and surrendering one another to the Lord. When we do, we both improve for the better. Our relationship emerges a stronger union despite the conflicts, tensions, and daily annoyances.
The reality is marriage takes work. Spouses don’t naturally grow closer, they tend to grow apart. So the more activities, interests, and hobbies Edric and I share together, the stronger our bond becomes. And the more effort we put into being attentive to one another’s needs, the sweeter our relationship. A marriage needs to become the second most important relationship next to one’s relationship with the Lord. Spouses need to discover the heartfelt longings and desires of their partners and meet them.
For example, everyone has a love language according to Gary Chapman, author of the book, “The Five Love Languages.” Often times, we may think we are behaving in loving ways towards our spouse but they don’t feel loved. I am a words person. I appreciate being affirmed by Edric. It makes me feel loved. If he says 1 negative comment but pads it with 5 positive ones, I get the point but don’t feel the sting. He, on the other hand, likes to be served. If I tell him I love him but fail to cook him good food, keep the house in order, follow through with his delegated requests, then he feels down. So meeting each other’s love languages is a very effective way to keep the love fire burning.
Before we got married the pastor who officiated our wedding explained to us that marriage is like a garden. Prioritizing our relationship is like watering, planing, pruning the garden, and then enjoying it together because love is abloom. Conversely, failing to put effort into prioritizing our relationship turns the place into a weed-infested jungle! The flowers die; the weeds get overgrown; lovey-dovey feelings wither and fade.
Our pastor also challenged Edric to be in charge of this garden as the leader in our relationship. But, I try not to make it hard for him to do his “job.” How so? By not letting ugly weeds like bitterness, being unappreciative and critical, being a nag or emotional burden grow around me.
Be demonstrative. This isn’t about elaborate events. It’s the small things…Edric and I are affectionate with one another. We hug and kiss a lot. I used to be self-conscious about being affectionate in public. But Edric would remind me, “We are married!” Oh yeah. If any segment of society should be hugging and kissing a lot, it should be all the married people. We have absolute right to.
As often as possible, Edric also opens the door for me and seats me at a table. He makes assuring statements like “I’m here for you”, “I’ll take care of you”, “You are my priority.” I am addicted to his chivalry and I pray it never dies. When I am treasured and handled like a lady, I can’t help but feel both physically and emotionally attracted to Edric.
We also keep our relationship fun. Flirtatious and playful gestures…something as silly as winking at each other from across the room or pretending to check each other out, these keep our relationship from getting stale. Of course, this also means staying fit and leaving the dumpy clothes hidden (for me). I am a free-spirited person who doesn’t like to put too much effort into dressing up. But since it matters to Edric that I look put together, I try to wear what he likes me to, especially when we go out. After so many years, it still matters to me that he does a double take when he sees me dressed up. So I make the effort, even when I don’t feel like it. Even with my burgeoning pregnancy belly! Which reminds me…I have to do some shopping soon.
Another thing that helps is speaking highly of one another and refraining from saying disrespectful or demeaning things about each other, especially in public. I remember mistakingly cracking jokes about Edric’s personality when we were newly married. He didn’t like it at all. He felt hurt. So I took note of that and have since avoided putting him down (even if I am just joking). He is also careful with me. (If something needs to be corrected, we do it in private.)
All these things are free (except if you need to invest in a new wardrobe), but they do wonders for the romance-meter in marriage!
Preserve your identity as husband and wife, especially when you have kids. Edric and I have four kids, going on five. Our lives could revolve around our children if we aren’t careful. But we do not subscribe to the child-centric type of parenting that has become so prevalent today. There are boundaries. The kids don’t get to sleep in our bedroom (even though this seems to be common of Asian families). We safeguard date nights, even if the kids feel sad that they get left behind. Okay, date nights have taken a back seat while we don’t have househelp. Whether we step out of the house for a dinner or movie, or carve out time during the day to connect with one another, we look forward to being alone, just the two of us — no kids. We love our kids. But we can better love them if our relationship is healthy. They understand that mom and dad have a special relationship that needs special care.
Think about the traits you appreciate in your spouse. Just this evening, over dinner, I asked my parents if they thought their relationship was still romantic. They said yes very confidently. Married for nearly 39 years, I wanted to know what their secret was. My mom shared an insight that I thought was very practical. Remember what you love about your spouse – the good traits. Almost every time I am with my mom, she will mention something positive about my dad. Your dad is a really great man. I’m so blessed to be married to him. He is always so happy and cheerful. He’s never in a bad mood…etc… She will of course admit that there are days when they have friction and share annoyances, but she chooses to believe the best about him and he does the same about her.
Romance requires selflessness but we are naturally selfish. Therefore, the cure is a Christ-centered marriage. What compels Edric and I to keep bettering our relationship is our love for God. Selfishness is a relationship killer and without God in our marriage, both Edric and I have a tendency to think of our own needs before each other’s. I mean, forget everything I just shared if Christ wasn’t in our marriage. All those suggestions would be short-lived at best.
It’s not easy to be a submissive or respectful wife when Edric does things that upset me. Neither is it automatic for me to serve him when my love tank is running low. Similarly, Edric is not motivated to be patient and sweet when I annoy him. (I can be very annoying. hee hee). Or, to be affirming when my behavior warrants otherwise. Therefore, Edric and I have to keep walking intimately with the Lord. He takes over when we reach the limits of human capacity. He is the inexhaustible source of unconditional love in our marriage! Romance doesn’t end because he re-charges, re-kindles, and re-ignites the desire to love one another. There are certainly seasons in a marriage when romantic feelings will not be at an all time high but every marriage can be rebuilt if both spouses are willing to commit themselves to follow and love God first.
We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19 NASB)