To keep the flame alive, come back to the altar

heart rocks altarFalling in love is easy. We can do that with our eyes closed (and according to divorce statistics, we often do).

But keeping a love relationship alive and thriving throughout all of the chaos of having babies and raising children and just trying to pay the bills every month is pretty dang difficult. In my experience, building and maintaining a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with your spouse is hard work. And it doesn’t happen all by itself.

Oh sure, we all know people who know other people who claim that their marriage is perfect and that they’ve never had to work at it (if that’s you, stop reading right now). However, I haven’t met a person yet, man or woman, who can say that they’re fully satisfied with the state of their marriage.

I think we all yearn for a deeper connection with each other, even if we don’t always know how to express it. And I also think we thrive, both as individuals and as a couple, when we do take the time to really connect and listen to and be heard by our spouse on a regular basis.

We get so wrapped up in our own schedules, trying to juggle multiple errands and work and family demands every day, that if we don’t regularly take time to connect with our partner, our relationship with them suffers. Days of being remote or feeling detached from our partner turn into weeks, which turn into months, which end up turning into years, and then those resentments and gripes get stuffed way down deep instead of being brought into the light and discussed and explored and learned from.

One simple thing that has made a big difference in my marriage is remembering to take the time to reconnect with my wife throughout the day, even if it’s just for a brief moment each time. We often get caught up in the flow of our daily “busyness” and forget the reasons we got married, which makes it easy for us to treat our spouse as a coworker or business partner (with all of their human failings), instead of the person we love and cherish and adore (and of whom we are willing to forgive most any failings).

It’s great when we can remember to occasionally put our arms around our wives and tell them we love them. But it’s even better when we can make it into a regular habit, which can really help to deepen the relationship dynamic. Instead of being so quick to judge or snap at our spouse, we can have this instead, as another, healthier, pattern to follow.

One more fairly simple thing that has worked for us has been to create what we call our marriage altar. Our altar is outdoors, just a simple design laid out with rocks on a little hillside behind our house, and it’s a place that we can go together, with intention, to talk or share or offer gratitude in our marriage. When we really want to connect with each other, we take a little walk over to the marriage altar, burn a little sage and just get quiet for a bit. Once we do speak, it’s from a place of sacredness, not from a he said/she said point-of-view, and our conversations come out so much more clearer and uncluttered without all of that personal baggage we normally carry. On one special trip to the marriage alter my wife suprised me with a new wedding band made by a professional men’s jeweler in LA. I really cherish that moment.

Your marriage altar doesn’t have to be outdoors, or take up too much space, or cost any money to build. Simply having a location where you can come together intentionally, in a place that isn’t in your normal ‘use patterns’, can be enough, if you make a habit of it. Having a dedicated spot where you know you both can go to focus on the heart of the marriage is a powerful thing.

Everywhere else in your house is fair game for a place to talk about what needs fixing, about money issues, or what your kids did that day, or what just happened on Facebook. But if we have a place that’s beyond those concerns, one that allows us to focus on the underlying frame of our marriage, it can really add to the quality of our relationship with our spouse.

In many marriages, the wedding anniversary is the only time the marriage is celebrated, and that’s only once a year (although it does usually include roses or chocolate, so that’s something).

With a marriage altar, we are essentially celebrating our marriage over and over, and even if we come to it with issues or a heavy heart, we can walk away from it as a couple, in stride again.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

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