Last time, we posed the question, “What is more important than Sex?” The answer? Affection.
In the long haul of marriage, sex is extremely important, but affection is doubly important. Those morning kisses and goodnight hugs help soften hearts and defuse anger. And, let’s face it – hugs, kisses, and cuddles can exist in relationships no matter the couple’s age, health, or mobility.
In addition to the importance of affection in marriage, I also believe attention is an ingredient which makes great marriages.
Dating is where we get hooked. ~smile~ Boy pays girl a lot of attention. Girl shows boy a lot of respect and adoration. Boy thinks he has won the jackpot. Girl cannot believe she is loved by such an amazing and attentive man. Boy proposes to girl. Girl excitedly accepts. Boy and girl get married. Life happens to boy and girl. Boy and girl become extremely busy with work and school. Boy and girl become even busier with babies. Before long, boy and girl cannot remember the last time they even had a full conversation.
Even couples with the best of intentions can fall into the neglect trap. The more moving pieces a couple must keep juggling, the easier it is to forget that morning kiss, to do away with family dinners, and to fall into bed exhausted without any connection at all.
Neglect is a Relationship Killer
A few years back, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say, “Whenever there is an affair, neglect is present.” What a powerful statement. I swished it around in my mind and it rang true. Yes, how often do wholeheartedly invested couples find themselves having affairs? Whether it is neglect of their sexual relationship, their communication, or their time with the Lord, neglect is always involved in affairs.
We are built to show each other loads of attention in the ’getting to know you’ phase. We go out of our way to spend time together. We rearrange schedules, lose sleep, and put off time with friends to enjoy as much togetherness as possible. Infatuation keep us floating and motivates us to be present with each other.
When I was a child, I remember my mom complaining about the car in front of us. It was weaving all over the road and going slowly. Dad said, “Vickie, he’s in love.” His comment was hard to grasp in my young age. Mom concurred that he must be in love because he could not stop looking at his passenger with googly eyes. Loving feelings do have the power to make us fail at everyday tasks like driving a car in a straight line. ~smile~
But, those feelings fade, and are (Lord willing) replaced with deeper familial feelings. Love matures from a force of attraction to a choice. But, once the force is gone, couples have to go to work on the relationship. If they do not, something will always steal their time and attention away from each other. Even couples without children struggle to find time together.
When This Next Project Ends, We Will…
When Eric and I were first married, we enjoyed a couple months of freedom before our grad school classes started back up again. Though I remember almost nothing from those two months, I do remember how I felt after we returned to the grind. Eric worked hard. I did not work nearly as hard – at least at school. All I wanted was Eric’s attention and if I had to skip out on some reading to get it, I was more than happy to do so.
Eric is more academically-inclined and not built to give anything less than 100% to his schooling or job. When he is a student, he is a student all the way and it did not take long for me to start feeling pangs of resentment. I hated feeling like a lonely bride frequently passed over for a book. Meanwhile, Eric felt pangs of frustration as he worked hard and saw me hardly working. We were both right. I needed to work harder towards our shared goal and he needed to show me more attention.
As the years passed, I dreamed of graduating. “When we finish school, we will finally be able to just be husband and wife.” The day finally came! We finished our classes, then our internship, then our cumulative exam, and we walked across the stage. It was over!
Or… not even close to over.
After school ended, a new project emerged. Graduation is the starting line, not the finish line. What is the point of school if it is not followed by a career of some sort? Eric quickly set out to make great use of his (our) degrees by enthusiastically building PreEngaged. I worked too, but again, not nearly as much. He thought, “If she helped me more, I would have more time to spend with her,” and I thought, “If he spent more time with me, I would feel motivated to work.” I needed to work harder towards our shared goal and he needed to show me more attention. Again, I thought, “One day life will become more even paced and we will get to enjoy being husband and wife.”
More years passed. PreEngaged is growing and changing. Then it happened! The school bug hit Eric again and he decided to return for his doctorate. Somewhere around this time – well past our tenth anniversary – it hit me, “Life is never going to calm down. There will always be something to take our attention away from each other. Instead of waiting until life is calm, we must make attention a priority or we will fall apart.”
Intentionality is Key
Even without children to demand our attention, we sometimes still struggle to prioritize our marriage. Whether it is school, work, hobbies, or sheer laziness, most couples do not simply stumble into time together. If not set aside, time will always slip away. Just like unbudgeted money, unbudgeted time will be spent with little or nothing to show for it.
Pull Out Your Notebooks
If you can begin your relationship by habitually planning time together, even now before you need to, it will be easier to keep it up after marriage. I admire couples who take date nights and couple time seriously in every phase of their marriage. How important do you believe deliberate attention is to your future marriage? How does your significant other feel about the role of attention in marriage? Answer and discuss the following questions:
- On a scale from one to ten (one being no affect and ten being the highest affect) how much do I thrive when shown undivided attention by those I love?
married, what is the ideal number of hours I hope to spend with my spouse each
- In the first year of marriage?
- After five years of marriage?
- With a newborn in the house?
- With multiple children in the house?
- With teenagers in the house?
- During high pressure work years?
- During empty-nest years?
- In retirement?
- What does appropriate attention in marriage look like to me?
- What time-consuming activities will I expect my spouse to reduce or give up (if any) should we get too busy?
- What are my expectations of how much attention I should receive in marriage? How much I should give?
- As far as you know, how much attention did your parents show each other and how did it affect their relationship? How did it affect you?
- True or False: I can be in a satisfying relationship with someone who does not have a lot of time to spend with me.
Your creed, both personal and couple, is not likely to be the length of a novel or even a short story. Most likely, the creed you construct and share in your home will be a few paragraphs. Therefore, every belief you share will not fit into your official creed. So, as you work through these posts, answer questions, and have fruitful discussions, we encourage you to rate each topic.
Affection is important to me. It is a nine.
Monetary conservatism is at the core of who I am. It is a ten.
It would break my heart to live without a thriving sexual relationship in marriage. It is an eight.
Having your topics ranked can help you narrow down the “winning” beliefs which make it into your creed; and, your notebook can house the remainder of topics you discussed for years to come. Pull it out every few years and refresh your minds with new conversations and revelations. After every few years of marriage experience, you may want to update your creed!
Relationships Are Not Constant
People change. Circumstances change. Priorities change. We must remain vigilant and be sure we are paying attention to our significant others or spouses. If we fail to do so, someone out there will gladly pick up the slack. No relationship is fail-proof. Even the godliest of men and women must stay on their guard and nourish their relationships. We all know of seemingly solid couples who divorced leaving their friends and families in complete shock.
Relationships do not fall apart in a day. It is a slow, gradual dying like a dehydrated garden.
How important is attention to you? How much undivided attention do you need to feel loved and supported? Though you will not always get exactly what you need or desire (life is not like that), it is good to know what you need so your life’s partner can seek to fulfill it. Punishing our partners for not reading our minds is unfair (though it happens often, especially in the early years of a relationship). Some seasons are tough and you will not have as much time together as you would like, but you can still prioritize each other even in the smallest of ways.
Marriage cannot thrive on leftover attention. It has to get your best effort. – Ngina Oliende
How important is your attention to your significant other’s heart?
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