I received a birthday gift this year from my friend Jenn, Bob Goff’s book Love Does. With these dark winter mornings, reading this book has been just the right way for me to start my day. Goff is happy and hysterical and fun even as he shares gut-deep life-changing truths. He has a gift, and I wake up eager to receive it.
A few mornings ago I was delighting in his story about a young man in love, Ryan. Goff writes:
Ryan’s love [for his girlfriend] was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being “engaged” isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee and puts a ring on his true love’s finger. Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about – full of abandon, whimsy, and in love. I want to be engaged to life and with life.
Am I engaged to life? Are you? Do you remember being engaged to your fiance? I do. I shared the silly and surprising way that Tony proposed to me at our small group in front of all of those people. Looking back, I see that he was absolutely engaged in his love for me, planning on future memories with our future children in a future home. Then, as he slipped that ring on my finger he invited me to join him, to be engaged with him, not just to him.
I went to work the next day, and for this fun season of my life, I worked with some of my best friends. I didn’t come bounding in shouting to everyone that I was engaged – I’m not really a bounding and shouting person. But, I was clearly floating and my friends Emily and Sarah noticed right away. I showed them the ring, the sign of his purposed promise, and told them the story of what happened the night before. They were giddy with me, and for those months as these women helped me plan my wedding, I felt like we were all engaged in love.
Tony was getting plenty of attention, too. Being engaged is just such a hopeful season. There is a lot of anticipation and excitement. Lots of people who didn’t seem all that interested in our lives before were suddenly asking very specific questions, “Have you set a date? Will it be a big wedding?” I remember that one of the first things we decided to do as an engaged couple was to hold off on making decisions. Though the clock seemed to be ticking away for other people, we decided to wait to make any sort of wedding plans at all for the first six weeks of our engagement. For those six weeks we would just be engaged in the days, in each other. After that, we knew we would be very busy planning a wedding while we were engaged – and we were.
In my experience, newlyweds get a lot less attention from those around them than fiances do. It’s as if there is an unspoken rule to leave them alone once they get married. We crowd around while they are engaged, getting excited with them and for them, and then after the big party we give lots and lots of space. We disengage. This is probably healthy, you know, not to be overbearingly involved in each other’s lives. But, what can also happen if we are not careful is that, as the years go by in our own marriage, we also become disengaged from each other. We lose our sense of purposed love, we back off from making the effort to connect with our spouse. We slip into thinking, “We’re together now, mission accomplished, let us live in tandem instead of fully engaged in love and admiration.”
A Short Shelf Life
In “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” a New York Times article, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some research on the human need for surprise and spontaneity. She writes,
In one experiment, scientists offered drinks to thirsty subjects; those who were not told what kind of drink they would get (i.e., water or a more appealing beverage) showed more activity in the portion of the brain that registers positive emotions. Surprise is apparently more satisfying than stability.
The realization that your marriage no longer supplies the charge it formerly did is then an invitation: eschew predictability in favor of discovery, novelty, and opportunities for unpredictable pleasure.
Keeping in mind our natural pull toward all things shiny and new, we’re offering you some thoughts on staying engaged in your marriage.
1. Ask Questions
Making time to connect with each other is vital. For us, that’s the moment after the chaos of Tony coming home and trying to get dinner ready with two babies pulling on our calves – sitting down for dinner. We both exhale, though it’s not typically calm eating with little ones, we try to remember to relax. This is when we ask about each other’s day and really try to listen. My favorite question that Tony asks me is, “What made you laugh today?” There’s always something and it always turns the conversation toward the positive. Whatever questions you ask, it’s important to actively listen to your partner. Listen as if you really have no idea what they are about to say.
2. Change Up Your Routine
Routine can be a good thing. Tony and I have found it pretty necessary with our girls. They know what to expect, so bedtime and bath time aren’t a surprise to them and our nights with them typically end pretty peacefully. It’s after they go to bed that we’ve realized we have the opportunity either to engage with each other, or to do what comes more naturally, collapse in bed. A few nights ago, instead of heading straight for our pajamas, Tony laid our Scrabble board on the kitchen table, told me to pour myself a glass of wine, and readied some chips and salsa. Truthfully, I was wiped out from a long day, but we sat across the table from each other and talked and laughed while I beat him by over 100 points.
3. Plan a Surprise
As time goes on in our marriage, there seems to be a blessing and a curse in familiarity. Human beings are wired to be attracted to variety. So, take advantage of that and plan a surprise for your spouse. Do something a little bit out of the ordinary- like mailing a love note to where they work or planning a night out without kids even though it’s not a special occasion. My friend Brittany planned the most clever surprise for her husband’s birthday. He turned 23 this year, so she secretly collected 23 letters from people who know and love him and presented them to him as his gift!
4. Double Date
I always find that I am delighted and surprised when I hear Tony talking to our friends. Even if he’s sharing something I know about, I love hearing him re-frame the story for someone else’s benefit. I like watching other people pay attention to him and engage with him. Maybe it’s because he tends to listen more than he shares in a group. Maybe it’s the difference between our familiar way of talking and his way of speaking with someone less intimately. Either way, being around other couples gives us a chance to engage with each other just a little bit differently than we normally would, and I like it.
5. Try Something New
Chances are, when you were dating, you tried new things together all the time. Now that you’re married, though, you’ve probably got your usual grocery store, the best route from your house to Target, and your go-to restaurants all figured out. So, try something new! We had a unique opportunity for a day-date about a month ago, and we didn’t really set an agenda. We stopped in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle for lunch. Tony was craving some home-style mac & cheese and, just our luck, we passed a little restaurant that advertised it on the window. We walked in to the quaint little restaurant, were seated by a nice woman in a sari, and scoured the five page menu looking for that delicious macaroni and cheese. It turns out, the restaurant had recently changed owners and though the menu was completely new, AND VEGETARIAN, they hadn’t gotten around to changing all of the exterior signage. We had the choice to gracefully walk out and find something more familiar, but we stayed and enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever had together!
To be like Ryan above, to be fully engaged in life and in love, takes some work and effort. It seems much easier to just sit back and float along the river of life. But, I don’t want to float. I want to get strapped in and ride a roller coaster. I want to be surprised at the twists and turns. I want to be holding Tony’s hand tightly experiencing this life together, knowing that as we are engaged in our relationship, we’ll #staymarried
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“Rings” Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography