Over the last four years, around the middle of each year, around May and June, my wife and I have taken leave from work to do long walks together—about 20 kilometres a day over a six-day period. We are sedentary urbanites who rarely walk more than 3000 steps on an average day. So how did this interest in walking come about?
The title of this article holds a clue. Let me first clarify that I do not think my marriage is on the rocks or that it is in some state of emotional doldrums. But my wife and I have come to a stage in our marital life when we should not take things for granted.
As a marital therapist, I have met many couples who discover that after years together, the “magic is gone”. Many more find that they have grown apart and have little in common with their partners.
Now it may seem strange that after being together for years and leading closely intertwined lives, couples find themselves rather estranged from each other. It may be that their attention and energy have been focussed exclusively on being parents, so much so that they have lost the ability to be a couple. Parenting can be all-absorbing, and they may have reduced or cut themselves off from the hobbies and pursuits they once had. Hence, when their children no longer need nor want their attention, the couple finds themselves at a loss. Some may hardly notice this if caring for elderly parents quickly fills the vacuum. With all this caregiving, first to children and then to elderly parents, some couples end up emotionally drained and become strangers to each other.
Throughout any marriage, there is a need to rediscover interests and points of connection. When old interests no longer satisfy, new ones need to be found. For some, it may be grandparenting, doing voluntary work or taking up a hobby together. For my wife and me, it is walking. Of course, we cannot go on walking holidays all year round, so we need to find other interests as well.
The key here is to be deliberate in connecting with each other. Relationships do not just happen. They also do not maintain status quo. Like any well-kept garden, marriages have to be tended, reinvigorated and, every now and then, even weeded. There must be a commitment to spend time with each other, doing things together, and communicating. There must also be a willingness to do things your spouse has an interest in as well as to weed out practices which have been allowed to choke the relationship, such as being overly critical of each other, or harbouring resentment or unforgiveness.
How are you tending to your marriage? Is it time to reinvigorate it? How are you doing so?
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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