I have been doing some routine maintenance around the house. Nothing big, just little things like restaining the picnic table, cleaning the gas grill, and backing up my computer. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. The computer project is enormous, incomplete, and less appealing to me than weeding an entire acre of flower beds. If I were outside I’d at least be getting a tan!
The problem with routine maintenance is that I rarely ever “feel” the need. More often it feels like a waste of precious resources with so many more pressing things going on in my life. I mean it’s not like I couldn’t have thrown a table cloth over the picnic table and used my greasy grill a few more times, nor that my computer was in danger of crashing just because my files were not backed up. Most of us would probably agree on the importance of routine maintenance in principle, but putting it into practice? Now that is a whole different thing.
Eventually, however, deferred maintenance does have a way of catching up with us. For example, three weeks ago my cell phone accidently went for a swim and not having backed up my contact list, I now have the time-consuming job of reconstructing a phone list for perhaps 150 phone numbers. For another example, a few years ago, our refrigerator catastrophically died one exceedingly hot July day. The autopsy from the repairman suggested that a contributing factor in its untimely death was that I had neglected to periodically vacuum its heat exchange coils, but really, how was I supposed to know that refrigerators have heat exchange coils much less that they have to be vacuumed?
Not only do I struggle with the routine maintenance of my house and possessions, but also with the routine maintenance of more important things, like my marriage. I don’t know what survey could be done to back up this claim, but I would bet that failure to do routine marriage maintenance is a primary cause of many divorces. Is it possible that some couples don’t even know that regular maintenance is necessary for a fully functioning and satisfying marriage? It is very possible, just like with my fridge. Therefore, if before now you simply did not know… now you know. Successful, satisfying marriages require regular maintenance.
But then there is still that difficulty of putting the principle into practice. Amid such busy days, what motivation can we find to routinely maintain a meaningful relationship with the one we promised to cherish all the days of our lives? Here are three quick suggestions.
Watch a respectable romance movie (Life is Beautiful is a great one) to recall that true love is anything but practical. In a very general sense, regular marriage maintenance means spending some passionate and playful time with our spouses. Get creative and specific to your marriage in what activities you do together, but focus less on the practicalities (the time, energy, or cost needed to enjoy one another) and more on the importance of keeping your marriage as a top priority.
Get to know a couple who has been happily married for forty or more years. Listen to their stories. Ask them for advice. (Think of how much easier my life would be right now if I had followed the advice of the cell phone clerk and backed up my contact list over a year ago.)
Also, listen to and ask advice from friends who are divorced. Every time I do this I am thoroughly convinced that the thing for which I really do not have enough time, energy, money, or emotion is divorce.
Although it can feel unnecessary or like a wasteful use of precious resources in the midst of a hectic family schedule, it is far better for us couples to routinely tackle pesky differences than to have them catch up with us all at once during a catastrophically heated argument. It is also more beneficial to continue to intentionally cultivate common interests than to apathetically “grow apart.” Let’s construct and commit to a plan of routine marriage maintenance starting today, and not because we necessarily “feel” the need, but because we desire the positive, long-term results.
Copyright 2012 Heidi Bratton