Last month, we focused on what many people insist is the bottom line of a happy marriage: a healthy, well-balanced bank account. Katie Brown, our resident relationship expert and the voice behind Confessions of a Young Married Couple, reminded us that it’s one thing to manage your own bank account, but quite another to join checking accounts together in holy matrimony.
With the money issue solved (or at least settled enough so we’re comfortable talking about our shared finances), Katie tackles what two young couples in love fear more than anything else: losing the flame that first sparked their relationship. The bad news? The spark can and will fade over time. The good news? Your marriage won’t burn out quite so quickly.
Want to know how you protect your precious spark from the sometimes harmful elements of marriage? Read on!
What’s the real deal with the “spark” after you get married? Do you lose it? And, if not, how do you keep it?
This is such an honest question and it deserves an honest, straight-forward answer. The truth is that I don’t know a single married couple who still has the spark they had before they tied the knot.
What a statement.
Are you guys still there?
Good. Because that was the hardest part, so if you can read that and you still haven’t called off your wedding you’re doing good.
I have heard a lot of people sugar-coat the answer to this question before, but the hard, simple, wonderful fact is that for 99.99% of couples, that spark you had in the beginning that made you fall in love and start picking out china patterns and monograms goes away.
But let me tell you why…
The definition of a spark is something that ignites a fire. The spark is the beginning. The kickoff. The starting line. Sparks aren’t supposed to last. What does last is that flame that the spark… well… sparked. And the good news is that there are ways to keep that flame burning, and, trust me: it’s a whole lot easier to keep a flame burning than a spark sparking.
1. Be the flame that you are comfortable being. There are lots of flames out there. There are the small candles that sit on kitchen counters and light up cozy corners of Italian restaurants. There are blazing wildfires that consume everything in their path. There are constant, steady flames of old lighthouses that guide vessels to safety in the dark of night. There are campfire flames that keep you warm and melt your marshmallows while you chat with good friends late into the evening. Flames comes in all shapes and sizes and serve countless functions.
So do relationships. And one of the first steps to making your flame last is to know what kind of flame you have. Are you and your partner a comfortable campfire or a steadfast lighthouse? Are you a cozy candlelight or a blazing wildfire? Each flame is preserved in different ways. A raging wildfire will never be satisfied with a date night out every six months, and a cozy campfire won’t survive being dressed up for formal cocktail parties every weekend.
The most basic way to keep the flame of your relationships alive is to know what kind of relationship you have and to understand what it takes to make that relationship happy. It’s so easy to look at other people’s marriages and say, “Gosh, they are jet-setting every weekend and hardly ever argue. We should be more like them.” But the flame of their relationship is a different flame than your relationship, and so what keeps someone else happy and healthy might not be what keeps your relationship happy and healthy. Comparing your marriage to others is a sure-fire way to kill your flame.
2. Add kindling. If you start a fire today, but never add anything to the blaze, how long do you think that flame will last? Probably as long as it takes to burn through that first batch of wood or wick, right? Everybody knows that to keep a flame burning, you have to add kindling. Something to keep it burning. And you have to add things continually.
Relationships are no different. If you start your marriage today with the tools, skills and resources that you have right now but never add anything else, that relationship – like that flame – is going to burn right out. It might take a couple days, maybe a couple months, for some it might even take a few years. But if your relationship isn’t growing and deepening and changing over time through new experiences, there won’t be anything left for the flame to burn.
Try to keep bringing new things into your relationship. Continuously. Maybe it’s taking a class where you both learn a new skill. Maybe it’s visiting places you’ve never been before. Maybe it’s making new friends together. Maybe it’s working on your personal strengths and weaknesses as a team. Every time you experience something new as a couple, you are opening your relationship up to the possibility of deepening. And where better to put a flame for safekeeping than in a deep place, protected from the elements of drama and chaos that happen in shallower places.
3. Don’t be afraid to use starter logs. I’m pretty good at starting a campfire. I know how to stack the wood and where to stuff the newspaper for kindling. The part that I always have trouble with is keeping the fire burning over time. I get busy cooking hamburgers or I wander off to find the bath house, and before I know it, I come back to my campfire only to find that I have let it burn itself out. That’s when I run back to my car, grab my emergency starter log, and throw it in the fire pit. In about ten seconds – voila! – I have a blazing campfire again.
In your marriage, don’t be afraid to get a little help when you see that flame start to fade. Even the best of Boy Scouts knows to come prepared with tools in case their fire goes out. Reach out to girlfriends, your sister, your mother – reach out to those people in your life who guide you in all other areas. For some reason, we all feel as though asking for help in our marriages is a sign of failure. Pashaw. Asking for help, getting advice, or talking about where your marriage is struggling is not the failure; it is the first step towards success.
And if you come back to your flame only to discover that it is beyond the help of even a starter log, then its time to get even MORE help. Talk to your minister or a marriage counselor, and do it with your head held high knowing that a flame cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs oxygen and wood and, when times get really tough – and they will -, they might need a little gasoline or lighter fluid poured over them.
The pure, simple truth is that sparks do fade, but they are supposed to fade. It’s the flame in your marriage that drives your relationship forward and ensures that your path is lit in front of you. So discover what kind of flame you have, find what it takes to keep that flame burning and use help to re-light the fire when it grows dim. Because when you’re marriage is healthy and happy, you glow from the inside out.
Want the 411 on living happily-after-married? Check out her blog, Confessions of a Young Married Couple before you go!