Before we were married, my wife, Marcia, and I would send notes to each other through our college mail-delivery system. The notes were probably similar to most letters exchanged between two dewy-eyed people in a blossoming relationship, but ours had a twist: We wrote them on whatever unconventional material we could find lying around. Coffee filters, old folders, cardboard cut from a pizza box — we discovered that the nice folks in the mailroom would deliver just about anything if we used the correct name and box number. So it became a little game. One day, I wrote a letter on the bottom of a Frisbee, spiraling my romantic ramblings in black marker from the outer rim toward the middle. I remember hoping Marcia would be delighted at the note, that she would sigh, hug the disc tightly and vow to never — if you'll pardon the pun — throw it away.
We continued the writing game after we graduated, exploiting the patience of postal workers in the United States and then in China, where we both taught English for a year. When we married, the letters fizzled. The relationship had been secured, and the fun little things that we did earlier seemed impractical and somewhat unnecessary. From a guy's perspective — or at least from this guy's perspective — the reasoning might sound like this: I already won the girl. Why keep up the chase?
An unending mission
Six years into our marriage, Marcia gave me a gift that helped me recognize the importance of those little things we once did. The gift was a hardbound journal decorated with colorful photos of telephone booths from around the world. On the first page, Marcia had written me a letter, explaining how she missed the days when we connected more, when we shared our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, and all the mundane details of our day. She thought this notebook — with its quirky communication imagery — could help us connect more.
Regrettably, the letter writing never really took off again, probably because it was just easier to start talking more in the evenings. Still, that notebook was a wake-up call for me, a reminder that my wife had fallen in love with a certain person who acted a certain way and that I hadn't been acting that way much anymore. And it wasn't just that I'd stopped initiating meaningful communication. Other behaviors had also been left on the wayside as we started the career-and-kid phase of our lives. Small things, perhaps — little gifts, acts of service, kind deeds — but important stuff nonetheless. Things that told my wife I loved her, she was on my mind and I wanted to do something to show it. I realized that the pursuit of one's spouse is a mission without end — necessary both in securing the relationship and in the ongoing maintenance of it.
My wife walked into the kitchen recently on a sunny Saturday when the counters were wiped clean and the sink wasn't filled with dishes. She poked her head out into the garage, where I was tinkering. "I just love walking into a clean kitchen," she said. "It's like I can breathe again."
Like I can breathe again. Wow! A clean kitchen did that? Surely I can contribute something to that effort. Doesn't every husband want a wife who can breathe?
The pursuit of one's spouse — the regular, ongoing nourishment of the relationship — can take so many forms as you walk through life together. Notes, flowers and chocolates are still nice, of course, but the journey offers countless other moments to cultivate the relationship. Every day presents opportunities to pursue your spouse, to bless her and to make her life easier in some way. Every day offers small pockets of time when you can connect, learn and say, "I care about you" in word and action. Every day is an empty page — a little note waiting to be written.
Vance Fry is senior associate editor of Thriving Family.
Everyday Ideas for Cultivating Your Marriage
- Bring home something special for your spouse. A rare favorite snack, flowers, a book or magazine on a topic your spouse enjoys. Leave it on his or her nightstand without saying, "I brought you something."
- Every marriage settles into a pattern of each person having certain jobs around the house. Pick one of your spouse's tasks and quietly do it.
- Buy a gift card from your spouse's favorite shop or restaurant, and secretly place it in his or her wallet or purse.
- Buy tickets for an event that you know your spouse will enjoy a lot more than you will. As the date approaches, avoid grumbling about attending.
- Routinely give your spouse time for his or her other friendships to thrive.
- Talk about what happened at work or whatever you were doing when apart from each other. Even the mundane details of life build a connection to your spouse.
- Sit close to your spouse. Hold hands when walking together.
- You can likely identify one or two things that your spouse has been stressed about lately. Quietly do something to help the situation improve.
- When speaking with friends, brag a little about your spouse. Do this when you're with your spouse and when you're not. Does your spouse have a hobby often used as a "retreat" from family life? Learn a little something about that interest and use it as a means to connect or as a topic of conversation.
- Rent a DVD that you know is more your spouse's kind of movie than yours. Make a favorite snack and watch the film together.
- Do something — or make something — nice for your spouse's parents or relatives.
- You know that one little thing your spouse wants you to do and you've "been meaning to get around to"? Do it today.
- While you're out running errands, offer to run an errand for your spouse. If he or she doesn't need anything, bring back a latte.
- Notice one small thing that your spouse does well. Compliment him or her on it.
- When you're out with friends, flirt a bit with your spouse and show affection.