“Where is your bookbag? The bus is outside!”
“I’m late and I can’t find my car keys!”
“I have to be at the temple at 10:00. Can you take Laxmi to work and Nanda to play practice?”
“I don’t have time to talk right now; I have to get to the store before it closes.”
In the fast-paced lifestyle of today’s society, the focus is often getting things done and getting them done fast. Exchanges between spouses and between parents and children are, more often than not, fit in among the goings and comings of family activities and responsibilities. Choosing to slow down and truly connect with one another is considered a luxury that many couples feel they cannot afford. As a consequence, the demands of daily life absorb our attention and energy and we often fail to take the time to focus on the health of our relationship with our spouse.
Mutual respect and appreciation is a foundational component for healthy exchanges between husband and wife. Lord Caitanya states in His Sri Siksastakam: One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respect to others. Srila Prabhupada speaks of appreciation in Srimad Bhagavatam 7.5.12:
Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another's service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking, Vaikuntha thinking ... Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability.
While most would agree that respect and appreciation are important, the challenge is how we can be consistent and intentional in our efforts to show our mates respect and show that we appreciate them. This takes time.
TIME is critical for a healthy marriage:
T: Talking—focused and attentive communication with your spouse, on functional topics as well as topics meaningful to each other
I: Intimacy—warm, close, personal—sometimes private—association with your spouse
M: Monitoring—constant assessment of the state of your marriage and joint work on plans to expand what is working and to improve what is not supportive of your marital goals
E: Encouragement—support of your mate: during challenging or smooth times, remembering to treat your mate with the same care, sensitivity and empathy with which you would like to be treated
While TIME is important, acting on TIME is not easy. It requires us to operate differently from our habitual patterns. A key question to ask ourselves at this point is this: do I want to make the time to deepen my relationship with my spouse? If the answer is “yes”, that’s great—it’s the first step towards a healthier marriage. If the answer is “no”, that’s great too: it’s great that you identified an obstacle and can begin to start exploring why you don’t want to make the time. Do you feel it is not as important as other things on your list of things to do? Do you have unresolved issues with your partner that are in the way? Are you hopeless or resigned? Are you just plain tired? Sit quietly and explore what might be overshadowing your desire to give time to your partner.
After you have gained some insight, consider this: whether we want to make the time or not, we can choose to. We can have feelings of “not wanting to” and still choose to make time. Do we really want to go to work every day? Do we really want to change diapers? Do we always want to do our services and keep our vows? Yet we still do these things—out of love, out of commitment, out of being in integrity with our vows, etc. We understand as devotees that what may seem bitter in the beginning may be sweet in the end. If we choose to make time for our mates— despite the internal and external obstacles—the sweetness that we may experience may inspire us to keep going and that “not wanting to” will be transformed.
Whatever small steps we are willing to take, consider that the time is actually NOW. We don’t want to wait until our marriage is so sick that it is very difficult to turn around. Using the analogy of the body, if we maintain our health on a consistent basis, we can more easily rebound from setbacks and we support our body’s strength and vitality. If we wait until a health crisis to attend to our health (e.g., heart attack, cancer, etc.), we have an uphill road to climb to regain even basic health functioning, let alone wellness or fitness. Let’s aim for a marriage that is strong and healthy due to consistent time, care and attention—and one that will keep getting stronger every day. Part II will explore some practical techniques that can help fortify our marriages.