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What About Us? Renewing Your Marriage

by Erin Chianese

Homeschooling is so natural that it becomes a 24-hour job. Every opportunity can be educational and much parental time is taken up with these moments of learning with our kids. Homeschooling definitely brings families closer together. But often in our busy homes, marriage is the first thing to be put on hold and the last to get attention.

I took a parent education class when my kids were toddlers. The teacher tried to emphasize to us to take care of ourselves first, then our marriage, and lastly our children. She said we can more easily give to others if we are content and recharged by our own lives . . . great advice but the reality is that we take care of our children first, then ourselves, and finally our marriage, if there is any energy left. A marriage on the back burner can sit and wait for better times or it can burn.

There are no good cultural models for a lasting marriage. Movies and books show the big shebang of falling in love with the goal of marriage. Or they show the problems of one that is falling apart. But they donít show what happens in a normal, healthy marriage through the years. Some couples are lucky enough to have good models in their own parentsí or grandparentsí marriages. But with divorce on the rise since the 1970ís, this is not usually the case. If we take more time out for our marriage, I think we can become these rare cases that our children can experience and look to. All it really needs IS a little more attention. Marriage renewal has given my husband and I just that. It is fun, simple, and it works! You can use the following tips in your own marriage. Or you may even want to start a Marriage Renewal Group with other like-minded couples.

Here is how we got started. For years, a couple I greatly admire had been offering Marriage Renewal Days. They are a very loving couple who, along with their family, had been a constant model to me of love, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. Foolishly, my husband and I never attended, using the excuse that we were too busy with work or our kidsí activities. Then suddenly, time had run out on our list of excuses because this couple was moving in six months to the other side of the country. When they offered a ten-week Marriage Renewal course, we knew we had to take advantage of learning from them.

The classes were structured. We started with a "check-in," going around the circle of couples and briefly sharing recent thoughts or events in our lives. Next came "appreciations." Each couple went off to a private corner to exchange appreciations. For a full five minutes, my husband told me (uninterrupted) what he appreciates about me and then I had a full five minutes to tell him what I appreciate about him. These can be from the past or present, practical or emotional. Then we gathered back into our circle for the topic of the day. The leading couple gave a short lecture on the topic and then we commented on it if we felt like it. This took up the greater part of our time, at least an hour, so that lastly, we quickly went around the room for "closing thoughts." These mainly included gratitude for the class, the topic, and the candidness of the sharing.

Just voicing the appreciations helped my husband and I feel closer. We are so busy with our hectic lives that we barely take time for each other. It is easy to feel taken for granted while performing our daily chores and fulfilling our own roles. I had no idea that my husband notices all I do. At first, I had a hard time with both filling up my five minutes, and with listening to what he said to me. But after a few classes it became apparent that in only ten minutes of appreciations, we could so easily reconnect by these words of acknowledgement.

After the ten weeks ended and the imminent departure of our wonderful facilitators drew near, our group realized how much we enjoyed our meetings. We decided to continue on our own. Each couple would take a turn in facilitating and hosting. We would also have babysitters on hand for those with small children.

It has now been three years since we had our first classes and our Marriage Group has evolved into a very important part of our lives! It is hard to convey all that the group means to me. We have discussed many topics including communication, anger, money, family rituals, crises, aging, having fun, trust, romance, spirituality, and sex. Our group is so comfortable together now that we can discuss things intimately. This allows us to respectfully learn from and help each other. We also can laugh at ourselves knowing that the laughter comes from love not from any judgment.

I want to emphasize that this is not a therapy group. We donít bring our particular marital problems up each meeting while we are "checking in." It is also not a complaining session. We do not focus on the negative, but always look for the positive. Of course, we share negative events or laments, but with the purpose of relating our experience or finding how another couple has dealt with similar circumstances. For instance, we have had several meetings on communication. The facilitating couple brings the topic with information for understanding our different communication styles as an introvert or extrovert, male or a female. We do not complain, for example, about how a husband doesnít want to talk about his day right when he gets home from work, or how a wife might not want to talk at midnight when he is ready to talk. Rather we might comment that this happens and how it makes us feel, but we mainly try to understand why it happens. In other words, we are trying to understand our spouses, not to change them. Just the awareness of the information helps us to be more accepting of each other.

There are several important things that I walk away with every time from our meetings. One is that our struggles are similar to the struggles of other couples. Another, is that marriage is a valuable entity and that there is much work required but that it is worth it. The circle of sharing binds all the couples in its connecting power of love and this power lingers and supports us in our daily lives. The sharing of our problems, joys, goals, and accomplishments shows how alike we are. Personally, I am reminded that couples share similar goals, wives share similar tasks, women share similar issues, and people share similar needs.

At first, my husband did not really see a need to join the marriage class. Men may be more reluctant to set aside time for one. Here is what my husband says about it now, "Participating in the Marriage Group means a lot to me as a husband and as a person. I find it enriching to meet monthly with other married couples to share ideas and experiences together. Originally I thought, ĎWhy join a group? Our marriage is fine.í But now I know how much better it can be when you actually work at renewing your relationship."

There are a few resources out there to get started with. If you live in Southern California, and want to start a group and need help, you can contact my husband and I for further information at echianese@hotmail.com. We can facilitate a class or two if you like and we know another couple willing to do this also. There are a few websites with interesting articles, one of the best being www.smartmarriages.com. There is a non-denominational national organization you can join that may have a chapter in your area called ACME (Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment, 800/634-8325; www.bettermarriages.com). There are countless books written on marriage that you can refer to. Our original facilitators even suggested reading a story together from Chicken Soup for the Coupleís Soul and then discussing it.

You donít need a group to do all this with your spouse. You can spend an hour a month with your partner and use the same format, or take only ten minutes out of a busy schedule and do the appreciations together. Just focusing on the two of you in a positive way is what it is all about.