Romantic partnerships begin with a mutual and delicious sense that the union will lead to better tomorrows. So much effort goes into a progressive mutual seduction which leads to a perfectly coiffed and hugely expensive day of days. There is a wonderful old fashioned term, courtship, which denotes that loving thoughtfulness and mutual appreciation of two people gratefully striving to makes things sweet for each other.

Then life happens, drop by drop, bringing struggles, problems and disappointments and alot less time and energy for courtship. Time brings unsexy responsibilities which crowd the loving thoughtfulness of courtship off of the top of the priority list where it used to be. The mutual memory of the earliest days can fade from view to be replaced in each partner by an unspoken private resentment, a sense that the courtship may just have been an opportunistic sales pitch by one’s partner to be dropped when the marriage contract was signed and sealed. Each partner can be so focused on feeling cheated as to be unaware that the partner may feel the same.

Even though many spouses take a vow to love for better or for worse, who ever really signs on to marriage ‘for worse’? Of course married life cannot deliver long term carefree living, but the shared memory of the sweet courtship that was the relationship at its birth needs to be recalled, cherished and celebrated repeatedly over time if love is not to be replaced by resentment.

Courtship is the spiritual glue and the of lasting relationships. When we notice couples who retain deep affection for each other, we see people who prioritize setting aside quality time to be alone together. With rededication to courtship never lose their gratitude for what the other has brought to them. They know that gratitude-filled courtship is not a short term premarital ritual rendered unnecessary by marriage but rather that time must be put aside and prioritized in the weeks and months of a lifetime to remember and to celebrate that which brought them together.

The blame game in decayed marriages is relational poison, a prescription for marital civil war. People mired in marital self pity and resentment need to be shown that the disappointment that they feel so strongly often occurs in both parties in marriage, not just in one, and that each partner bears some of the responsibility for reversing the relational decay. Each partner shares part of the responsibility to contribute to positive relational effort. Dates, baby sitters, hooks and eyes on bedroom doors, overnight getaways, and mindfulness of how the relationship brought blessed changes to one’s life, are all good, practical ways to recapture and sustain the relational magic of courtship in long term marriage. Acknowledging the distress of the other as well as on one’s own must occur. Change toward positive action requires effort but without it a much higher cost in family suffering will almost surely have to be paid by all. Like prime old real estate, great marriages require ongoing maintenance by all.

Article copyright 2011 Jerrold Bonn, M.D. All rights reserved. Any use of this article without the express written consent of Jerrold C. Bonn, M.D. is prohibited.

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