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Marriage Maintenance In 6 Layers

Marriage Maintenance - why do some people take better care of their car than their marriage? @DanielTStephens

“Maintenance” is not a word you commonly hear about marriage. It’s so unromantic. It’s so mechanical. So dry.

Marriage Maintenance - why do some people take better care of their car than their marriage? @DanielTStephens

“Maintenance” is a word your hear about taking care of cars. Like “change your oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months.”

To the degree that maintenance is taking care of things that are important to us, based on time (3 months) or triggers (3,000 miles), “maintenance” applied to marriage should be a very romantic idea. If marriage is important to us, then we will work to maintain it at a certain level of health – and improve its health if possible.

Just as you maintain your car to avoid the engine seizing up, you should maintain your marriage to avoid your marriage stalling. Why do some people take better care of their car than their marriage?

Sometimes in a post like this it is popular to say that there are X number of leading causes for divorce. The truth is that researchers and demographers can’t agree what is the leading cause for divorce. Is it years of small wounds or is it one major wound? How do you tell the difference from a statistical level? You don’t.

Every divorce has layers of pain in it. Likewise, every healthy marriage has layers of protection in it. Here are a few layers worth protecting, and some tools to help you do it.

I have organized these in what I think of as an upside-down pyramid. The most frequent but least important fights first, and the least frequent but most important fights last.

To fit the “maintenance” metaphor, you should aim for regular check ins with your spouse about how each of these areas are doing. I suggest at least the following:

  1. A monthly or weekly budget discussion
  2. A monthly or weekly discussion of your calendar (roles and expectations)
  3. A weekly or daily discussion of your to-do list (roles and expectations)
  4. An annual or quarterly discussion of your goals for the rest of the categories below
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How often you need to have each of those discussions will be influenced by the level of stability or chaos in your current phase of life.

Marriage Maintenance for Money

Money fights are actually value fights. Do you value the future or the present? If you value the future, you’re a saver. If you value the present, you’re a spender. Both have benefits and both have problems. It is usually the case that opposites attract (during dating anyway), then opposites agitate (once the honeymoon is over).

Remember that your spouse is not wrong, just different. (I owe Norm for that one). Do your best to play to each other’s strengths rather than drowning in each other’s weaknesses.

Tools

  1. Total Money Makeover (book)
  2. Financial Peace University (website, local course finder)
  3. Mint (website, app)

Marriage Maintenance for Careers

The economy is a moving object. Which makes careers and jobs moving targets. To make a good career choice for yourself, you need to know three things:

  1. Who you are (employee or employer, personality, strengths, weaknesses)
  2. What work is for (live to work or work to live)
  3. How the two fit together (correctly matching your strengths and personality to a job)

To make a good career choice in the context of marriage, you need to know the same three things for your spouse, plus how the two of you fit together. It’s that last part, how the two of you fit together in terms of your career, that can cause conflict in roles and expectations.

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Tools

  1. What Color is Your Parachute? (book)
  2. Entreleadership (book)
  3. Entreleadership (website, podcast)

Marriage Maintenance for Roles and Expectations

Who works to bring home the bacon? Who stays home with the kids? Do both work? Do both share in the chores? Who takes the garbage out and mows the lawn? Who cooks and does laundry? Who disciplines the kids? Do you have a date night? How often is it?

Notice that I am posing questions, not answers. The answers depend on the two people involved, their individual maturity, their maturity as a couple, and the present challenges they are facing together. Even answering the worldview question, “Are you egalitarian or traditional?” doesn’t steer your answers to the above questions as much as you might think (there is a third option by the way, complementarian).

Regardless of how you answer those questions, be sure that both of you have made your expectations clear. Once you can agree on reasonable expectations, there are numerous apps and other tools to help you communicate the nuts and bolts (just one app suggestion below).

Tools

  1. Rocking the Roles (book)
  2. Engendered (book)
  3. Cozi (calendar and to-do list app)

Marriage Maintenance for Parenting

I can’t seem to decide whether marriage or parenting is the hotter crucible for personal growth. Both present challenges to our individual maturity. Whether the main challenge is handling discipline, passing on values, or protecting your children from dumb choices, parenting is hard.

Tools

  1. Parenting with Love and Logic (book)
  2. Talking to your kids about sex (book). In a culture increasingly influenced by pornography, values around sexuality will be increasingly difficult to pass on to our children.
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Marriage Maintenance for Intimacy

Some people tend to read “intimacy” as a tasteful euphemism for sex. But there is a whole lot more to intimacy than just sex. There is intimacy on an emotional level (the premise of the first book listed below). There is intimacy on a spiritual level. And there is intimacy on a physical level.

Tools

  1. Real Marriage (book)
  2. We All Have Sexual Baggage (blog post)
  3. Talking to your kids about sex (book). The first few chapters deal with the sexual relationship between parents, and helpfully processing any painful parts of your past before you pass your own sexual shame down to your kids.

Marriage Maintenance for Growing in Your (Christian) Faith

There is a metaphor about this part of marriage that is just as true as it is cheezy. You, your spouse, and God are points on a triangle; the closer you both get to God, the closer you get to each other. Cheezy. True.

Tools

  1. The Bible (the best selling book of all time, and the best one you’ll ever read)
  2. Sacred Pathways and Sacred Marriage (books by the same author)
  3. Engendered (book)

Marriage Maintenance in Community

Add your voice in the comments below

  1. What do you think?
  2. Is there a layer of protection I left out?
  3. Is there a tool that has been especially helpful in your marriage?

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About the Author

I am a men's issues and marriage counselor in Vancouver, WA. I'm also the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of the Broken and a contributor to the Honorable Gentlemen project. I live to empower men to restore relationships.

  • Lance says:

    Absolutely. Some reading literature I’d add:
    “Love & Respect” by Emerson Eggerichs
    “Mingling of Souls” by Matt Chandler
    “Sex Begins in the Kitchen” by Kevin Leman

    For men: “Fathered by God” by John Eldredge

    My wife and I, once we got “serious” in our dating, then courting, then engagement, finally marriage, we prayed nightly together, no matter how short or long we had, we made time for prayer. There were some really rough nights where schedules barely matched, but we forced the time for it.
    Now 4.75 months into married life we still fight for that nightly time. But that’s one constant we keep going.
    Both of our Love Languages are Touch. We make sure to invest deeply in each other by stealing time to just cuddle.
    There’s a reason God says she’s now our life. Because we must continue pursuing her, until the day we die… This does not take God out of spot #1… It means we balance a very crazy spot called #1 held by God & our wife at a close 1.2…

  • Dan says:

    Those are indeed some excellent books. I believe Matt Chandler is doing a conference based on the Mingling of Souls.

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