I met a young woman who was recently married and only after three months of marriage, her husband had to return to his home country to tend to an elder relative. She at that time was unable to accompany her husband due to immigration challenges. The couple had only been married for six months and suddenly found themselves in the same predicament as countless other couples who are married, but living geographically separate as a result of military, employment, sick relatives, etc. This can be a very emotional and trying situation. These couples need support, inspiration, and encouragement, particularly newlyweds facing this devastating during one of the most important times in a marriage – that first year.
The first year of marriage is exciting, yet challenging. It’s a time when two people are learning about one another and adjusting to living as a married couple. When that time of adjustment and getting to know each other is usurped by an unexpected need for one spouse to go away, thus causing a separation of the unit, this can cause some additional challenges of cleaving in marriage. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t despair, remember it is only temporary and there are many creative ways to keep the marriage bed hot and the adjustment period a little adventurous making for some wonderful long-term memories and a more solid union. Lay a foundation of communication and trust; love and patience; compassion and sensitivity; creativity and imagination. Climb that ladder of success by taking five critical steps necessary to establishing an unbreakable bond. It is also key, when children are involved, to include them in the process when appropriate and during times that are set aside specifically for them.
Five Critical Steps to Keeping Your Marriage Strong
Step 1 – Build Protective Hedges
Placing hedges of protection around your marriage is about setting healthy boundaries that keep those from the outside from sowing seeds of dissension knowingly or unknowingly and about helping to insulate you and your spouse while not isolating the two of you. Ways to protect your marriage, especially during a separation include:
- Keep the lines of communication open and practice transparency.
- Be honest about your fears, concerns, and how you’re feeling.
- Inform one another of your schedule and share any plans with each other.
- Take care to emotionally bond with your spouse making him/her the first person you share exciting news with, share concerns with, ask advice from, share important information with, laugh with, spend time with, etc.
- Avoid spending time alone with people of the opposite gender who are not relatives. For example consistent lunch at work, talking on the telephone or chatting via social media or texting, carpooling, play-dates or meet-ups. This sets up a scenario making emotional bonding possible with someone other than your spouse.
- Have each others back. Be a true friend to your spouse. Warn one another when someone is moving in too close. Discuss when uncomfortable situations arise and create a plan of action together to address them.
- Establish clear boundaries and discuss boundary issues with your spouse.
- Avoid going to clubs, bars, parties or other venues where alcohol is served as to impair judgment or minimize defenses. Also, avoid intimate social-settings, which place you in close proximity to the opposite gender.
Step 2 – Block Out Competing Forces For the Greater Good
- Blocking out competing forces for the greater good can sometimes be very difficult because often these competing forces manifest as a face that we know, love and trust. Long time friends, family members or associates sometimes in their effort to help may actually do more harm than good. Words carry weight and sometimes the weight might be too heavy compromising the integrity of the marriage, making it necessary to lighten the load. Some common scenarios include the following.
- A Friend or Mate – Your friend of many years asks you the question, “Are you sure he will be faithful to you?” or “What if you meet someone really handsome and kind?” These statements, while perhaps are not meant to be hurtful, are actually extremely dangerous to the marriage as it has the potential to set up doubt in the mind of one spouse toward the other. In the scenario of a geographical separation, in moments of loneliness or frustration, these little seemingly “harmless” seeds can take root in the mind of a spouse who at that moment may be struggling to cope. In this case, it is important to be firm, straightforward and possibly distance this person.
- Big Brother/Little Sister or the Home Girl/Homeboy – There is a pre-existing relationship built over time as a result of parents who were friends, you were neighbors, grew up together, or one guided the other (i.e. coach, teacher, trainer, minister, etc.). The relationship is familiar and there is a certain amount of trust and comfort. It appears to be a situation where he/she just wants to come and support your games, catch a movie, or meet at the mall. Nothing is really suspect and the constant presence of the person appears to be non-threatening. Yet, there is an undisclosed secret attraction of which you may not have been aware. Here, it is very important to establish healthy boundaries, not giving in to obligation of the relationship. A better understanding of leaving and cleaving is helpful.
- The Damsel in Distress – Women play this game with men (sometimes subconsciously) for emotional support and comfort. A woman being a damsel in distress is constantly seeking attention and comfort. She manifests herself in ways such as regularly needing advice around husband or boyfriend issues. Something always needs fixing in her home or she is always in need of help with something. Men love to be admired, appreciated and needed. They sincerely want to help, but the ‘Damsel in Distress’ has another agenda – to get closer to you or your spouse.
Step 3 – Enhance the Romance
- Have dinner dates and date nights with spouse via skype or other video calling methods.
- Play online computer games together such as chess, checkers, scrabble, etc.
- Send E-cards, love letters, emails.
- Send postal mail, locks of hair, and fragranced articles of clothing to make psychological connections and impressions in your spouse’s psyche.
- Call regularly and as often as possible as to imprint the voice of your spouse in the ear right to the heart
- Say I love you often and in as many ways as possible.
- Keep smiling at each other. Laugh together and have fun.
- Engage in creative intimacy (Pillow talk, love talk…use your imagination).
- Send photos, gifts, and care packages.
Step 4 – Institute Systems of Support
- Surround yourself with healthy and seasoned married couples, mature same gender friends and/or balanced relatives who can help provide a safe emotional environment to share concerns or challenges with.
- Start or attend a support group of other couples who are geographically separated and working to strengthen their marriage in order to help each other cope and offer healthy social outlet and activities.
- Get counseling if necessary to help cope with the separation.
- Spend time with relatives, no need to lock yourself up in a room or in the house; take up a hobby or skill.
Step 5 – Plan for the Reunion
- Plan activities to help the one who had to go away to get re-acclimated back at home.
- Plan dates which do not immediately involve sex.
- Have exciting welcome back surprises.
- Slowly close the space between the two of you. Remember, your spouse has been away for awhile, he/she will need time to re-adjust.
Your marriage is an investment. If you desire to get a return on your investment, do what any good investment broker would do – Protect your resources!