Society will tell you that marriage is the finish line… but in reality, it’s just the beginning. Too many of today’s marriages suffer from neglect (and, in turn, disconnection) because we place our marriages on a shelf, expecting them to last through the ages without proper attention and care.
In this episode, I share some of my best practices for regular relationship “upkeep” to repair and maintain your bond across the decades. You might be amazed at your relationship’s potential once it’s being regularly prioritized and nurtured!
Listen to the Full Episode:
What You’ll Learn In This Episode:
- What happens to your marriage the moment you “put it on a shelf”
- How to add structure & process to your marriage (this may not sound romantic, but it could change everything for your bond)
- How to rebuild intimate connection between you and your spouse (in just 5-10 minutes a day)
Featured On The Show:
Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?
Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.
“Welcome to The Loving Truth podcast, where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert and certified master life coach: Sharon Pope.
“Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope and this is The Loving Truth. So today we are going to be talking about how we put our marriages on a shelf and the damage that that's causing to our relationships.
“Now I wanna explain to you what I mean by putting your marriage on a shelf. But before I do that, I first wanna say almost every single couple on the planet does this to some degree. And every single time we do it for an extended period of time, it will create some amount of disconnection between the two people inside the relationship. Okay?
“So if you find yourself in some of the things that I'm talking about in some of the stories that I'm gonna tell you, don't beat yourself up about it. Know that everybody does it. But once you become conscious of something… well, now you have the opportunity to change it. Okay? So what am I talking about when I talk about putting a marriage on a shelf?
“I want you to for a second, go back to the time in your life before you ever met your spouse. I'm gonna make something up here, but let's say you were in your twenties or maybe your thirties and you were thinking about the things that you wanted to create or the things that you wanted to accomplish in your life.
“And that could be career, that could be a business, that could be a family, it could be marriage, it could be owning a home. It can be a lot of different things, right? But those are probably the most common things. And almost everyone on the planet wants to find their person that they can love for the entirety of their lives.
“Cuz that's what we've sort of bought into. So marriage seems like a very reasonable next step in your life at some point. And we look for in that person things like shared values, someone who wants similar things that we want, and someone that can make us laugh or smile, or that we can have fun together [with], right? And so when we're younger and we find that person, then we start making plans for marriage. And then we plan the wedding, we have the wedding, we have champagne and toasts, and we wish the couple well, and then… I want you to think about this.
“I feel like so many people walk down the aisle and they check the box as if they've just accomplished something. Like, ‘Oh, I've gotten that thing that I wanted in my life, right?’ Like, we may not say those words, but there's an air of that in our actions and in our thoughts. And what nobody tells us is that it's not a finish line. You didn't just accomplish anything.
“You're at the starting gate for what will be - doesn't matter how amazing your partner is - will be a very difficult walk forward at times. It's gonna be a difficult relationship to navigate. And that's because that’s the nature of a close relationship like that, where you are going to be in close, intimate proximity with another human being who knows all of your triggers, who knows you very well. And they have all the things that they want and need, and you all have all the things that you want and need in your life. And sometimes those are competing priorities. And you are in close proximity with one another, close and personal for, I don't know, three, four, five, six decades together.
“That's why I say there's going to be challenges; there's going to be lots of joys, and there's going to be challenges. And I don't think anyone is delusional about that. I just think that we focus on what we wanna accomplish or where there's a problem. And early on in our marriages, there are not a lot of problems usually. So that's when we put the marriage over here on this nice little shelf.
“And then what we do, and this is the hard part, this is the part that creates all the problems, is that then we sort of turn our attention away from it, and we then pour all of our time, energy, love and attention into what we want to create next. And for some people, that's a business or a career. And for some people, it's a family and a home. And there's no right or wrong answer. But the problem is that nothing thrives when you turn your back to it. Okay?
“I'm gonna tell you a story about a client of mine. I'm going to refer to her as Allie - that is obviously not her name. And almost anyone can find themselves in some version of this story. She and her husband had met in college, and they had a great time together, and they had similar values, and they both wanted a big family and all of that sort of stuff. And so after college, they moved to a new city together. And that was kind of fun and adventurous because they were exploring that new city. They both got new jobs, they're starting out in their careers, so they're already surrounded by a good deal of things to keep their interest and points of connection for the two of them.
“So then they're living together in this new city. And the next logical step is he proposes, she says yes, they get married, everyone toasts. And they spent the first few years still really enjoying each other. But because he started having some real success in his career (he was a corporate attorney of some kind)... that's where a lot of his time and attention went to. He was working lots of hours and even would bring work home. He started to become consumed in his work. And while she also had a career at that time, as soon as they had their first child together, they did make the conscious choice that she was gonna stay home with the kids. Nothing wrong with that. And then on the heels of that, they had two other children. So you know, inside of ten years, the first ten years of their marriage, now they've got three kids, a big job and career, and lots of responsibility in a home and all that sort of stuff.
And they just put their marriage on a shelf because there wasn't a lot wrong with it. And they were both super busy, and they just assumed that this is how it's supposed to be, right? And when you have three kids, then of course you're going to have to pour a lot of your love, time, attention, and energy into those kids.
“But I always say nothing thrives when you turn your back on it. Okay? I don't care if we're talking about a child, I don't care if we're talking about a house plant, and I don't care if we're talking about your marriage, right? We would never take a house plant, put it in a dark corner, never water it, not even speak to it, like pay it no attention, and expect that it's going to magically thrive, right? We would never have a child and give birth to a child and go, ‘Well, my work is done here. I'm all done.’ Like, we would never do that. We know that the easiest time of having a child is just the nine months of that gestational period. After that baby's born, that's when the work begins, right? And it's the same thing inside of our marriages.. getting married was easy, falling in love, that's easy right now. The work begins now. Now this is where things get real, right? And so when we turn our backs to it, it's not going to thrive. It's not gonna just automatically do really well on its own.
“So here are the things I want you to think about. I want you to think about, first of all, marriage is not an accomplishment. It's not a box that we check where we're like, ‘Oh, now I did that. Now I go focus on the next box that I wanna check.’ It is an investment that needs tended to; someone needs to be paying attention to it. And ideally, both of you.
“It's not a finish line; it's a starting line, is what marriage really is. Nothing thrives when you turn your back to it. And this is the part that I wanna share with you and give you some real tools so that you can take the marriage off the shelf and really start paying attention to it a little bit more.
“And that is adding process to your marriage. Now I know you're like, ‘Wait, what process? What are you talking about?’ Look, if you were running a business, let's say you're an entrepreneur, you would never not have any processes. Like how would the marketing team know what the sales team needs? How would finance know what's happening from a management perspective? Or how would operations know what the heck they should be doing if they never spoke to anyone in any other department? Right? So we would never do that in a business. And so we need some structure. If you don't like the word process, think of it as structure around making sure that the two of you stay connected, right?
“If you think of the marriage as the foundation of a house, if we use the metaphor of a house, the marriage is the foundation and everything we build on top of that, including a house, kids careers, all that stuff, is built on that foundation. But we don't pay a lot of attention to that foundation, right? We just assume it's gonna be solid, it's gonna be good.
“The problem is that once it starts having cracks in it, now everything else is compromised. Everything we built on top of that house gets compromised. And so we've gotta start paying more attention to the foundation of our family and our lives, which for many of us begins with our marriage. Okay?
“So what is this process I speak of? I wanna give you some things to think about.
“Now, one of the things that I teach in my programs is a process that I call the state of the union. And there are three different elements to it. One is a daily touch base, and it's like five or ten minutes, but it's the same questions every single day. And I give my clients these questions. But for instance, one of those questions might just be, ‘What's the main priority on your day? Is there anything you're worried about? Is there anywhere that I can support you?’ Those could be questions for the daily check-in. That's five or ten minutes between you and your partner.
“Then there's a weekly check-in, and that one's more like thirty minutes to forty-five minutes. Now, this is the place where you might have the opportunity there to talk about if there's been a struggle this week inside your relationship. Like was there anywhere this week that you felt triggered or uncomfortable in your relationship? And here's why this is so important, is that when you have a carved out time - and it has to be scheduled time, right? This is just like you'd have a meeting on the calendar; there's a team meeting, there's a staff meeting, you have a marriage meeting. And for thirty or forty-five minutes you have these very specific questions you would go through.
“But let's say that you asked one of the questions, which is, ‘Where's someplace that you felt challenged in our relationship this week?’ And some weeks there's gonna be like nothing. I felt like we were good. And other weeks you're gonna hear some things that maybe your spouse shut down from and they didn't wanna bring up cause they didn't know how to bring it up or
they didn't know how to do it in the moment. And what I can tell you is that, let's say that you get really hacked off by your partner, okay? And you're stewing about it. And then you go to them and you're like, ‘Look, we need to talk. We have some things we need to talk about.’
“So first of all, that never goes well, but imagine that now you have a forum, like let's say it's Sunday afternoons or every Sunday you two go to brunch together, something like that. And now there's a forum where you know, ‘This is the place where I bring that up.’ What I can tell you is that when the issue happened on Tuesday and you're not meeting about your relationship until Sunday, that problem morphs and changes and in many ways might soften over that timeframe. And so the way that you're gonna approach that on your Sunday conversation is probably going to look and sound very different than the way you would've approached it on your Tuesday conversation in the moment when emotions were high and you were feeling triggered, right?
“So there's a daily process, there's a weekly, and then there's a monthly, and the monthly one is longer. It's gonna be more like an hour to ninety minutes that you're gonna spend together. And there are very specific questions that you're going to do in that process. So I know that this doesn't sound like fun. You're probably like, wait a minute, structure in a marriage, why would we need that? All I can tell you is that it calms the chaos and gives the two of you a space to connect, to focus on the foundation of that house. Okay?
“Now here's a few other things that you can do in this regard to not put your marriage on a shelf - or if it's been on a shelf, to take it off the shelf, dust it off, spruce it up a little bit and give it some love and attention. So another one is what I would call the one by one by one, okay? And so here's what I mean. Once a week, you have one hour alone together. This is not watching television, this is not in your cell phones, okay? This is the two of you taking a walk together, going for a drive together, going on a date together. Just something like anything that feels fun for the two of you to be able to connect and be able to talk. And sometimes that shoulder to shoulder, the walking or the driving, sometimes can feel easier than the face-to-face. Okay? So once a week you're gonna spend at least an hour together.
“Then once every three months, you're gonna go away for the weekend. Now, don't overthink this; you don't have to travel across the country. You can, if you live in the suburbs, go to a downtown hotel for one overnight or two overnights. If there's a casino and you like to gamble, if there's a great restaurant that you've wanted to try out but it's an hour away, whatever, but it gives you something to plan together and then something to show up for when there's not a lot of other distractions. So it's taking you out of your day-to-day, of all the soccer games and all the things that have to be done around the house, all the stressors of life, and just gives the two of you some space. And you don't have to overthink this and you don't have to make it a big deal, and it doesn't have to be expensive, okay? You can go camping or whatever you want. Okay?
“So then the next process I wanna tell you about is what I call one by one by one, okay? And so what this means is once a week you're gonna spend at least one hour together as a couple. You're not watching television, you're not in your cell phones, you are spending time together, right? That can be taking a hike, it can be taking a drive, it can be having dinner together, but you have someplace where the two of you can actually spend time together and communicate with one another. Okay?
“Then the next thing is once every three months, you're gonna spend one weekend away together. Now, a weekend can be one overnight in two days, it can be two overnights in three days, right? Like there are no hard and fast rules, but every three months you're going to get away together. And why do we do that? You do that because you are taking yourself out of your day-to-day, busy, stressful hustle of life and having that space for the two of you to be able to connect in a new way. Plus the planning of it is half the fun, because then you get to think about, ‘Well, where do we wanna go next? And where do we wanna stay and what place do we wanna go eat at? Or what do we wanna see in that city?’ The planning of it can be just as much a connection point as going to the place for the weekend.
“And then the last piece is once a year you're going to spend one week together somewhere by yourselves. This is not like bring along the entire family, it's not even bring along the kids. It's not either going along on a couple's trip that's different, that's fun. I'm not saying don't do those things, but don't count it as your one week away where you are saying this, this marriage, this person, this human being I'm walking beside on this planet, this is important enough for me to take myself out of the things that I have to do so that I can invest in this thing that is really important to me.
“So that's the one by one by one, okay? Once a week, one hour once every three months, a weekend away, and once a year one week together, okay? Now adding process and structure to your marriage, I know it probably doesn't sound super sexy or spontaneous or maybe even adventurous, but what I can tell you is it will quiet the drama, it will quiet the noise, it will give the two of you a space to be able to talk so that you're not having so many of these like knee jerk things every time we're triggered or we get angry with each other. So I always say, you wouldn't run a business without ever having a team meeting. You shouldn't run a marriage without ever having a team meeting of the leadership involved, right?
“So the other thing I will tell you before I sign off about this, the last piece of this is that these processes, whichever one you choose to do, it's fine. Anything is fine, honestly, anything that you choose, even a little piece of it is better than what's being done today, which is probably nothing.
“And that is, don't blow it off, whatever process you choose. Let's say you just wanna do the weekly check-in and you're gonna spend thirty to forty-five minutes together every Sunday morning enjoying your coffee and asking each other these questions; that's amazing. Don't blow it off. ‘Oh, you know, I did so much yard work yesterday, I'm just tired, I just wanna sleep in’ or ‘You know, I have a sore throat so I'm just not feeling good, so we're not gonna do it today.’ No. Look, we show up for our kids, don't we? Like if they have a soccer game or they have school, or they have an exam or they need something, we make sure they get it, because that's who we want to be as a mother or a father.
“We've got to apply that same mentality to this. Our marriage shouldn't be an option that's available to us when we have the time and energy left after we've given everything else we've got to all the other things in our lives, like kids, jobs, all that are also important. But when we give so much in so many other ways, of course there's not much left in the tank at the end of the day. And so we gotta reserve a little bit, we gotta leave a little reserve to make sure that we can get back home [with gas] in the tank, right? We don't just drive the car till we're on empty. We pay attention to it and go, ‘Okay, now I might need to pump the brakes.’
“So for instance, I'll give you an example. A client recently told me they were supposed to go out to dinner and they were both looking forward to it, but it was a Saturday and that Saturday they were both super busy, so she was running crazy with the kids to soccer games and grocery shopping and cleaning the house, and he was outside doing a ton of yard work, and about four or five o'clock when they were supposed to start getting ready for their date, they were both just exhausted. And so then guess what? They didn't go out on their date. They had just a normal night at home. Like it would be a Tuesday night. You know, the kids were there and they're watching TV and she's doing other things in the kitchen, so they had no opportunity to connect.
“You can't do that. This is sacred space. Whatever process you choose, consider it sacred space, consider it the same level of importance as your kid's school. You'd never be like, ‘You know what? I'm just too tired to take you to school today.’ We would never do that, so we can't do it here either.
“Okay? I hope that that was helpful for you. If you have found that you have inadvertently put your marriage on a shelf because no one ever told you that that's a thing and that you shouldn't do it and it's going to cause problems, I get it. But maybe it's time to dust it off, and maybe now is the perfect time to add some structure around it to make sure that you and your partner, the person you've chosen to walk this life beside, stay connected even in the busy and craziness of life.
“All right, I'll see you next week. Until then, take good care.
“If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth and Clarity session with a member of my team.
“On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage. Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now. That's clarityformymarriage.com.”