When a spouse decides the comfortable routine is no longer comfortable, suggesting change can lead to a retreat.
The word "retreat" is funny. Not like, “Ha! Ha!”, but funny like “Hmmm.” On the one hand retreat means to withdraw from an enemy either due to force, or for strategic reasons. On the other hand retreat can mean a place of refuge.
I saw a movie over the summer entitled Hope Springs. Nice title. It just gives me a good feeling when I think about hope springing. The movie starred Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. The pair play a mature, married couple named Kay and Arnold. Their children are grown and out of the house, and so it is just the two of them. And they are set. Set in their ways, I mean. Like so many of us married folks, Kay and Arnold have fallen into a routine that makes them more roommates than intimate partners. They go to work, they come home, they have dinner, he falls asleep in front of the TV as she cleans up, and the next day they start it all over again.
Now, we all know how they got to this place: They’ve spent a lifetime together, running. Running to work. Running kids to school, to birthday parties, to practices, to college. Running elderly parents to the hospital. Years of running, and now feeling too tired to give more than they already have. Let’s face it, we all may be just one back injury away from sleeping in separate rooms just like Kay and Arnold.
When we the audience meet this all-too-familiar couple, Arnold is apparently oblivious to any issues. And Kay is anxious to rekindle the flame, yet barely able to summon the courage to speak up. But they do love each other. For instance, Arnold gives Kay a peck on the cheek every day before heading off to work. And yet Kay is thinking, “Geez, what does a girl have to do to get a little action around here?”
One morning Kay informs Arnold that she would like to attend a "retreat" with a renowned marriage counselor (played by Steve Carell) in a fictitious place called Great Hope Springs, Maine. I can tell you without hesitation that Arnold, in that moment, is thinking Kay is the enemy and he must...RETREAT! But in a fabulously ScreamFree manner, Kay informs Arnold that she has paid for their retreat and she will be on that plane with or without him. I loved that part!
Well, of course, they both end up on the plane and meet with the counselor. They spend time together and push inward and outward on some of the boundaries that are separating them. Both Streep and Jones do a masterful job of portraying their characters and their respective foibles. At one point I had to cringe just thinking about a woman approximately my mother’s age doing whatever it takes to “please” her husband, but I also found myself laughing out loud and crying in parts as well. As an American-made film, the outcome, of course, is the happy ending we would all hope for.
Interestingly enough, I saw the movie without my husband. I just happened to be out of town overnight and figured that’s what I’d do with my time. Throughout the movie, and EVERY time I've thought about it since, it reminds me of one clear lesson: the easiest way to maintain the intimacy in my own marriage is to stay away from the slippery slope. Confront the comfortable routine.
If it has been a while since I’ve let my husband know that he is more than just my children’s daddy, I can take 20 seconds and give him a kiss to, you know, let him know.
Keeping my relationship with my husband in shape is much like keeping my body in shape. If I go a while without exercising certain muscles, it becomes more and more difficult to get them back working the way I’d like them to. Oh, my gosh, and then how big of an effort and how painful is that first day of working them out again? Oh, the lactic acid! But I digress.
Day after day without intimacy can create a chasm until eventually we look at our spouse and wonder “How did we get here?” And what can I do to get us back? Just like Kay and Arnold, we might be reluctant to confide our desires to the one person we want most to share those desires.
I’ll tell you, one day down the road when my children are grown, I do NOT want to be like Kay and Arnold. I do NOT want to have to figure out how to get back what we’ve lost. I plan to keep it--the intimacy, the openness, the willingness to be vulnerable and to express my truest desires--day after day, week after week and year after year. I plan every day (well, ok, every week) to think about and do my part that keeps IT going. A compliment, a caress, a lingering kiss, a lingering kiss that leads to more. Just something to let my husband know that while he would make a great roommate or business partner, I want to keep our relationship on a more intimate level.
So, be honest. Honestly look at your relationship right now. Do you see a chasm or the beginning of a chasm? Do you have the IT that you want to hold on to and nourish and grow?
What would happen if today you said to your spouse "I want us to go out to dinner," or "go out for a walk," or "sit and have a nice long talk about us," or *gulp* "go on a couples retreat?" I know you are probably thinking, like me, “There is no way my spouse would go on a retreat; we both saw the movie Couples Retreat.” Besides how could I ask my spouse? How will it be taken? What if he/she says "no"?
Well, maybe you'll have to be as bold as Kay, and become willing to go on that walk (or on that retreat) by yourself. But maybe, just maybe, you'll find out that your spouse cherishes your relationship as much as you do. Maybe, once you make your desires known, you'll find out that your spouse has been sharing the same thoughts, fears, and desires as you. And maybe, just maybe, your risky self-revelation will be the exact first step in giving your own relationship its own Hollywood ending.
Much thanks to Hal Runkel and Mike Meyer for remastering this article into its current, publishable form. - TM