I've mentioned a time or two in this column that I was a regular attendee of annual Smart Marriage conferences before they came to an end a few years ago. These conferences were held in various U.S. cities and always featured amazing keynote presentations and a plethora (I just love that word) of workshops. To be more specific, there were typically 13 keynotes by experts in various areas of marriage research, education or skills-building and 160 workshops from which I could choose to participate in only eight. It was glorious torture to whittle down my selections, but with so many from which to choose, I was always guaranteed to find one of value and importance to me, both personally and professionally.
A frequent presenter at these conferences, and one of my favorites, was Michelle Weiner-Davis, who titles herself a "Guerilla Divorce Buster." Michelle is the author of several books available through her website, www.divorcebusting.com, and numerous other outlets. I frequently recommend her book, "The Divorce Remedy," to folks who are facing a divorce not of their own choosing. This book provides wonderful advice on what to do and what not to do if one has any hope of maintaining the marriage.
Michelle has personally trained an army of marriage coaches around the country who are readily accessible by telephone to help folks in a troubled marriage get back to a happier state. She has also created audio and/or video seminars, one of which — "Keeping Love Alive" — I facilitated at the college several years ago.
What intrigues me most about Michelle's work is her emphasis on the importance of keeping fun in marriage. Her book, "Divorce Busting," goes into great detail about why this is essential to healthy marriage and gives sound advice on ways to make fun a regular component of the relationship. She strongly encourages couples who are in distress, and all couples for that matter, to remember the activities they engaged in when they were falling in love and to make time to do them again on a recurring basis. She is of the opinion that if couples will do the things they did at the beginning of their relationship they will often rekindle the love that was forming at that time.
Now I can't give you a guarantee that remembering the early days of your relationship and repeating them will automatically bring you back to a state of euphoric love. But it seems to me this Memorial Day weekend would be a wonderful opportunity to give it a shot. That is, of course, assuming the activities you engaged in were legal at the time and still are today.
If for some reason you cannot reproduce those early experiences, please consider beginning some new ones. If you're reading this early in the day, Riverfest is likely still in full operation and well worth the time and effort needed to participate. Just holding hands and being together by the river on a sunny warm day can help to keep your hearts warm toward each other. In fact, I saw an article recently that stated couples who sit together in their home and watch TV or a movie will realize as much benefit as going to a marriage counselor. I'm not saying I agree, but what do you have to lose by testing the theory?
I have another suggestion for you on this Memorial Day weekend. That is to remember the qualities of the person you chose to marry. Oftentimes couples will come to me because they have drifted apart in their relationship and don't feel as connected as they once did. I ask them to list for me the main areas of their marriage they consider to be broken and which they would like me to help them fix. This is not usually a difficult assignment as they have typically spent numerous hours dwelling on their grievances.
I also ask them to list the attributes of their mate that first attracted them to him or her and which they still admire today. This task takes some doing at times for this has not been a focus for them for some time. It's a tremendous joy to listen as they express to each other the positive qualities which they admire, respect and appreciate in each other. This certainly is not sufficient in and of itself to heal their marriage, but this exercise does serve as a good buffer against the negatives which have developed over the years.
My wife and I will on occasion play the "I Have a Memory" game in which one of us will think of a fun time from our past and the other has 20 questions with which to guess the memory. We try not to make this a win-lose competition, so hints are freely given. The point of the game is to relive the moment, at least in our memories, of a special time we experienced together.
A few years ago Mary LoVerde was the keynote speaker at the Four Corners Conference for Professional Development. She spoke of her experience compiling a "Memory Jar" for her mother in which she placed small strips of paper — each containing a memory of her childhood. She gave the jar to her mom with the instruction to read only one slip per day and to know how much she (Mary) appreciated what her mom had done for her. You can likely guess that the instruction to limit the reading to one per day was not followed. What joy the mother received from reliving cherished memories and what joy Mary had from bringing such smiles to her mother's face and heart.
If your parents are still with us you might want to consider visiting www.maryloverde.com for more specifics and suggestions on how to compile a memory jar for them. I'm thinking it might be a fun exercise for couples to take slips of paper and write on each one a cherished memory of a trip or event they shared which brought them great joy. They could then carve out some time together each week to dip into the jar and pull out a joyful memory. Why not give it a shot and let me know how it works for you?
I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and a lifetime of making wonderful and fun marriage memories.