When you first start out dating, and then in the early stages of marriage, most of the relationship is automatic. You are running off of emotions and hormones that drive each of you to be nice, be considerate, spend time together, and tend to one another. But eventually, marriage happens, life kicks in, kids come along and things change.
Most people think that the early stages of love—that chemically induced time of bliss and ease—will continue indefinitely. After all, they are “in love” and have found “the one” that will make the rest of their days as euphoric as the honeymoon phase.
But that’s not the way it works. The reality is this automatic phase is short-term (lasting six months to a couple of years) and when it fades away your marriage and your sex life must happen on purpose. You have date night on purpose. You plan to have sex on purpose. You make time for each other on purpose. Couples who don’t make the transition from automatic to intentional have marriages that suffer the most.
This is especially true when you become new parents. Now there is this new little creature that has come into your lives who consumes inordinate amounts of time and energy. Add another child or two and it’s easy to see how the auto-pilot can fly out the window. Couples start to struggle during this season of new responsibility because things aren’t as easy as they once were. They don’t have the time or they are too tired and often this is when husbands and wives will begin to think that the marriage isn’t working, or that it’s over.
This is a huge mistake to make. It’s not over, you just need to make the shift to being intentional in marriage and sex. In the real world and in the world of parenting the difference between couples who make it and those who don’t is intentionality. Parenthood means that your relationship doesn’t “just happen”, you make it happen. No one does automatic for a life time, it’s just not possible. Often when things change, people freak out. If pastors, mentors and counselors could get couples to understand and anticipate the change, to teach them to expect the unexpected, millions of marriages would be far better off.
I am a strong advocate for premarital education or coaching, yet it’s impossible at that time for couples to really grasp all they need to know about this crazy thing called marriage. It’s like trying to explain advanced mathematics to a drunk sitting in a bar! He may say, “Oh, sure I understand your theories and what you are saying!” when he actually has no clue and cannot possibly get it.
That’s why pastors and marriage mentors need to shift from putting all of their eggs in the basket of premarital instruction. Three sessions prior to the wedding just isn’t effective. They need to put in place a system of check points down the road when they get to the six month and one year marks. When the first child comes along or successive children join the brood, now you have the teaching moment and the information is going to be heard. I recommend a yearly check-in for the first five years of a marriage.
That’s why it’s so important for couples to be part of a church where you can do life together…not just have a moment. The wedding ceremony is a moment, but marriage is a lifetime and we need to be there to help young couples do life right, to help them make this transition from automatic to intentional.
It’s like driving a slick modern car with smooth automatic transmission…pretty easy! But then you have to change and go to a manual clutch, like a semi truck with 16 gears, it’s still fun, but it’s not automatic. You have to shift the gears to drive that vehicle on purpose. It’s still fun to drive the truck, just different. Likewise, marriage is still great, but when automatic stops and real life kicks in, you must learn to be intentional, spend time together, have sex and live life together on purpose.