Continuing Courtship Through the Years

What is entropy? No, this isn’t a physical science course. But it may surprise you to learn that this concept has application in marriage. A good definition of entropy is the tendency of a physical system to lose energy and coherence over time, such as a gas that expands and dissipates until there is little trace left.How does this apply in marriage? Many couples permit their marriages to become stale and their love to erode away. Marriage scholar William Doherty commented about the entropic couple, who, through lack of attention to its inner life, gradually loses a sense of cohesion over the years. Couples gradually drift apart because they lack infusions of bonding and intimacy.

How does a couple keep their marriage “entropy-resistant” through the years? Keep your courtship alive. Too many couples view marriage as the end of courtship when, instead, it’s just the beginning of what can be an ever-deepening relationship.

What are some things couples can do to keep their courtship alive through the years?

Be intentional. Couples who are continuing courtship have rituals that bring them together often. Here are three kinds of rituals suggested by Doherty in his book, The Intentional Family:

Connection rituals (Comings and goings, rising and retiring, get-aways, etc.). One couple never let a day pass without kissing each other goodbye in the morning and hello in the evening. Another couple spends 20 minutes each morning cuddling before getting out of bed.

Love rituals (Weekly dates, sexual relations, anniversaries.)

Celebration rituals (birthdays, special events in partner’s life)

Avoid ruts. Sometimes entropy sets in simply because we can’t think of anything interesting or fun to do together, but do the same old thing. There are many different activities we can do to continue courtship: things that we do for our spouse, and things that we can do together. For example, we can put a love note in our spouse’s lunch or briefcase, run errands for our spouse, or write a love letter to him or her. Together, we can cuddle, hold hands, or sit down for breakfast some mornings. See Gottman’s book, The Relationship Cure, for many more ideas.

Invest an extra five hours to your marriage each week. In John Gottman’s studies of couples who attended his Seattle-based workshops, couples who devoted five extra hours a week to their marriage reported having a better relationship. During these five hours, couples primarily attended to four things: learning about each other’s life that day; having a stress-reducing conversation at the end of each day; doing something every day to express genuine affection and appreciation; and having a weekly date together.

For Further Reading:

The Great Marriage Tune-Up Book by Jeffry H. Larson. A handbook for married couples to review the strengths and challenges in their relationship, and set goals for continued improvement.

The Relationship Cure, by John Gottman. Based on a 5-step program for building relationships in all areas, full of exercises and activities.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman. A highly readable guide full of exercises for using the principles, by one of the leading relationship scholars.

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, by John Gottman. An important feature of this book is the understanding that marriages succeed to the degree they are able to handle the disagreements that occur in any relationship.

Fighting for Your Marriage, by Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg. Based on leading research, contains many practical exercises for couples to use to handle differences and build marriage strengths.

Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness by Blaine J. Fowers. Insightful book about the importance of values in sustaining marriage.

Take Back Your Marriage by William J. Doherty. Many good ideas for protecting your marriage from outside demands.

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage by Michele Weiner-Davis. Divorce is often a poor solution to marriage problems.

Additional Websites

Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service Website – The Marriage Garden