Editor’s note: Join Ken and Cindy Robertson as they take you on the ultimate marriage cruise. Click here for more details.
As I was scrambling around for various bills that came through the mail a few days back, I stumbled across a typical piece of junk mail – one that I’d seen so many times before. The ad was from a “tune-up” car shop offering a free “5-Point Inspection” as part of their services, guaranteed to “make sure your car is in tip-top condition.”
As a psychologist who specializes in working with LDS couples, a thought came to me: I wonder how many couples need a 5-Point Inspection for their marriage? Even if they are not in serious trouble, maybe they could use a slight tune-up.
One of the many things that I have learned from my own marriage is how easy it is to lose sight of the things that provide preventative maintenance for marriages. Without regular upkeep, it’s only a matter of time before things start to break down and by then, what could have required just a small fix, might become a serious set of problems requiring major repairs.
The 5-Point Inspection for Marriage
How is your marriage doing? Let’s take a peek under the hood of your marriage and perform a 5-Point Inspection:
Point 1: Check your spiritual intimacy level to see if it needs filling.
If your spiritual intimacy reservoir is low, it can lead to serious companionship failure. Answer the following three questions as truthfully as you can:
True or False?
- My spouse and I read scriptures together regularly and enjoy discussing them.
- My spouse and I consistently pray together as a couple and share revelatory experiences.
- My spouse and I are committed to regularly attend the temple together and we do whatever it takes to make this happen.
If you answered one of these negatively, you may need some work on your spiritual intimacy.
Point 2: Inspect your spark plugs of affection to see if they are in good condition.
Try out these three True or False questions:
- My spouse gives me more than enough physical affection (hugs, cuddling, kissing, handholding – all without any expectation of sexual intimacy later).
- My spouse gives me more than enough symbolic affection (saying “I love you,” love notes, cards, flowers, baked gifts, opening doors, daily phone calls/emails, and so on).
- My spouse helps me feel adored and cared about.
- A negative answer to one of these could mean some repair is needed. Take a look at an enrichment opportunity!
Point 3: Check the timing of your “Play” to ensure it’s running well.
Three more True or False questions:
- My spouse and I have weekly play time together. almost always.
- When we play together, we both seem to really enjoy each other!
- When we’re playing together, we are more affectionate than normal.
One false answer here and you could be looking at possible “stalling” in your marriage. Do I see an enrichment experience in your future?
Point 4: Listen to hear if your “Problem Ignition” starts out soft and gentle.
Check these questions:
- When either one of us approaches the other to share a problem, we begin with a calm voice.
- When either one of us approaches the other to share a problem, we are not critical or “parent-like” to each other.
- When either one of us approaches the other to share a problem, we start by trying to share responsibility for the problem, even if it looks completely like our partner’s fault.
If you answer false to anything here, your marriage engine is probably running way too loud. It may be time for some minor repairs through an enrichment experience.
Point 5: Inspect your “sexual fulfillment” tires for wear or punctures.
One last set of questions:
- We both consider each other to be kind and considerate sexual partners.
- Both my spouse and I really enjoy our sexual intimacy together.
- My spouse and I are comfortable talking to each other privately about our sexual lives together.
False answers here reflect the need to patch things up or maybe even “reinvent the wheel” of your sexual intimacy together. An enrichment seminar may give you some direction on how to proceed.
Now let’s see how you scored.
OK – I passed the inspection. Our marriage is great!
Fantastic! But just because your marriage is great now, doesn’t mean you don’t have to work to keep it that way. Many couples find opportunities to enrich their marriage – not only to improve, but also to reinforce the positives that already exist in their marriages. Keep your eyes on the lookout for “enrichment opportunities.” Most couples report that they “stumbled upon” a great experience while doing something else.
For example, if you’re planning on attending some kind of LDS-based conference (like Education Week), take note of the topics. There will probably be at least one thing that addresses marriage. If you find it, be sure you go to it together as a couple. Having one partner attend to take notes and report back to the other later usually isn’t as effective as having both attending at the same time.
Ouch! I think we need help!
Never fear. Just the fact that you know your marriage could use some improvement and that you’re willing to do what it takes is a big step.
First of all, the advice given to people who passed the inspection goes double for you. You need to find something to help you and your spouse – pronto. One option may be a marriage enrichment seminar. Marriage enrichment is a term used to describe a seminar experience that is intended to help couples strengthen their marriages. These can last from a few hours to days, depending on the program being offered. Unlike couples counseling or therapy, marriage enrichment is more educational in nature, with less disclosure and more emphasis on learning skills than on exploring one’s deeper self. As a consequence, it is less threatening, usually interesting to both spouses, and hopefully, fun as well. As one “Magnify Your Marriage” participant put it after attending a seminar experience, “It’s kind of like EFY (Especially for Youth) for couples!”
Marriage enrichment programs have been around for awhile, and there is research evidence that couples have better marriage satisfaction as a result of attending such programs. Some programs, like PREP (Prevention & Relationship Enhancement Program), actually originated from research studies.
There are several marriage enrichment programs that are faith-based in nature. One of the earliest and most well-known, “Marriage Encounter,” has been adapted to several different faiths, including Judaism, Methodist, and Catholic. Since its inception in the early 70s, many other marriage enrichment programs have sprung up that seek to combine a couple’s spiritual life with a training experience.
Within the LDS community, couples have a few options as well. The Church has created the Family Relations course as an optional Sunday school class. Although this is not exactly a seminar experience, the material is excellent and if properly taught and applied, can help couples tremendously. In addition, LDS Family Services has a course for couples, offered as a weekly series of meetings that teaches couples important skills and concepts for improving their marriage.
In addition to church-sponsored programs, there are several LDS speakers and professionals that provide presentations designed to enrich marriages. Often, these appear as speakers at certain events such as “Know Your Religion” or special conferences and seminars.
There are even speakers and presenters who have combined presentations in special settings such as cruises for couples. For instance, LDS “Magnify Your Marriage” enrichments are available as a full day seminar, overnight hotel retreat, or 7-day “Book of Mormon Lands” cruise.
If you would like to attend a marriage enrichment program or seminar, try using the internet or talking to friends. Like everything else on the internet, you must be a cautious consumer. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you look at various programs that may be out there:
- Does it respect my values as a Latter-day Saint?
- Does the program address spirituality in any way?
- Are you comfortable with the amount of self-disclosure that may be required? (This varies widely.)
- Does it promote inappropriate sharing with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse?
- Does it recognize that being “brutally honest” is nothing more than being brutal?
- What kind of training has the trainer received?
- Is it entertaining (does it capture your interest)?
- Does someone you know recommend it?
Your marriage is the most important earthly relationship that you have. It deserves to be pampered and strengthened whenever possible. Good marriage enrichment programs can be a great resource to help a couple do exactly that. And these programs can perform a great service. Consider this excerpt from the “Forever Families” website sponsored by the Brigham Young University School of Family Life. It comes from an article called “Strengthening Marriage through Marriage Enrichment Programs – LDS Perspective”:
LDS couples stand to benefit greatly from participation in marriage enrichment programs. However, few couples take the opportunity. Why is this so? Some may believe that LDS couples don’t need such a program. All they need to do is live the gospel the best they can.
However, two recent national studies showed no differences in the rate of divorce between LDS and non-LDS couples. Even temple married couples are at greater risk today than in times past.
No matter what path you take to strengthen your relationship with your spouse, it is important that you do something to protect this eternal union. Enjoy your marriage!