The other night as we were finishing up our meal at a fast food restaurant, my germaphobic husband surprised me by feeding me ice cream straight out of his bowl. It was a small, seemingly insignificant gesture that made our tween daughter giggle, and our three-year-old demand a bite for himself.
But for me and Brian, the moment was a huge deal—a little bit of romance dished out in the middle of a typical Friday night at Chick-fil-A, and a reminder that even in the chaos of life, we can find a way to connect. It’s one of many little changes we’ve seen in our marriage over the past month since we attended a Marriage Encounter weekend.
In my last post, I shared how our marriage has been enriched by the support and encouragement from the other married couples we met that weekend. In addition to giving us hope, the experience also gave us a practical tool for improving our marital communication that has helped us draw closer to each other in ways we never expected.
Marriage Encounter is centered around teaching couples a specific communication tool, known as “Dialogue,” which involves setting aside 20 minutes a day to write down and share feelings through “love letters” (10 minutes for writing, 10 minutes for discussing). The goal is to help married couples learn to empathize with each other and to (hopefully) experience a deeper emotional bond. At the weekend, the host couples model the technique, and we practiced it during a series of sessions. Married couples are then sent home with a list of suggested questions and encouraged to try to dialogue every day for at least the next three months.
At first, both my husband and I were skeptical that this old-fashioned tool of handwriting letters in a notebook could actually help our marriage, especially since one of the rules is to avoid discussing problems and just focus on getting in touch with each other’s feelings. Throughout the weekend, when the hosts gave us another writing assignment, Brian would look at me with big eyes and whisper, “I can’t write another word!” In fact, the first day we had to share our letters with each other, we ended up in a horrible fight that left me in tears and Brian so frustrated he was ready to go home.
But we kept at it, and we left the weekend with a commitment to dialogue every night for at least the next 90 days. It’s now been two months, and it’s become a special time that we both look forward to each night. We’ve reconnected emotionally, spiritually, and physically, and we’ve drawn closer to God because we end each sharing session in prayer.
There are four ways this new form of communication has helped to strengthen our marriage.
1. It’s given us much-needed time to focus on just each other.
The routine of daily sharing has forced us to carve out time for our marriage, with no interruptions from the kids, work, TV, or social media. Before we started dialoguing, we spent most evenings on opposite ends of our sofa, with me finishing up some work and my husband dozing or watching TV. If we happened to have an argument that day, we’d often go to sleep without working things out, or worse, still mad at each other. Now, even if we have a disagreement, we manage to make up during the sharing process.
2. It’s helped us to remember.
Another way this daily sharing time has changed our marriage is by helping us recall things about each other that we’d forgotten in the daily chaos of family. I’ve discovered that my husband is pretty good at expressing his feelings on paper—much better than he is at saying them. And he can be pretty romantic, too! His nightly letters remind me of the literally hundreds of handwritten cards and notes he used to send me when we were dating. I married a romantic, and I’ve missed him.
3. It’s rekindled our passion for each other.
Perhaps the most surprising (and welcome) change is the impact the dialogue process has had on our sexual relationship. Yes, writing out our feelings and then sharing them has helped us reconnect at more than just an emotional level. In many ways, we feel like we are on an extended honeymoon that just keeps getting better. It has shown us how important communication is to every facet of a marriage relationship.
4. Finally, it’s renewed our confidence in each other and in our marriage.
Brian and I still are facing many of the same problems in our marriage (and life) that we were facing before we attended the marriage enrichment weekend. Our new nightly routine of sharing feelings and praying together has not erased the stresses we face each day, or the serious issues that we need to work out. But because we are more emotionally connected than we’ve been in years, those problems no longer frighten us or feel insurmountable. We feel more like a team, and are confident that we can handle our problems—together.