“Cold Gravy or Cherry Pie: Keeping the Romance in Marriage,” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 9
They had just returned from an early-evening ride when I talked to them on the phone. She told me about the gorgeous, cloudless sunset, the vanilla ice cream cones, the vacation plans. Their two children, both under two years old, had fallen asleep in the car, and she and her husband had enjoyed a good talk.
“How do I know he loves me?” she mused. “Because right now he’s washing the dirty diapers!”
I called another friend. He was babysitting while his wife was at a ballet class. “She thinks I’m sweet for encouraging her to take the class and for babysitting while she’s gone. But she’s the sweet one. In return I get a cherry pie (she picked the cherries this morning) and a wife who’s physically fit.”
These two couples demonstrate a principle taught by numerous Church leaders: that marriage isn’t the end of romance; it’s only the beginning of an eternal courtship.
“Love is like a flower, and, like the body, it needs constant feeding. The mortal body would soon be emaciated and die if there were not frequent feedings. The tender flower would wither and die without food and water. And so love, also, cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, pp. 22–23)
We all need constant assurance that we are loved. This assurance can come in many ways—verbal or written expressions, impromptu gifts, acts of courtesy and consideration, time together. It’s important to remember that it isn’t necessarily the big things that enrich marriage. “In the enriching of marriage, the big things are the little things,” says Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve. (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 11)
“There must be continued courting and expressions of affection, kindness, and consideration to keep love alive and growing.” (Kimball, p. 17.)
Barbara Ellingson of Salt Lake City says that her husband, John, tells her daily that he loves her. It’s become more than just a habit or a ritual. Once when a teenage son was slightly disrespectful, Brother Ellingson took him aside and said, “How would you like it if I insulted your girlfriend when you bring her over? Your mother is my best girl and I don’t want you to treat her like that again!” It worked, says Sister Ellingson. “And you know, I can hurdle over any problem during the day as long as he lets me know I’m still his ‘best girl.’”
David H. Coombs of Irvine, California, says the most important message he communicates to his wife, Marva, is that he loves her and that she is more important to him than anybody else. “I want her to feel cherished, special, and feminine, and I do this best by saying frequently, ‘I love you,’ or ‘I thank the Lord daily for you.’”
“Recently my wife and I were playing with our six children at the park,” he says, “and when I looked over at her while she was swinging our four year-old, I was filled with warm, tender feelings for her. I wondered if I could qualify to have such a special woman forever. So I expressed to her the feelings I was having. I’m glad I did. If I had kept those feelings to myself, I would have robbed us both of a sweet, romantic moment.”
Sometimes love, appreciation, and encouragement come in written instead of verbal form. I remember trudging home from the library late one night after a discouraging day of attempting to write my thesis. Our porch light was the only one still on in the neighborhood, and as I approached the house, I could see something white attached to the door. It was a note from my wife, Mary, who had already gone to bed. It contained no Shakespearean sonnet, no profound expressions of adoration, not even any gushy sentiment. Just a simple “I love you” and a word of encouragement and appreciation. But it was enough to put the world back into perspective.
Some wives put notes in their husband’s shirt pockets or socks while they’re ironing and folding clothes. Kathryn Chidester of Bountiful, Utah, sends a love note with her husband’s lunch, and he calls her from work to let her know he’s thinking of her. Sister Ellingson puts a note in her husband’s suitcase when she doesn’t accompany him on out-of-town trips. And even after being married more than thirty-five years, she still often discovers during the day a note he has left for her on her pillow, on the night stand, or in the medicine cabinet by her toothbrush.
“How long has it been since you husbands or wives purchased an inexpensive gift as a surprise for your spouse for no other reason than just to please? How long has it been since you brought home a rose or baked a pie with a heart carved in the crust or did some other thing to make life more aglow with warmth and affection?” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 113)
I was in a department store once with my brother, Ron, when he spotted a rack of felt-tip markers. We were just leaving the store; it was late; we were in a hurry to get home. But he stopped, examined the packages, chose one with eight colors, and headed for the cash register. I could tell he was pleased, but he apologized to me: “Debbie has wanted a set of these for a long time. I think she’ll be excited.” The cost? $1.39 plus tax. They were on sale.
Little gifts, though inexpensive, demonstrate that you’ve been thinking about each other during the day. Some husbands take their wives flowers once in a while. Gary Blackner of Tacoma, Washington, takes home candy bars “because my wife likes candy bars better than flowers.” Vicki Hilton of Urbana, Illinois, looks through her cookbook every once in a while for new recipes her husband, Court, might like.
Some gifts aren’t tangible objects, but their spontaneity and sincerity demonstrate affection. “I love to surprise my wife by organizing the forces of our six children to clean the house before she returns from the store,” says Brother Coombs. Other husbands like to herd everybody into the car and, without telling wife or children where they’re going, head for the mountains or the park or the ice cream parlor.
“Let us teach our young men to enter into matrimony with the idea that each will be just as courteous and considerate of a wife after the ceremony as during courtship. … Let them remember that gentleness and consideration after the ceremony is just as appropriate and necessary and beautiful as gentleness and consideration before the wedding.” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: The Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 471–72)
Part of being considerate is being punctual. Meetings, appointments, and busy schedules make it easy to put each other last. If commitments conflict, it is easy to say, “She’ll understand. I’ll call her and tell her I’ll be late.”
My father-in-law gave me kind counsel when he accurately perceived that I needed to hear it. “Appointments with your wife are sacred,” he said, “and it’s just as bad, or worse, to be late to a meeting with her as it is to be late to sacrament meeting.” In my efforts to avoid inconveniencing others, I had been inconveniencing the one I should have been most concerned about.
Chivalry is not outdated. And it’s not confined to courtship. After babies start coming, however, it’s easy to forget little acts of courtesy when the kitchen or dining room is cluttered with highchairs and the car is stuffed with kids and carseats. At mealtime, it may seem too much trouble for a husband to hold his wife’s chair for her when she finally does come to the table. Arriving at church, it may seem too much trouble to open her door and to hold the baby while she gets out of the car. But it shouldn’t be too much trouble—the rewards of courtesy are worth the effort.
Consideration doesn’t end when babies grow up, either. When Elizabeth Sorenson of Salt Lake City was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, she found it impossible to eat the food the hospital provided her. “I’m not complaining,” she insists. “They tried to please me. But I just couldn’t eat it.” So her husband, Isaac, knowing her well after fifty years of married life, took her warm toast wrapped in aluminum foil and a small serving of home-bottled fruit. “He knew that’s just what I needed. Only he would have thought to take me that.”
“Surely the same qualities and traits in you that first attracted him are just as important in married life in keeping alive the flame of his affection and romantic desire.” (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, p. 173–74)
John D. Shepherd, area director of Northern Virginia Seminaries and Institutes of Religion and a professional counselor, suggests that a good way to continue or to renew courtship in marriage is to make a list of the qualities or traits in your partner that attracted you, and then list the qualities that you think attracted him or her to you. Then share these lists with each other. Along with reviewing the personality and character traits that you admired during courtship, he recommends looking back at old courtship snapshots together and reviewing past positive courting experiences. Then go out together and enjoy some of the same fun times you used to share.
“For example,” says Brother Shepherd, “we enjoyed courting on the dance floors at college, and so now a special time for us is to go to a place where we can eat to music and dance to the big-band sound.”
Other couples enjoy trying out new activities and setting new traditions.
“Early in our married life,” says Dale Kirby of Klamath Falls, Oregon, “I often heard President David O. McKay talk about the importance of continued romance in marriage, which seemed to be an exciting idea.” So the Kirbys began a tradition of going out on dates at least three times per month. They attend Church dances, go to movies, shop, hike, and dine. “I take Anne out to dinner at least monthly. It allows her to enjoy a meal of her choice without the concerns of preparation for the children and the dishwashing. She chooses the place we go.”
But how can you keep that up if you have a limited budget?
“We use a very simple method,” he explains. “Each night when I empty my pockets onto the dresser, I simply place all the quarters in a savings jar to be used for our dates. This allows us the chance to enjoy these special times without getting into our family food funds.”
If evenings are too busy, some couples “sneak away” for lunch together. Besides getting to see each other during the day, they find that they can eat as well at noon as in the evening, but at considerably less expense.
But going out formally isn’t the only way to get closer together. Some couples enjoy going to a playground in the evening when nobody else is around. “We swing on the swings and slide on the slides and act just like a couple of kids,” one mother says. “And every evening, we take the dog and jog together. It’s good for us; it’s a nice break from the rest of the day.”
Other couples like to sing and play the piano, play racquetball or tennis, or go swimming or camping. Sometimes they take their children along; other times they leave them with friends.
When William J. and Mary Helen Calvert of Las Vegas, Nevada, can’t get away for an evening together, they like to take walks around the neighborhood—holding hands. “And sometimes, we just go out and sit in the car in the driveway,” says Sister Calvert. “Without having to be gone for several hours, we can still get out alone and talk for a while.”
The Kirbys also like to take walks in the evenings together. “The best time we have found is about 10:15 P.M.,” says Brother Kirby. “By then, the children are in bed. We find this a great time to go for a ten- to fifteen-minute walk. Even when the temperature is -20 degrees, this walk together is an experience that crowns the day with happiness. From our street, we enjoy an unhindered view of the stars and planets. Since we both know that these are the handiwork of God, it gives us a broader perspective and helps us to keep in focus the purpose of existence.”
Even just working around the house can be as fun as going out for an evening together—as long as you do go out frequently, One couple used to divide up the chores on Saturdays to get them done faster, but they realized that instead of having more time together that way, they were each going in different directions. “So we decided to do our work together,” they say. “Together we weed the garden, wash the car, do the dishes, go shopping, and get the house ready for Sunday. That way we get to be with each other the whole day.”
Whether dancing and dining or washing and weeding, the important thing is to do something together. “Because my wife’s my best friend,” one husband says, “I would rather be with her than with anyone else. She is more fun to be with than anyone I know.”
A honeymoon once in a while can do wonders for a marriage. Getting away from everything for a couple of days to rest, study, evaluate the marriage, and set goals is worth the time and effort. Brother and Sister Coombs take two to three days to do something together or with friends at least every three months. Sister Coombs testifies of the benefit of those trips: “I find that when I go away for a few days with my husband, I feel younger, lovelier, closer to the courting ‘me.’ I take a little longer with my grooming. I’m more relaxed. We have the gift of time to be more attentive to one another.
“And I also enjoy a fringe benefit in my role as a mother. The separation from the children gives me time to look at how I’m doing. I discover both areas for congratulations and insights into how to solve problems that have bothered me.”
But many people don’t want to spend the money for a motel. The Dick Chidesters trade homes with a grandmother for a couple of days. She stays at their home and tends the children, and they go to her home “to recuperate. Even if it is just for a Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, it is a great relief to escape phones and routines and be off and alone by ourselves to loaf, sleep, talk, and enjoy some romance,” he says.
Some couples trade babysitting favors with each other. Others don’t mind hiring sitters once in a while. “I feel this is money well spent,” says Brother Coombs. “I consider it a wise investment in my marriage.”
“Many couples permit their marriages to become stale and their love to grow cold like old bread or worn-out jokes or cold gravy,” says President Spencer W. Kimball. “These people will do well to reevaluate, to renew their courting, to express their affection, to acknowledge kindnesses, and to increase their consideration so their marriage can again become beautiful, sweet, and growing.” And he promises couples in the Church: “While marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive.” (Kimball, pp. 23, 22, 16)