I made a beef stew for a big family event over the holidays. I browned up top sirloin and added in organic vegetables and herbs from our garden and let it simmer all day in the crock pot. It earned rave reviews from all the Rellies. A simple stew! Later it struck me: marriage is a lot like that stew. It doesn’t have to be complicated. But the better the ingredients – the better the end result.

So this year, we encourage you to put the very best ingredients into your marriage. Simple ones. Time. Attention. Intention. Romance. Sex. Laughter. Gratitude. Celebration.

At the beginning of every year, Neil and I have a “State of the Union” weekend where we review the past year and look forward to the next. We talk about the joys, challenges and disappointments of the year past and set some goals, make some plans and dream forward into the new year. We started doing it about 20 years ago after a particularly troubled time in our marriage. In fact, it was the roughest season we’d ever experienced. We found ourselves distant, frosty roommates rather than the good friends and passionate lovers we had been for most of our relationship. We couldn’t believe we’d allowed ourselves to get so far off track.

A weekend retreat helped us get honest and slowly start finding our way back. We realized there were no bad guys in the scenario. Our marriage had simply become the victim of benign neglect. We’d been trying to keep a marriage alive on scraps. Scraps of time, scraps of attention, scraps of energy. Cheap ingredients. We agreed we wanted more than that. So now we get away once a year – for a day or a weekend – to take stock, to plan and to make sure we’re putting the very best ingredients into our 40-year “stew.”

We use different tools to guide our conversation. Sometimes we use one from Tsh Oxenreider who posts 20 questions for the new year every January on her blog, The Art of Simple. Here’s another one, a little more comprehensive with an intriguing title —  KickAss Guide to DIY Couples Goal Setting Retreat.  Sometimes we just make up our own!

Some Suggestions

  1. If you use a pre-set list of questions, you don’t have to answer them all! Start with the ones that matter most to you.
  2. Don’t get too caught up in measurable outcomes and benchmarks and implementation evaluation and all that stuff. You’re not a corporation.
  3. It’s not about the list. It’s about life.
  4. Take some breaks from the talking. One of you will run out of words before the other.  Have some fun. Laugh. Make love.
  5. When you get back to real life and the dreams don’t all come true and the goals aren’t all met (let’s be honest, they won’t), give each other lots of grace.

And cover it all with a big helping of prayer. That’s the best ingredient of all.

Bon Appetit!

Written by Sharol Josephson

Sharol Josephson

Sharol Josephson is a Director at FamilyLife Canada along with her husband Neil. They have been married 32 years. They speak and teach at FamilyLife marriage and family conferences across the country.