I recently watched as my cousin and his new fiancée constantly held each other, looked at each other, and played “footsie” under the table.
The beginning years of a relationship are filled with face-to-face moments in which the rest of the world disappears around you.
And then something happens.
That glorious face-to-face time with our spouse is replaced with the necessity of teamwork or, as I like to call it, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”
It’s a good thing, really. Military life brings a season of marriage in which we begin to see our spouse as a teammate, a partner. We begin to see how a work ethic can build trust in a marriage. We hopefully become dependable — and so does our spouse. Everything from finances to home life becomes a shoulder-to-shoulder experience as we plan, execute and team up to make it all work.
At the beginning of a new year or a new life season brought by a military move, many people consider a fresh start. If you’re among them, you may be aiming to lose a few pounds, be nicer to your kids, or join the other 45 percent of America who resolved to “live life to its fullest.”
I’m not exactly sure what “living life to its fullest” implies, but I like to think it means that people want to be more present in the moment and not take life for granted. And hopefully that includes the relationships in front of them.
Sometimes life takes a different turn and introduces difficulty that we never planned for. Perhaps your service member came home different from war. Maybe betrayal has entered your relationship. Maybe misunderstandings dominate your conversations or resentment has settled in.
Situations like these can throw us further off course. And instead of working face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder, we find ourselves standing back-to-back. In a twist of fate, that person we once played footsie with under the table feels more like a stranger than our best friend.
How did it happen?
Maybe face-to-face time became less of a priority. Or maybe it has become too vulnerable a feeling for you to look into your spouse’s eyes and see the distance in his soul. Or perhaps it is the distance in your own soul you don’t want him to see. Regardless, it is easier to hide when back-to-back.
Some of you have come up with every reason to stay there.
The power of face-to-face, both figurative and literal, is that you can’t hide. When face-to-face, you can’t ignore the forgiveness that needs to be asked for or freely given. You can’t help but see into your spouse’s heart and allow him or her to see into yours. In the face-to-face moments, we don’t age. That same couple who couldn’t stop holding each other re-emerges, and you realize that what you need most is your friend in front of you.
But how do you get back there?
When I interviewed Shasta Nelson, author of “Frientimacy” on my Lifegiver Podcast, she mentioned some brilliantly simple ideas about building intimacy into our friendships, including our marriages.
She said that healthy friendships are a place where both people feel seen, satisfied in the relationship (in other words, that it’s a positive experience), and safe.
Too often, we run away (literally or figuratively) when someone disappoints us. Yet, according to Shasta, deepening the intimacy of our friendships comes when we are able to practice our consistency and vulnerability in the midst of that difficulty. And that definitely can’t happen if we are back-to-back.
To start to get back there, stand literally face-to-face with your spouse and ask:
“Are we spending consistent time together where we feel seen?”
“Do I create a space where you feel emotionally safe?”
“Are we more focused on our problems than our victories?”
Deep intimacy and friendship in our marriage take work. Sometimes that means scheduling five minutes to sit face-to-face. Hopefully, living life to its fullest includes living your marriage to its fullest too.