Leonardo da Vinci said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
In their book, The Mediterranean Love Plan, Steve and Misty Arterburn encourage people not to just sit back and let things happen to their marriages but rather to “do something every day to make passion happen to your marriage.”
Pastor, author, and founder of New Life Ministries, a faith-based broadcasting and counseling organization, Arterburn draws not only from years of experience in the counseling field but also upon observations gained by traveling to and studying what are considered to be the five most romantic countries in the world: Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Israel.
Having visited all five of those countries bordered by the beautiful Mediterranean, I can’t say I agreed completely with the broad generalizations made. I did, however, appreciate the intent and purpose of the book and its premise. Encouraging couples in creating healthy marriages is as worthy of an effort as any I know.
“Do something every day to make passion happen to your marriage.”
In the concluding chapter of their book the Arterburns quote couples therapist John Jacobs as saying, “The single greatest weapon in the battle to ensure the survival of a long-term relationship is maintaining awareness of the fragility of the marital bond.” Even twenty, thirty and forty year veterans of marriage still find it necessary to nurture and protect this most important relationship.
When the “sizzle turns to fizzle” it is often due to what the Arterburns refer to as “The Three C’s of Misery: Criticism, Complaining and Comparison”. Or sometimes couples settle into a comfortable routine which is not particularly painful but becomes more like a business partnership based on efficiency and totally void of spontaneity, sensuality or any spark of fun.
This book and its message is about living in a culture that prioritizes and emphasizes passion, romance, beauty and sensuality as a normal way of being. It is also about lovingly and purposefully tending to a marriage every day in some big or small way. I quote, “Suffice it to say that a marriage is a living, breathing thing. Feed it, nourish it, and it will gladden your heart and bless our life with ever-increasing passion and joy. Neglect or abuse it and love will shrivel and die.”
So here are the Seven Secrets gathered from the Mediterranean on making and keeping a marriage at its best:
- The Secret of Attunement. Connecting to and focusing on each other at some point every day, from the heart. One couple we know has coffee together every morning on the balcony off their bedroom. It’s their time to connect before the kids are awake and before the day unfolds with lists and chores. Steve and Misty Arterburn have a nightly ritual of sharing a candlelit bath together in their large tub built for two. While the warm water soaks away the cares of the day, they focus on each other as they share their thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t really matter what your ritual or connection looks like as long as you’re making time to tune in to one another and feel as though the two of you are operating as a connected unit in the world.
- The Secret of Playfulness. Enjoying each other through laughter and simply having fun. This may be through sports, a hobby, watching movies together, dancing, or sharing a new adventure. Learning to laugh more and criticize less would benefit all of our marriages for sure and taking a weekend away simply to play is often helpful for pushing the rewind button on a marriage that has become stale and predictable. As a culture who prizes productivity we Americans sometimes neglect the importance of play.
- The Secret of Savoring Food. Taking advantage of opportunities to cook, serve, and savor delicious food, as we slow down to share the events of our lives or share deeper thoughts together. On a trip to Spain a couple of years ago, I did notice how the Spaniards tended to linger over their food, savoring the rich flavors and textures, taking several hours to enjoy each course with lots of conversation sprinkled in between. Basically when they showed up at a restaurant they assumed they had the table for the night!
- The Secret of Enjoying Beauty. Purposefully surrounding ourselves with lovely sights, sounds, and smells. Going to inspiring places can feed our soul’s hunger for beauty. When we enjoy beauty – in nature, in culture, or in each other – we connect, heart to heart. This can be done at a concert, a museum or in a forest but there is something undeniably romantic and bonding about sharing a thing of beauty together.
- The Secret of Creativity. Giving yourselves the passion-boosting pleasure of working on projects together or engaging in an activity that brings you both into a sense of flow. So much passion arises from that special feeling of being in the zone, working in tandem on something that uses your creativity and talents. This is perhaps why many affairs happen in the workplace and why it is so important for married couples to find areas of creativity they can share together.
- The Secret of Health and Longevity. Prioritizing rest, natural exercise, healthy food, sexual intimacy, a sense of belonging to community, and growing in a vibrant faith. Arterburn tells about Ikaria, Greece, a place where people are far more likely to reach the age of 100. On this island people stay up late and sleep until they wake without an alarm. They always take naps in the afternoon. They eat very little meat and sugar and lots of legumes, vegetables and olive oil and walk several miles each day. Though not rich in money, Ikarians are rich in community, laughter, friends, and family. . . and have active sex lives well into their senior years!
- The Secret of Blending the Sacred and Sexual. Enjoying God-blessed sex that is both physically pleasurable and spiritually bonding. The Arterburns have researched the Jewish perspective on lovemaking and I share with you here the section of their book called “Sex As Mitzvah”. “In the Christian tradition, we have holy sacraments in our churches – things like Communion and baptism. In the Jewish tradition, such acts are called ‘mitzvahs’ – ceremonies that remind people of, and bond them more deeply to, God. In Judaism, lovemaking is considered a mitzvah, a holy ritual between husband and wife, given by God to regularly bind them closer to one another and to him. Christians take Holy Communion to remember Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. And in remembering how loved and forgiven we are, we come away from the table of bread and wine refreshed in spirit. In the Hebrew tradition, men and women experience a mitzvah – a holy communion of body, mind, and soul – in lovemaking. And they come away from the marriage bed renewed and refreshed on every level.” I can’t think of a lovelier way to describe the marital union.
I recently spoke with a woman who came home from work and found her husband, who had died of a stroke, on their living room floor. She told me she wished she could encourage every married couple who squabble over unimportant things to try and relish their life together, to cherish each other and enjoy each day because you never know which day will be your last.
Our earth lives are short at best and the quality of our marriages directly affects the quality of those days. Why not invest ourselves fully in this most essential relationship? And if The Mediterranean Love Plan or any other plan helps give insight on how to make that happen, I’m all for it!