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Keeping your marriage fit

August 26, 1999

Online Relationship Check

Larry Letich, an interrelationship workshop leader from New Market, Md., created a quiz on the Web to see how fit men are in their relationships. At the site for his program, Relationship Training for Men, 40 questions await that can help men assess exactly what their strengths and weaknesses as a life partner really are.

Want to try it?

Go to www.rtformen.com/quiz.html and find out if you're a King of Hearts, Prince Charming, Knight in Rusting Armor, Love Rookie or Toad.

By MEG H. PARTINGTONStaff Writer

Just like muscles, relationships need nourishment and invigoration to keep them strong.

After filling each day with work and commitments to family members, church and other organizations, couples may find it hard to set aside time for themselves. In order to successfully maneuver through life's hoops, priorities need to be set.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Place family and friends above work, recreation and money, says Donna Swope, a licensed clinical social worker in Hagerstown. If those ranks are out of balance, it's hard to have a healthy relationship.

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"The things that are more valuable, we make time for," says the Rev. Warren Watts, who founded Tri-County Pastoral Counseling Service 26 years ago in Martinsburg, W.Va. Don't let hair appointments or bowling league practices rate higher than family in your list of things to do, he warns.

"You need to set personal limits," Swope says.

That means figuring out how much time you need to yourself, as a couple, with family and friends.

Put 'us' before 'them'

Day-to-day deficits in a relationship cause more people to break up than big fights do, says Larry Letich of New Market, Md., who has led interrelationship workshops since the early 1980s.

"Remember to put your couplehood first," Letich says.

If you have children, teach them to respect you as a couple and emphasize to them that sometimes you and your mate need to talk to each other alone, he says.

Go on dates as much as possible and set aside time that is strictly for you and your partner.

It's also important to nurture the friendship you and your partner share, Watts says.

Take vacations either separately or as a duo in which you can physically and mentally separate yourself from the day-to-day stressors that can bog you down.

On vacation, "You get an ability to step back and look at what's going on," Swope says.

Another way to evaluate your relationship is by visiting a clergyman or marriage counselor, Watts says.

Express yourself

Some people involved in a relationship are afraid to openly share their feelings because they are concerned the information will be thrown back at them later, Watts says.

Dare to share.

Let your partner know that her feelings matter to you, says Letich, who trains his clients to talk in the language of emotion so they, too, can express themselves.

He encourages men to write notes from the heart, an idea that sometimes meets resistance.

"They don't think they're poets," he says.

Show your partner that your relationship is important to you by not forgetting significant events such as anniversaries and birthdays. But don't limit loving expressions to those annual markers.

Every day, "Make sure to tell your spouse or significant other that you love them," Watts says.

Women tend to be more nurturing and interested in discussing their relationships than men, who often struggle to express their feelings, Swope says. Accepting the fact that men and women relate differently is important to a couple's health.

"You cannot expect your partner to not have certain feelings," Swope says.

Don't forget the simple, yet intimate gestures of hugging and kissing.

"It doesn't hurt to hug a little more," Letich says.

Another way to strengthen your bond is to keep your spiritual life in order, Watts says. Sharing devotional prayers each day is one way to build your faith together, as are attending church and volunteering your time as a couple.

Married to the office

"Work can be a very harsh mistress," Swope says.

Couples should set a limit on how much time is spent discussing their jobs.

If you discuss how a situation makes you feel, that's more communicative than droning on about what happened at the office.

Allow yourself a transitional period - maybe 30 minutes to an hour - in which to move from work to home mode. During that time, do something to settle yourself, such as relaxation exercises, walking or listening to music, Swope says. Don't rely on drugs or alcohol to alter your level of consciousness, she adds.

There is love

"The couple who are healthy and functional are flexible," Watts says. They also are accepting, forgiving, respectful and trusting, he says.

Cooperation, compatibility, intimacy and emotional support are key elements to a fit relationship, Watts says.

So is love.

According to 1 Corinthians, love is patient, kind, not jealous or proud, selfish or irritable. It does not keep track of wrongs, rejoices in the truth and is eternal.

Harry Stack Sullivan, an American psychiatrist, says love between two people exists "when the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one's own satisfaction or security."

Watts says the fittest bonds are those that blend the kind of love outlined in 1 Corinthians and in Sullivan's definition.

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