My husband and I have been married for nineteen and a half years, and our marriage has definitely lost the spark it once had.
But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The beginning of a relationship is exciting and intense. You can’t stand to be away from one another. You think about one another all the time. You can’t keep your hands off one another. It’s sparks and fireworks every time you’re in the same room with one another.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. New love is overwhelming, like a match being lit and consumed by a flame. That initial spark starts the fire—but sparks aren’t meant to last. They are fleeting by nature. In a long-term relationship, it’s the fire that needs to be maintained, not the spark.
I’m convinced that many marriages fail because people know how to start the fire, but struggle to keep it going. A spark only starts a fire; it doesn’t fuel it. Similarly, the love that starts a relationship looks quite a bit different from the love that maintains it.
I can only speak from my own experience in a marriage that is still going strong after two decades. My husband and I get along well, we enjoy spending time together, we have a healthy sex life, we support one another’s dreams and ambitions, and we are equal partners in our home. We argue on occasion, and we do things that annoy one another sometimes, but that’s to be expected when you live with someone for almost half your life. But we both agree that even with the normal ups and downs, our marriage has only gotten better over time.
But that’s not because we’ve kept the “spark” in it. To me, marriage feels very much like a cozy, warm fire. When my husband wraps his arm around me before we fall asleep, it’s the same feeling as curling up in a favorite blanket in front of the fireplace on snowy day, cocoa in hand. It’s contentment. It’s home. It’s familiar, and not in a boring way.
We’ve worked to keep that cozy fire burning. Just as a real fire needs oxygen and fuel, marriage needs to be fed, too. We give one another space when we need it. We listen to one another’s needs and try to accommodate them. We consciously work on showing love in the ways one another likes to receive it. We fuel our marriage with attention and affection.
When one of us feels that fire starting to cool, we talk about what we can do to fan the flames. We might need more quality time. We might need to work out a specific issue. One of us might need something and haven’t communicated it well enough. We might just be in a challenging stage of life or parenting (those physically exhausting early years can be rough on a marriage) and need to get on the same page about that reality.
But the answer has never been “We need to find our spark again.” As long as there are embers still glowing, a spark simply isn’t going to do much to get the flames built back up again. Maybe if the fire died out completely, a spark could start it back up again, but even then that fire would still need to be maintained. And maintaining the fire of marriage is a practical—and not particularly sexy—skill that requires continual effort.
Rekindling a fire that’s dwindling requires more than a spark of passion. Sometimes it takes sacrifice. Sometimes it takes letting something go. It might mean playing a card game before bed each night. It can mean me remembering that he likes it when I stroke his arm in a certain way, or him remembering that I need alone time to stay sane.
I can understand why people feel disappointed when their marriage loses its initial thrill. We all love those fireworks, the excitement that goes along with young love. But the fire of a long marriage can be thrilling too, just in a different way.
In fact, when you manage to find just the right balance of oxygen and fuel, it can be downright smokin’. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that marriage gets old. That is not an inevitability. If you are able to keep the fire crackling, there’s nothing hotter.
When it comes to long-term love, sparks fly from a blazing fire, not the other way around. Instead of trying to bring some magical, elusive spark back to our marriages, perhaps we should focus on the slow, methodical, consistent work of feeding the fire. It may not sound as romantic, but a well-stoked fire is far more conducive to a happy marriage than a spark will ever be.