“Why do marriages take work? That doesn’t seem right.” That’s what my daughter said to me a few days ago. Do marriages and other relationships take work? Oh, yeah. But let’s delve into that just a bit further because we don’t want to give people the wrong idea.

How would you define, “work”? I think that when people think of “work” they think of unpleasant or difficult tasks that need doing. Is marriage “work” in that sense? It sure can be.

If you blow it badly and need to apologize to your spouse, coming clean and apologizing is an unpleasant task that needs to be done. If you have to work out your spending priorities with very limited income, developing a realistic spending plan can be a difficult task that must be done. Marriage does, from time to time, require “work” in that sense.

But because the phrase “Marriage takes work” gets thrown around so often, I think my daughter may have been coming the conclusion that marriage is a long string of unpleasant or difficult tasks that need doing. As much as it can seem that way at times 🙂 when marriages are not strong, “work” may not be the best word for the ongoing tasks that are part of a healthy marriage. It can leave the wrong impression.

I prefer “tending.”

Marriages are like gardens. A little bit of regular tending goes a long way. For most gardeners, the regular tending of the garden is a pleasant task they look forward to. Such is the case with marriages functioning well. Tending needs to happen — dates, kind words, extra chores, physical intimacy, conversations about your spouse’s internal life, etc. — but the tending is a pleasant part of the day’s tasks. My wife and I spend a few minutes nearly every day sitting and talking, either over coffee in the morning with a brief devotion or a glass of wine in the evening… or both! This is the “work” of marriage, which is why “work” probably isn’t the best word. “Tending” is much better.

All marriages take work from time to time. But if you are diligent in tending your marriage, you will learn to delight in the tasks that are part of the tending of your relationship and you will minimize the frequency with which you marriage really does require unpleasant or difficult tasks.