The trail to Paradise
My husband and I had been parents for just over a year the first time we hiked to Paradise Falls together. Paul had often shared with me his many tales about Paradise, which he recounted with the thrill and bravado that always accompanies adventures told about our younger years. Paradise was something of a legend — with its snowmelt waters and epic, jump-worthy cliffs tucked deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. I was finally going to experience it with him.
After countless twists and turns on dirt roads, we parked our vehicle and hiked down a steep, rugged trail. One and a half miles later, I saw what had lured my husband’s younger self and his friends to the spot. It really was paradise! We sat on boulders at the base of the waterfall, breathing in the wild beauty. It was exactly what we needed. Paul and I were both weary from the demands of parenting and stressed by a pending move that would take us away from the very mountains we were exploring. But now, our hearts were full of anticipation. And together, we were ready to tackle the coming transition.
Years passed. Another child came. Jobs changed and took us across even more state lines. Conflicts arose. Seasons of weariness sometimes stole our contentment. The busyness and demands of life, parenting and ministry wore us down and encroached on our togetherness. Even the most mundane routines demanded priority. Cultivating intimacy in our marriage was difficult.
The trail to intimacy in a marriage
In one of those strange twists of life, seven years after our hike to Paradise Falls, we found ourselves once again living in the Sierra Nevadas and made another trip to Paradise. But as we stood at the trailhead, we realized much had changed — in our marriage and in the landscape. Downed trees and rutted roads gave the impression that no one had ventured to the falls since the last time we had made the trip. We considered turning back, but after several hours of driving to get to the trailhead, we were too invested to abandon our mission. We were so determined to make it to the falls that we grabbed some pruning shears from our truck and then started the painstaking hike. It might have been easier to blaze a trail through the middle of the Amazon rainforest! As we picked our way downhill, creeping grasses obscured the path, overgrown manzanita bushes snagged our arms, and poison oak carpeted sections of the forest floor. For hours we chopped, yanked, whacked and snapped our way back to Paradise.
Finally, we rounded the last curve. Crystal-clear water still spilled over granite cliffs. We sat on the same granite boulders as before, completely exhausted from the effort of our bushwhacking expedition, but intoxicated with the rich scent of earth, the deep blue of the sky, the trilling of chickadees in the willow branches and the warmth of each other’s company. After talking, laughing and sweating together for the bulk of a day, it seemed the previous seven years worth of strain, worries, conflict and apathy had been hacked away like the surrounding overgrowth. We could see the near-forgotten trail to intimacy again. The bumps, aches and scratches were worth it!
As we thought about the last seven years, we realized that busyness, parenting and mundane tasks can so easily grow over the once well-worn path to togetherness. If left unchecked, they can eventually obscure the trail. But as we learned that day — even though it might take extra effort to rediscover what once was, it’s never too late to come together and reclaim the trail to intimacy in a marriage.
How to maintain the trail to intimacy in a marriage
Here are a few tips that helped us maintain the trail:
- Find “together” time. Whether you have a regular coffee date before work, 30 minutes together after the kids go to bed or a regular date night with a paid babysitter, set aside uninterrupted time together.
- Work shoulder to shoulder. Many of us communicate best when we’re doing an activity side by side. Often, conversations flow naturally when we walk or play together.
- Remember the early years. If your marriage started well but lost ground to apathy, take time to go back to the beginning. What did you love most about each other when you got married? What activities did you enjoy doing together? Go back and do them again.
- Foster physical intimacy. An overgrown trail often goes hand-in-hand with distance and pain in physical intimacy. Have honest, vulnerable conversations with each other. Be willing to work toward oneness, getting outside help if necessary.
- Practice forgiveness. Even loving spouses hurt each other — it’s just part of the journey. Work to resolve those conflicts and practice forgiveness to keep thorns of resentment from choking out the trail.
A promise to maintain the trail
That day we agreed we couldn’t let another seven years pass before trekking back to the falls. Regular maintenance was the only way to keep the intruding environment from undoing the hard work we had accomplished — both on the trail and in our hearts. But Paradise — at least our version of it — has been worth every effort.