When our boys were younger we sometimes celebrated Easter morning with a treasure hunt. The day was always lit with excitement as the first clue was solved and they charged off like bottle rockets running for the next clue. The intensity would build with each clue solved. Why? Because they were that much closer to the anticipated treasure! The heightened anticipation reached unbelievable levels of excitement.

The treasure, selected just for them, by someone who loves them and knows what makes them happy.

What in the world does searching for treasure have to do with marriage? Let me explain. I believe that when we celebrate our marriage with as much anticipation, a great treasure will be discovered. My experience with hundreds of couples leads me to believe that many people, if not most people, have a pretty clear idea of what they could do to nurture their marriage. At the very least, they know what not to do. I know this because I often hear: “I know I shouldn’t have, but I…”  Then my client goes on to tell me about the harmful choice they made.

In these cases it is clearly not education that is lacking – my client is almost always right about behaviors that they should not have done. What’s the problem then? I believe it is motivation, the famous question “What’s In It For Me?,” that needs to be answered. If I don’t believe that there is a treasure to be found I am not very motivated to follow the clues!

A good example is an experiment I tried with our boys. They were so engaged with treasure hunting I tried the same idea with chores. Each successive clue led to another until they finally ended up at the dishwasher, the lawn mower, or a pile of laundry. OK, I totally fabricated this – my boys were too smart to follow a series of clues that ended up in a perceived punishment! And so are you! You get my point. Why follow clues that lead to nothing, or worse, that lead to something negative?

So, how do we go about treating marriage like a treasure hunt? Here are some thoughts to get you started:

Do you know what your spouse treasures? Is it a backrub, a leisurely walk, flowers, words of appreciation, a clean car? Don’t assume that he or she likes the same reward you like. Ask. What does your partner give you when he or she wants to demonstrate love – this is often a great clue. If you are not familiar with Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages reading this book is a great place to start.

Let your spouse know that the Treasure Hunt has begun. I hear many clients say that their spouse doesn’t spend enough time with them. How do you think they try to change this? By complaining, of course! Doesn’t that always work? Let me see, I could go fishing on a beautiful, sunny Colorado morning or I could sit down with someone who is snarling, complaining, apparently disgusted at my very presence. Hmmmm, this is a tough one, give me a minute…

Let’s say you feel that your spouse plays too much golf (is there such a thing? But I digress). He knows that you are unhappy about it and he has a pretty good idea what type of welcome home he’ll get. When that final putt on 18 drops into the cup, he’s thinking that the 19th hole looks pretty inviting. (For non-golfers, the 19th hole is the bar/sandwich area of the clubhouse where golfers go to lie about how well they played.)

Wait… rewind this to just before he leaves for the golf course. He is putting his clubs into the car. You give him a hug and a sultry look. Have fun, Babe. I think I’ll go shopping while you’re gone…Victoria’s Secret.  This will probably not help his golf game, but there is a very good chance that he’ll pass on the 19th hole so that he can come home to “see” how your shopping trip went!

Treat your spouse’s clues like a treasure hunt. What would your wife do if she mentioned that the garbage can was overflowing, and you jumped out of your seat and flew out of the room like a bottle rocket to take care of it? How would your husband respond if he calls you to let you know that he has to work late and, in spite of your frustration, you spend 30 seconds praising him for being such a hard worker and good provider?

Hmmmm, what treasure will you find? I hope that each of us can treat marriage like a treasure hunt. But remember, no running in the house!