Our busy culture wars against real relational connection. With so many demands on our time, energy, and schedules, it’s a challenge to give relationships the priority they deserve. And nowhere is this more true—or more dangerous—than in your marriage relationship.
What happens in a marriage that doesn’t fight this natural drift?
Emotional drift—If you are not regularly and purposefully connecting with one another, you’ll drift apart emotionally. This is one of the reasons that Terrie and I carve out time weekly, usually over a meal, specifically for the purpose of hearing each other’s burdens, syncing our schedules, and learning how to support each other in the process.
Build up of stress—The responsibilities of life bring enough stress on their own. But when you live with drifting priorities, the stress builds exponentially. And with these increased stresses is a tendency toward increased conflict with each other.
Neglect and resentment—When a husband neglects his wife because he is busy doing stuff, she usually will find replacements (children, volunteer activities, outings with friends, more hours at her job). But the cycle doesn’t end there, because the husband then resents the extra stuff she is doing, thinking it is actually his wife who is neglecting him.
This cycle of neglect and resentment can start with either spouse. (In our marriage, it has usually started with me getting so wrapped up in ministry that I’m unintentionally neglecting Terrie.) But it won’t end until both spouses step back, realign their priorities, and say, “You are more important to me than anything else in the world. How can I put you first?”
Remember that when God gave the operational definition of marriage in Genesis 2:24, He didn’t say, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall sometimes see his wife in passing…” or “and shall live under the same roof with his wife despite having varied schedules with nothing in common.” He said, a man should “cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
The word cleave means to “adhere…abide fast, follow close, overtake, pursue hard, stick.” This takes intention. If you want to stay relationally and emotionally connected in the midst of a busy world, you will have to fight for it.To *cleave* to one another in marriage takes intention. If you want to stay relationally and emotionally connected in the midst of a busy world, you will have to fight for it. Click To Tweet
So how do you do it? How do you fight the natural drift of busyness in marriage?
Clarify Your Priorities
It is unrealistic to think that every activity of Terrie’s and my lives would be shared. What is important, however, is that what we see as our primary roles are shared—our walk with the Lord and our relationship with one another. Every other priority must fall after these two.
Your relationship with the Lord: Remember that before God gave Adam a wife and the gift of marriage, God first established a relationship between Himself and Adam (Genesis 2:15–18). When our vertical relationship with God is not strong, our horizontal relationships with others will deteriorate.When our vertical relationship with God is not strong, our horizontal relationships with others will deteriorate. Click To Tweet
Through the ups and downs of every other realm of life, you must keep your personal walk with God as your top priority.
Your relationship with your spouse: You have only so much time and energy. If something, even something that is a responsibility in your life, is going to do without some of that time or energy, it should not be your marriage.You have only so much time and energy. If something, even something that is a responsibility in your life, is going to do without some of that time or energy, it should not be your marriage. Click To Tweet
Priorities do not set themselves. You must purposefully set them and then hold to them. This will include saying “no” to some opportunities or activities that don’t contribute toward or that prohibit you from strengthening your marriage relationship. But it is easier to say “no” to something when there is a greater “yes” burning inside. When you start by identifying your marriage as a God-given priority, it helps make investing in it that greater “yes,” which makes your needed “no” more clear.
Schedule Time Together
One of the best representations of your real priorities is your schedule. What we merely suggest we want to do “sometime” rarely happens, but what we actually schedule time for gets done.
Daily—Make it a priority during mealtimes to sit down with one another, set your phones aside, and talk. If you have children, this family mealtime won’t be undivided attention for you and your spouse, but it is still vital.
Early evening, or just before bed, is another excellent time for connection. Give each other a minimum of fifteen minutes where you ask and listen and share about one another’s day and pray together.
Weekly—Planning a weekly date night is, in my opinion, one of the most important habits you can set. This can sometimes be at home, provided you really do disconnect from the television, your phones, and independent projects. But go out sometimes as well. These dates don’t need to be expensive; they just need to be regular. Try to pull away from the rest of the world for a while and just enjoy your spouse.
Seasonally—Plan periodic times to get away with one another to focus on your marriage. This may be an annual couples’ retreat, an out-of-town anniversary celebration, or a monthly “extra” activity with just the two of you.
Listen to Each Other
Despite your best intentions, you will get out of balance in one or another area sometimes. That’s because balance isn’t static; it requires continual adjustments. Think of a tightrope walker constantly adjusting to keep his center of gravity on the rope. This is how life balance works as well.
The goal is not to achieve “perfect balance” but to be willing to make adjustments along the way. It is obeying Galatians 5:25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” This requires that you remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He convicts you that you’re not investing enough time in your marriage. But it also requires that you remain open and listen to any concerns that your spouse raises.
For Terrie and me, this means we schedule time to pull out our calendars, evaluate how well we’ve been doing, discuss upcoming plans, and suggest needed adjustments.
I wasn’t as good at this early in our marriage. Determined to be the “leader of the home,” I wasn’t always sensitive to concerns Terrie would raise about my schedule or about family time. While I am thankful for Terrie’s patience with me and determination to keep creating times of making memories, I wish that I had been more understanding sooner. Even now, I sometimes have to slow myself down and intentionally create moments to listen to Terrie and ask her opinion on how well she feels we are syncing, and vice versa.
Seeing how much better we have gotten at this over time makes me thankful that we didn’t give up trying years ago.
Don’t let yourself get twenty or twenty-five years down the road with a successful career and retirement behind you and kids sent off to college—all of the things you’ve poured your life into, gone—and then you realize that your spouse is a stranger.
Ask yourself now, What extra thing in my schedule could be set aside to improve our time for relational development? Invest the time now in syncing your itineraries so you can enjoy the journey together.