The day Paul and I said, “I do," was one of the happiest days of my life. I thought it was strange to talk about growing more in love, as my friend Fr. John said during our wedding homily. I couldn’t imagine loving my husband any more than I did in that moment on the altar. I was confident that whatever bad times I was promising to love Paul through would never be more than our love could manage.
But focusing on good times and bad times leaves out something that can too easily be the norm—the so-so times. Those are the dangerous ones—those seasons when life isn’t terrible, but it isn’t exactly thrilling either. You’re just moseying along from one day to the next, dealing with a new baby or a broken radiator, juggling home responsibilities and work challenges and building a life, which takes everything you’ve got.
Too often in marriage, time with your spouse gets sent to the end of a very long list of things to do. A relationship that was once at the heart of your entire existence can, over time, get neglected or forgotten, put behind all the other more pressing issues of the day.
But this is not a story of despair or grief. It’s about encouragement—a gentle reminder that life is busy but that marriage and taking care of your spouse can get the attention needed, even when there doesn’t seem to be a lot of extra time.
It’s the little things
Grace Patton is in the trenches. She and her husband, Simon, have been married four years and have three children under the age of three. Life is wild and crazy, and between dealing with the babies and Simon’s long hours as an OB/GYN resident in Missouri, this couple could easily feel disconnected and run down.
But Grace, who writes at her popular blog Camp Patton, and her husband have figured out that in the midst of this challenging season, simple connections can go a long way. There might not be time for a long weekend away or even a weekly outing to the movies, but Grace and Simon know it’s the little things that keep the love alive.
Grace has learned that her best bet for having a conversation with her husband is when the kids are occupied. Just sitting around at home is often frustrating, so the family likes to stay on the go to stay sane.
“If Simon gets home early enough," said Grace, “we put the kids in the stroller so we can take a walk and talk."
On really busy days, Grace makes an effort to drive to the hospital to see her husband. “Sometimes I know he’s only going to be able to sit in the passenger seat for a few minutes while the kids sit on his lap."
The young mother adds that date nights are also key, even if they aren’t as often as once a week.
“Generally, if Simon has the weekend off, which is rare, we’ll get a sitter," said Grace.
Grace highly recommends finding access to a trusted babysitter, and said she sees this as money well spent. She’s even willing to cut back on groceries to afford this luxury. Grace is blessed that one of her old college roommates has family in her town, but she suggests calling the local nursing school as a starting point for finding a sitter.
Not every couple has totally shared interests. In fact, many couples discover hobbies that spouses might enjoy solo. Far from being detrimental to a marriage, some people actually have more to give their partner when they’ve had some time alone. For the Pattons, despite the time apart with Simon’s busy work schedule, Grace recognizes that her husband still needs free time on his own, time to unwind outside of the hospital.
“One thing that I never would have foreseen was the importance of this," explained Grace. “I really insist that Simon goes and plays golf. I know it’s one more hour of me being alone, but he comes back so much happier and refreshed. He thanks me so many times."
Grace sees the benefits of Simon having some leisure time to himself, and it’s worth the small sacrifice.
“A happy husband is so much more important to me than a little extra quiet on a Saturday morning."
Bev and Mike Firmin have been married 39 years, and together they have been through thick and thin—two careers, raising seven children, burying a baby, and now enjoying retirement and their nine grandchildren.
Bev said marriage is wonderful, but while some seasons are less challenging than others, things don’t necessarily ever get easy.
“You have to work at it," said Bev, who stayed home to raise their children before returning to the workforce. “It’s very tempting to keep going in your own direction."
Bev recently retired from being a social worker and Mike retired from being the director of the Golden Harvest Food Bank in Georgia. They recognized that for many years they’d been involved in their own endeavors and that whatever they did in this new season, they wanted to enjoy it together.
“Mike’s been involved in his work, and I’ve been raising the kids and then went back to work," said Bev. “Our decision, once we retired, was that whatever we did, we’d do together."
The couple recently began a program to become spiritual directors, and they are going to school together.
“This has been really exciting for us," said Bev. “We sense that the Lord wants us to minister together."
But even before this new season of togetherness, Bev recognized the importance of showing interest in what Mike was doing. That, she said, is an important part of happiness in a marriage, of staying connected with your spouse.
“It flies in the face of being your own person and doing your own thing," said Bev, “but I believe it’s so important to be interested in what your husband is doing, not just with work but with hobbies. Be good at asking questions—it shows you’re interested."
One of the best ways to stay connected with your spouse is to avoid things that draw you apart. Fights, for instance, are a nasty habit. Avoid fights by avoiding pitfalls.
Grace realizes that when her husband gets home from work and the couple tries to just sit around with three little ones, things can get ugly.
“If he comes home and we don’t do anything, we get really frustrated with each other," she said. “We’re just battling kids."
The couple makes sure that, after the children go to bed, they aren’t retreating to their own corners of the house.
“The kids are generally in bed by eight at the latest, and I like to watch a show on TV and unwind. But we compromise—sometimes we sit and chat; sometimes we watch a show."
When disagreements do arise, recognize how you as a couple best handle bumps in the road.
“People always tell brides not to go to bed angry," said Grace, “but I think going to bed angry is actually better for us."
Grace and Simon have learned that trying to talk through a squabble when they are both exhausted from the day rarely bears good fruit. Not all issues should be handled this way, but plenty of times a good night’s sleep can put a larger-than-life problem back into real-life perspective.
Bev said she has found the best way to stay connected is to stay honest.
“Don’t ever be tempted with a glib response," said Bev. If your spouse asks what’s wrong, she advises, don’t respond by saying “Nothing."
“Being honest really helps you stay connected in any relationship," said Bev. She has learned over the years to tell her husband exactly what she needs, even something as simple as “I just need to be held."
“Trust that you’re loved," she said. “Being verbal about what we need from each other is so important."
Never give up
For Bev and Mike, one thing they’ve learned in their nearly 40 years of marriage is this beautiful reality: Marriage takes effort. A healthy marriage will never be on autopilot.
“Married life always takes work; it doesn’t ever stop," said Bev, who added that different seasons of marriage carry unique challenges.
“For us now, life is not as intense. We don’t have as many people pulling on us. So that’s really nice."
Looking back, Bev said the teenage years were the most stressful.
“When our children were teenagers, it was the hardest time," said Bev. “Teenagers by their very nature tend to polarize parents. Not that they intentionally pit you against each other, but so many different conflicts come up that it seems like you’re always dealing with with a child that’s able to reason."
And don’t be discouraged. When it comes to staying connected, certain seasons will be more conducive to date nights or family walks. Do your best and watch the fruit, adjust what you need to, and then start all over again.
“There were seasons when we would do a date night religiously," said Bev, “and seasons when we fought to get one date a month. We’d be good about it for six months or so, and then life would take over."
“It was like a waltz," she added. “One two three, one two three…"
This season you’re in now is just that—a season. If everything is flowing as it should, celebrate that! If you feel stretched thin and your spouse seems like a stranger, figure out what you can do—even something small—and make that change.
“Our time together changed with the seasons," said Bev, “and honestly, when we weren’t doing well staying connected, it began to show. That’s when we’d get better about it—even if we would just sit on porch when everybody went to bed. Maybe we’d sit on the swing in the backyard with the baby monitor on. And we’d tell the older kids not to come outside under penalty of death!"
Rachel Swenson Balducci is a wife, mother, author, and blogger whose work can be found at Testosterhome.net. Her first book, How Do You Tuck in a Superhero? And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys (Revell) was published in 2010.
How we stay connected
“We brush our teeth together every night. We call it our “toothbrush party"—it’s a silly but fun way to laugh and connect." —Miriel R.
“Twenty to thirty minutes on the couch, after work, before the nighttime chaos ensues, catching up on our day." —Tracy E.
“We save the real talking for after hours when the kids are asleep. Texting during the day, too, asking how thing are going." —Bobbi
“We have a weekly husband/wife meeting. We go through how we’re doing and any big/little topics without interruptions." —Dianna W.
“Texting! I like how we can stay connected through the day without having to catch each other at good times, like with the phone." —Arwen M.
“Tech-free time on the couch with a glass of wine." —Ashley A.
“Text messages! Not too many—but some. Sharing necessary stuff, but also ‘I love you’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you.’" —Heather
“Go to bed early just to talk. And no-TV nights." —Amy G.
“Date nights and late-night talks." —Amy P.
“I put little notes in my husband’s lunch…saying thanks for how hard he works, or a Bible verse." —Stephanie
“We try to make time every morning to say prayers together."