One of the most important relationships we have is with our spouse, but when kids enter the picture that relationship sometimes takes a sideline. I've been told many times that we need to put our relationship with our spouse first. That feels really hard and almost selfish because our kids are so important and take up so much of our time and energy. It's true though! Being a family is like being part of a team, and our spouse is our greatest teammate. They have the potential to be the most supportive and valuable player to us. We have to work to constantly develop and strengthen that bond and relationship!
Let's talk about a few ideas on how to make time for your relationship with your spouse.
Set a weekly date time
I know this advice is given a lot, but I personally struggle to make it happen! If we sit down with our spouse and plan a time each week to spend time together, it will be easier to make it happen. It's best to pick a specific day and time each week so you can avoid planning other things during that time. Consistency always helps with developing a new habit. Now, I recognize that finding a babysitter can be difficult and if that doesn't feel possible for you right now that doesn't mean you can't spend set time with your spouse. Recently, my husband and I did a watercolor night on a Wednesday night around 8pm after our daughter went to bed. It was a short period of time, but we both really enjoyed sitting down to do something together. I think we often overcomplicate things and think we have to spend lots of money or go out and do grand things, but even if you schedule some time each week just to sit and talk over a bowl of ice cream it will do great things for your relationship.
Take time to listen to each other
In this day and age, we have become terrible listeners. With so many distractions, especially phones and kids, we struggle to keep up and tend to do too many things at once. Be intentional about the time that you talk with your spouse - set your phone down, put it in another room, or turn it off! Show your spouse that they have your attention, and hopefully they will do the same for you. Ask questions and pay attention to the response. I've noticed my husband's reaction when he believes I'm not listening to him. His responses are shorter and he shares less with me. When he knows I'm listening, he's more willing to share how he's feeling and what went on throughout his day. The easiest way to become a better listener is to ask yourself how you know if someone is listening to you - what do you expect someone to do to show you they are listening? Do those things. As you try to be a better listener with your spouse, it will help you to recognize opportunities where you can listen better to your children, to your parents, to your friends, etc. You'll never regret showing someone that you care, and listening is a great way to do that.
Try something your spouse enjoys doing
Everyone has their own hobbies and things they enjoy doing, and couples often find things they enjoy doing together too. That's always a great thing to do - find hobbies that you both enjoy and can do together. But sometimes we hesitate to try things our spouse enjoys that we haven't done before because it's intimidating, we worry about what other people will think, or we think we won't enjoy it. I know it can be uncomfortable to try something new, but I also know that doing something that your spouse enjoys with them is a really neat experience. It's fun to watch my husband try to teach me something that he really enjoys, or to see how excited he is that we're doing it together. A few years ago, I encouraged one of my friends to try Dungeons and Dragons because her husband really enjoys it. She was really nervous about it because she worried that other people would find out and she considered it to be a "nerdy" activity. My husband and I joined them to help make her feel a little more comfortable, and while my friend was still nervous and a little hesitant while we played, it was fun to see how much her husband enjoyed having her play with him. It's still not her favorite activity, but she still plays so she can enjoy time with him. And he's been willing to do things that she enjoys too!
Now, I have a not-so-great story to share about this too. When we were first married, my husband kept telling me that we should do yoga together. He'd taken some yoga classes before and really enjoyed how it helped him to relax, calm down, and be in a better frame of mind. I was hesitant to do it because I worried about how I would look and whether I'd be good at it. I reluctantly agreed to do it - emphasis on reluctantly. We set up a couple of mats in our living room and Jarom found a video for us to follow along with. Well, I complained and made fun of the video the entire time. My husband was devastated, to say the least. I made fun of something that was meaningful to him, and I have regretted it ever since. I learned a valuable lesson that day. We may not enjoy it the same as they do and it may make us feel awkward, but avoid the temptation to complain or make fun of something that your spouse loves. If you don't enjoy the experience, I think it's absolutely okay to tell your spouse that while you enjoyed the time you spent with them, the activity wasn't your favorite. I think they will still value that you tried and wanted to do something they love. If you're feeling brave, I invite you to do something your spouse enjoys doing to see if you'll like it too. And you can invite them to do something you enjoy too!
Talk about how things are going
This sounds self-explanatory, but I think in the chaos of the week we sometimes forget to talk about how things are going with our spouse, our kids, work, school, home projects, everyday life, finances, etc. Taking time each week to do a little "inventory" can help you to feel more prepared for the week and like you've got a game plan as a team. Doing this as a family is also helpful so the kids know their part in helping the family function. Asking each other these questions (and others) can be helpful:
- How are we doing?
- Are we communicating enough?
- Are we helping & supporting each other enough?
- What things are going well? What can we improve on together?
- What things do you have going on this week that I can support you with?
- What do we hope to accomplish this week?
Take time to be silly
Being an adult is stressful! As a parent, sometimes I feel like I always have to be a serious, responsible adult. I think it's important to take time to be silly with your spouse. To cut loose and have some fun. Even if it's just a short dance party, joking around, or running around the yard (I don't know! What do people do to be silly?!). I think Jarom and I were definitely sillier when we were dating, so I think it's always good to remind each other that we're still those fun people.
Show gratitude for each other
At the beginning of this year, Jarom and I started a joint gratitude journal where we each write down 3 things that we are grateful for each day. We've made a point to make one of those three things about each other - either something the other did/said, or a quality they have that we were grateful for that day. I have really appreciated hearing what Jarom has to say about me (and I think he feels the same?), and the longer we have done it the more thoughtful we both have been about what we are grateful for about each other. I find that it's easier for me to do things for my spouse because I know that he appreciates me, and I feel like Jarom has been more thoughtful about how he can help me too. I don't know if that's weird, but it's true for me. A gratitude journal may not work for everyone, but expressing gratitude to your spouse - noticing the things that they do or the qualities they have that have blessed your life is a really healthy thing and I really believe it can strengthen a relationship. I have found that I am less critical of the things Jarom does or does not do when I am actively looking for the good. No one is perfect, but for the most part we are all trying our best and I think everyone appreciates it when that effort doesn't go unnoticed.
Make communication a key part of your relationship
Communication in a relationship is essential. I would go as far to say that it's the absolute number one thing that a good relationship needs. Obviously I am no expert, but as I've had many opportunities to talk with friends about their relationships I've come to appreciate the value of communication. There's so much that we don't say - whether it's out of fear or anger, I'm not sure - but I've found that honest, vulnerable communication really brings couples closer together.
My husband is a great communicator. I am not great at it. But because he is great at it, it makes it easier for me to try. I do feel like I have learned a few things about communication that are valuable to me and maybe they will help you too.
- We cannot assume that our spouse knows how we feel or what we are thinking or what we are expecting. If we want them to know or understand something, we have to tell them. We can't expect them to read our minds or interpret our facial expressions or attitude.
- We can be honest without being unkind or heated. We're going to have disagreements sometimes. That doesn't always mean that we will have heated arguments when we disagree, or I guess I should say that we don't have to have heated arguments when we disagree. In many ways, it's really about how we are communicating our different opinions and perspectives. If we are quick to accuse, our spouse will go on the defensive. If we openly share our own feelings about something and why it's important to us, we can help our spouse to understand how we are feeling. We should also seek to understand their viewpoint and how they feel about a situation. Sometimes, that means that we need to take a breather before we can calmly talk about something. Words spoken in anger always lead to regret. We don't think rationally when we are angry, so we need to find a way to remove that emotion from the situation in order to talk. I think we all can benefit from thinking more before we speak. I can tell you that I know exactly what I could say to make Jarom feel terrible - I think most of us know our spouse well enough to know how to do that. We should never use that against them and we should be trying to find ways to communicate our feelings about something in a way that builds our relationship.
- If we need help, we should be willing to ask. I know I have had moments where I feel like I shouldn't have to ask Jarom to do something - he should just do it - but that's an unfair expectation. We are both individuals. We don't always think the same, view things the same way, or even focus on the same priorities. It goes both ways! I don't always know what Jarom is thinking either. Sometimes he has expectations that I don't know about. Assumptions usually lead to disappointment.
- Be willing to admit when you have made a mistake. I struggle with this. I'm a hardcore perfectionist, so it's hard for me to admit when I am wrong or that I have messed up. But this is really important because it brings a level of vulnerability to your relationship. When I am more willing to admit that I have made a mistake, Jarom meets me where I'm at - he doesn't accuse or berate me and he also doesn't hold it over my head. He helps me to move forward. We all need to be more like that.
I want to add really quick too that these tips do not help an abusive relationship. Couples counseling may be of use to your relationship depending on your situation (though, couples counseling can be beneficial even in a healthy relationship), but there is no excuse for physical, mental, or emotional abuse towards a spouse, children, or anyone. If this is your situation, I hope you will seek the necessary help to be in a better situation.
If any of this makes it seem like my relationship with my husband is perfect, I've done a bad job. It certainly is not, because we are both human and life is crazy. But I think each of these ideas can help to strengthen our relationship with our spouse so that when crazy stuff happens or disagreements arise, we're better prepared to meet and work through them because we took the time to build, develop, and strengthen our relationship in the first place. I can say hands down that my husband is one of the most important people in my life. My relationship with him is crucial to our family life and everything else going on in my life too. Find ways to make your relationship with your spouse a priority!