Our marriage has been characterized by a lot of change. Moves, career changes, death, the addition of more children–each has brought with it losses and gains. Navigating through the loss is hard. And because we are different people we handle change and loss differently. We both need space to walk through challenges in our own way and at our own pace.
I have found, though, that it’s easy to put the situation–whatever it might be– ahead of our marriage and before long we drift apart and feel even more alone in our struggles. I don’t have all the answers on how to maintain a healthy marriage in the midst of change and stress. These tips are certainly not limited to challenging times, but simply ones that have worked to help us love and serve one another during seasons of change or difficulty in life.
Remember my spouse is struggling too. As a stay-at-home Mom, I’m constantly with my children. The brunt of the housework and childcare is my responsibility. Because of this, it’s tempting to want to push the kids and the house onto my husband when he walks in the door at the end of the day.
However, he has been working all day too. He slept in our house last night and heard (most of the time) the kids crying/going to the bathroom/coughing, etc. We are both tired. But many times I start to think that I’m the one who needs a break, not him.
I didn’t think my struggle with this was too bad until Bradley told me one day: “I think you feel like your life is harder than mine.” I was saying things that invalidated the load he carries as the head of our home, negating the fact that he bears a responsibility that I will never understand.
Our daily responsibilities might be different, but in the midst of a challenging season, we are both weary. When I remember this, it’s easier for me to extend grace to him and have realistic expectations about how we will share the load at home and with the kids.
Clearly communicate my needs and wants. Perhaps a no-brainer? But how often do I assume that my husband knows what I need and should automatically jump to meet it? My tendency is to hint around without even realizing it. I find myself saying things like, “I’m so tired. It’s been a long day with the kids and I’m done.” When, really, what I mean is, “I need 30 minutes to myself. Please do whatever you can to make that happen.”
When we’re both struggling through something in life, our ability to sense the other person’s needs is limited, maybe even non-existent. I want Bradley to see my face and offer those 30 minutes of solitude to me. Chances are he won’t. If I can tell him what is most helpful, he’s quick to provide what I need in that moment. And he’s grateful that I shared how he can help.
Shower together. When Jennavieve was born and in the NICU for two weeks, we found ourselves struggling with four children under the age of five. At the end of the day we would realize our conversations were nothing more than family logistics and basic reporting. Sometime in the first week after her birth, Bradley had the genius idea to shower together. I was hesitant at first because showers to me are strictly utilitarian. Get clean and get out. Once I finally jumped on board, I was shocked to discover that showering with my husband provided the perfect environment for conversation. Not only did we have time to cover the basics from our days, but I found that somehow he opened up about everything.
Emotional and physical intimacy were taking place. We often look back on that time as some of the best conversations in our marriage.
Do you want your husband to open up more? Suggest a shower together. (Be prepared for this to lead to sex, which is also good for your marriage).
Get out of the house. Our home is a haven. But it’s hard to escape from the chaos of circumstances or emotions within its walls. We are learning that simply leaving is helpful. We might take all of the kids for a walk around the block or grab an ice cream cone from McDonald’s. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or even well planned out (Bradley helps me with this), but somehow stepping away from things gives us a chance to breathe and re-charge.
We have never had regular date nights, but we’re trying to do better at seizing opportunities that come along. Sometimes this looks like picking up take-out while someone stays with the kids, going to an open house, attending a meeting, grabbing a cup of coffee, and sometimes, yes, going out to dinner or doing something a little more extravagant.
For us, it’s also providing each other with an opportunity to get out alone. Bradley might go work in the garage for an hour. I might go for a run, go to the grocery store or sit in a coffee shop by myself. The key is uninterrupted time alone away from the house.
Pray together. I wish I could say we have prayed together every day for the past 10 years. We haven’t, but the times that we have are wonderful and always make me long for more. Over the past several months we’ve been trying to make this more of a priority. Nothing long or scripted. Often it’s just a cry of “HELP!” to the Lord, and usually it lasts about five minutes. The key is doing it together. It grounds us as a couple, reminding us together of our dependence upon the Lord for everything.
Pay attention. Because we handle challenges and stresses differently we don’t always know what each other needs. I’m learning to notice when Bradley’s stress level increases, and he’s learned to pick up on mine. It’s amazing how healing it is for my own heart to think of someone else’s needs.
What marriage tips do you have for times of unusual stress and challenging circumstances?
Photo credit: Callie Murray