Our special thanks to Junior High Pastor David Ake and his wife, Jamie, for sharing some relationship truth after a long season of summer busy-ness.
One of my greatest frustrations with my cell phone is hearing the recording “All circuits are busy.” The situation may begin with a mild annoyance, but it can become profound frustration when it goes on for too long. Regardless of your personal perspective, it can be terribly grating when you are trying to connect with your spouse and are not be able to get through.
We know that connection is important, especially between spouses. It must be nurtured and strengthened constantly. The challenge to ongoing and healthy connection is practically anything that grabs our attention, affection or efforts. Work, hobbies, social engagements, children, and even serving our spiritual community can constantly chip away at the time and opportunity to relate and focus our attention, affection, and efforts on our spouses. There is an irony here that is not lost on all of us. It lies in the fact that when we get married, it is with the dream that we will spend large amounts of time with our best friend, only to find that as we say goodbye early in the morning, life is getting in the way of love. So the question is how do we keep the connection strong?
The Art of Connection
Connection is an art that requires both focused action and creativity. Art students will frequently copy a master’s work as a guide to develop the basic skills and then launch into creative expression of their own. In our marriage, there are some basic questions and conversations that my wife and I have asked to find connection with each other through the busy signals of life. We encourage you to copy these and try them in your own relationship. Marriage is a team sport, so I’ll share some principles and my wife will add some artistic explanation.
- What season of life are we in?
Are you young newlyweds, new parents, toddler parents, or school-aged parents? Maybe your children are grown and flown? These different stages of life lead to unique challenges in our ability to spend time together as a couple. For us during the younger years, we had to learn how to get our littles to bed so that we could have an intentional “stay at home date” as we called it. It was a challenge to carve out time to have uninterrupted conversation or just hang out and watch a movie on TV. We did call on the help of friends and family occasionally, as well, so we could leave the house for a date, but this was a rare occurrence. I’d always figured that as our children got older, it would become easier for us to spend one-on-one time with each other. Ha! Our kids don’t go to bed at 7:30 in the evenings anymore. They aren’t even tired. They have assignments to complete, and most after-school and church activities don’t let out until 9 or 10 at night. And those multiple requests for water before bed have now turned into existential questions about the meaning of life, just as they need to go to sleep.
Though circumstances change, the basic principle still holds true. We must learn to intentionally carve out time to spend together. We have a standing date time every Sunday (our kids are 12 & 11 now), and this date time has changed numerous times throughout the years. Right now, this timing works for us and our busy weekly/ daily schedule. If we don’t schedule time together, we will end up unintentionally scheduling each other out of our lives. So what works for you in your “right now?”
2. What is your greatest relational need right now?
The question is simple: What do you need the most from your partner right now? Attention, affection, affirmation, or acceptance? It is never wise to assume (especially after being apart for a season) that your spouse can read your heart and mind. There is certainly a heart risk in revealing our feelings, even to our spouses. However, we empower our spouses to care for us when we are self-aware and honest, and when we communicate well what we need the most from them. We can then let them creatively care for us and that need. Husbands, our wives’ needs may shift around a bit, but come to the table with a servant’s heart. Wives, be honest and gentle, and watch your husband’s creativity kick into gear to come to your side. This also helps us make genuine head to head and heart to heart connections.
Truthfully, this is important in our marriage. And it takes work. Our date time is set, so now what? We could busy ourselves with any number of date-type of activities like eating dinner out, going for a walk, watching a movie at the theater, but we have realized (painfully, on occasion) that the activity wasn’t connection. For that deep relational linking to happen, we must be in communication about what our needs are. I have to stop sometimes to really pray and evaluate myself. Do I need my spouse to hear what’s going on in my head, or do I need to share what I’m feeling in my heart? Am I feeling pensive or playful? Being willing to reveal these details helps determine not only what we do on our date, but also how we connect. If we communicate our needs to each other, we can serve and encourage our spouses, which ultimately deepens our relationship.
- What can you schedule in the next two weeks to be with and do with each other?
Practical steps are great, but if you’re like me, you may find yourself saying, “I’m pretty busy right now. I’ll get around to it.” Yes, do just that…DON’T go on a date this week. However, before you go to sleep tonight, pull out your calendars (even if Friends is on the TV in the background) and write down a date that you won’t break in the next two weeks. That gives you time to honor the commitment and prepare for the time together.
You’ve got the “when” part scheduled, but it may be a bit too early to determine the “what,” especially if it has been a while since you two were on a date together. Take the time really think about what it is you need and what your spouse needs from you. What can you do with each other to truly be “with” each other? Our dates run the gamut from dinner and a movie, a long walk on a trail, an evening park and talk, a trip to the grocery store (although, we’d caution you not to turn your date nights into errand running nights too often). Your date times are an opportunity to share with and care for your spouse, make plans, be goofballs together, and re-kindle your romance. Take your time in making your plans, but keep it simple. While a feast of a date is great gesture, extravagant things can lead to planning-burnout. Just find simple ways to spend time connecting with each other on a regular basis.
Great Things Can Have Small Beginnings
As you sort through and make plans, it is easy to mourn the state you may find yourself in or feel anxious at the risk of revealing your true hurts, hang-ups, and frustrations that are stuffed away as you “soldier on” in your life, work, parenting, and marriage. However, be encouraged…the best relational advice we got early on in “busy-ness” was that we should treat each other the way God treats us: with grace. It means always speaking the truth (being authentic) while loving sacrificially (going out of our way to care for and serve one another). As we experience this from the Lord, it’s always a chance to share that with our spouses….on a date.
David and Jamie have been married for sixteen years, and David is still trying to figure out how Jamie fell in love with him. They have two daughters who have to hear all the time about how much Mom and Dad are in love. (They roll their eyes a lot). Jamie and David fight, hug, laugh, and kiss a lot in front of their kids, and they love how their kids ask them to leave on dates so that they can have their own “me time.” They pray a lot for the men that will show up at their door someday to take their own girls out on a date.