Not long before my husband proposed, he traveled 1,500 miles to visit me during New Year's. As much as I hate to admit it, I was working—something I did too much of.
"Why did you invite me to visit if you didn't have time for me?" he asked, perplexed and frustrated.
Overworking and being overloaded had been so much a part of my life, that it hadn't occurred to me that it didn't just impact me. My actions were also sending the message I don't have time for you to the person I loved. I had to decide what my priorities were and make changes that authentically reflected those priorities.
My husband became a mirror for me and my busyness habit—and the beginning of my journey to take control of my time, face my fears, and make consistent space for the priorities that matter most.
Has an overwhelming to-do list caused you to relegate time with your spouse to a low place in your priorities? Do you want more time for each other, but your days are crowded by too many other responsibilities? Perhaps you're even feeling that way this week—or maybe you feel that way every week.
When I surveyed more than 300 adults for my book How Did I Get So Busy?, I was astonished by the results.
- Nearly 60 percent hadn't had a seven-day vacation in the last year
- 55 percent had not had time to have a friend over in more than two months
- 80 percent were dissatisfied with the amount of time they get to spend with their spouse.
With technology that allows us to accomplish more in less time, we've simply added more to our plates. In trying to keep up with the expectations around us, we often do too much, and we do so at the expense of the primary person in our life.
There is a better lifestyle, and the two of you can start living it. Take a walk through the pages of the New Testament and you'll find how Jesus handled a demanding schedule:
- Jesus was never in a rush.
- He didn't take on more than he could handle.
- He was clear about his purpose.
- When he needed rest, he took it.
Our relationships with God and our spouse must be at the top of our priority list. If you don't have time for nurturing those two relationships, then now is an urgent time for change. One thing I know for certain: God didn't make a mistake when he created a 24-hour day, just as he didn't make a mistake when he chose marriage as the foundation of family.
Learning to identify busyness and readjust together is a lifelong skill that will make every marriage stronger. For some, it's as simple as getting up 30 minutes earlier to share breakfast or committing to sit down to dinner together every night. For others, the answer may be as major as choosing to live on one income so that one parent can stay home with children—a challenging, but rewarding choice.
Be realistic about how much you can actually do in a day—or a week. When you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of commitments on your to-do list, take a few moments to ask yourself, What could I do differently in this situation to reduce the stress and give myself some breathing room? Journal your answers or talk it through with your spouse. Then consider these five steps.
Plan a respite.
When you go through a period of being in overdrive, the key to avoiding burn out is to plan some down time together. Sometimes there's a good reason you must shift into overdrive. The problems occur when you both stay in overdrive indefinitely. Remember to slow down and breathe! Look at your calendar and plan some down time. This gives you a goal to move toward as you catch up and take control of your schedule.
Give yourself time to catch up.
Identify what's overdue and what's coming up. My husband and I have created an annual calendar of the shared responsibilities of owning a home. That way, we don't feel overwhelmed and constantly behind schedule. Catching up—even just on paper—relieves anxiety and gives us emotional space to focus on other things.
Alter your deadlines. Drop the non-essentials.
In order to catch up, you may need to drop some activities and postpone others. Consider your upcoming deadlines. What could you change? You often have more leeway than you think. Notice when your deadlines are self-imposed and give yourself permission to change them. Lastly, give yourself permission to drop some activities and projects. You don't have to do everything. Your kids don't have to do everything. In fact, you can't. So why stress yourself out trying?
Clear the clutter.
Clutter in your environment can cause you to feel you have more to do than you really do. Take some time to clear the clutter and re-organize. Identify "problem zones" (the phone desk, perhaps?) in your shared space, and clear them together. This will give you a feeling of control that empowers you to get unstuck and be more productive—not to mention happier in your home.
Remember your vision.
When you're feeling overwhelmed with choices, projects, and responsibilities, it's important to put things into perspective. Ask yourself, If I don't get this done today, what difference will it make a month from now or a year from now? If it makes a difference, you know it's an urgent priority. If it doesn't, give yourself some breathing room. Consider for a moment your vision for your life and for your marriage. If you don't have a clear picture of where the two of you are going, take time this week to do some vision-casting. What's your vision of your life together in a month? A year? Five years? Ten? Then make sure your schedule aligns with that vision.
Valorie Burton, a professional certified coach and speaker, is the author of several books including her latest, How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most (WaterBrook Press). www.ValorieBurton.com
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.