I want my husband, not a roommate." The words I'd been thinking for weeks had finally found their way to my husband's ears. Four kids, a new job that took my spouse even farther away from home, and various family commitments left us little more than two adults sharing the same house. We occupied the same space, even the same bed, but our relationship was running on fumes.
Even when my husband came home from work an hour later than he used to at his old job, I would still be rushing from room to room dealing with a buzzing dryer, an almost burning casserole, and a sibling squabble simultaneously. The rare "How did your day go?" was usually met with an interruption of some sort—a ringing phone, a crying youngster, a hormonally super-charged teen. At the end of the day we fell into bed, our emotional and physical energy depleted.
I knew something had to change, but what? And how? Busyness is the norm, and some seasons are understandably busier than others. But I also knew that for our marriage not only to survive but to thrive, we would have to be proactive. Staying connected doesn't just happen.
The whole "roommate" experience opened our eyes to the importance of nurturing our relationship daily. We had to recommit to doing life together even though circumstances sometimes kept us apart.
A spark of hope ignited. I began brainstorming ways my husband and I could stay connected even when life is hectic. Here's what I came up with:
Ditch the expectations. Unmet expectations lead to discouragement and ultimately resentment. The best laid plans are just that—plans. It is the Lord who directs our steps (see Proverbs 16:9). When we let go of our individual expectations, my husband and I were able to be more flexible and take advantage of every opportunity the Lord provided us. We were no longer disappointed when something like bad weather interfered with our weekend plans. We learned to understand that maybe God had something better in mind, and so we are always on the lookout for new ways to connect.
Synchronize your morning schedule. Rarely does a married couple need to get up at the same time each morning, but doing so will provide you with some valuable time together. I now get up (most of the time!) nearly an hour earlier than I would need to just so I can spend a few precious moments with my husband before he leaves for work. With the kids still sleeping, this is quiet, uninterrupted time. Priceless.
Make a big deal of little things. When my husband and I are together, we're learning to make the most of every minute. We'll hug and kiss as we pass in the hallway, hold hands while watching a movie with the kids, and rub each other's feet or back even if it's just for two minutes. These snippets of physical contact keep us connected in an intimate way, which leads to…
Make sex a priority. A big part of being married is the sexual relationship—and sacrifice. And let's face it: sometimes sex requires a sacrifice. When we'd rather sleep, we choose to physically love the one God has given us. No matter how exhausted we are, there's nothing like skin on skin to help keep my husband and me connect. Sometimes I just have to remind myself that my love for him really does outweigh my need for sleep.
Team up. So much of our actual "together" time is taken up with household chores and errands. In fact, we've been in the same house and not seen one another for hours. To stay connected, we're learning to do as much as we can as a team. We will often cook supper together, which gives us the opportunity to catch up on each other's day. We also run many errands together, including grocery shopping, just so we can have a few minutes of private conversation in the vehicle.
Reassess priorities. It's easy to take on additional activities or commitments without dropping others. Before long our schedules are so full that we have no time for one another. My husband and I sat down and discussed what, if anything, could be eliminated from our lives to free up more time for real connectedness. Many nights we would watch a movie before bed simply because we were too tired to do anything else. Even though we were in the same room, we weren't really connected; our focus was on the movie. We ditched the nightly movie and now spend that time focused on one another.
Schedule regular date nights. Because my husband and I both love Christian music, we'll buy concert tickets months in advance. Since the date is so far away, we have no problem arranging for a babysitter and scheduling to leave work early, if necessary. And because we've already paid for the tickets, we're not likely to cancel. We both look forward to our dates.
Connect when apart. While not every couple will be able to make this work, if you can, take advantage of it. My husband's workplace allows him to send personal emails and since I work from home, we email and send e-cards back and forth every day. Even though he's a 45-minute drive away, being able to stay in touch this way makes us feel more connected when we're apart. Text messages and brief phone calls work well too.
Disconnect. No, do not disconnect from one another. For one hour each day, disconnect from all media and technology—no cell phones, no Facebook, no TV, no iPad, and my own personal favorite, no Kindle. When I have a few free minutes my default setting is to grab my Kindle, but I'm learning to grab my husband instead! Technology is great, but my spouse is greater. I want my actions to show that.
Be an encourager. A single word of encouragement from my hubby has carried me through many hectic days. When time together is limited, words of encouragement help us stay connected. These words stay with us even when circumstances keep us apart. Daily I try to think of specific ways I can encourage my husband; he does the same for me.
Pray for and with one another. Prayer is essential for a strong marriage, and even when we are apart my husband and I stay connected by praying for, and sometimes with, one another. Just yesterday my husband called me when he arrived at work as he does each morning, and when I informed him I wasn't feeling very well he immediately prayed for me over the phone. It was the next best thing to him actually being there.
Life is busy, but we should never be too busy for one another. We were created for relationship; anything less will leave us craving more. It took feeling like I was living with a roommate for me to see how important staying connected really is. Now that we are committed to doing life together, even though circumstances sometimes keep us apart, I no longer feel like I'm living with a stranger.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer living in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.