You start dating, and it’s magic.
You put on music and do the silliest dance you can and she just thinks you’re the funniest guy in the whole world. She laces her fingers with yours and it sends butterflies straight to your stomach. You spend all your time together you can, just laughing and teasing and flirting and having fun.
So why is it that a few years into marriage that often seems to go away?
It’s Rebecca on the blog today, and I want to talk to the guys here on the blog. We know we get a lot of male readers, and since 95% of our posts are for women, we thought we’d start writing some for you, too! So consider this one a men’s corner (and tomorrow will be as well, as we conclude our series on what it takes to be a good lover).
Today, though, I want to talk about how to bring that playfulness back to your marriage.
We hear this concern a lot from men–you try to be sweet, you try to flirt, you try to tease her like you did when you were dating but instead of it being endearing, she brushes you off or gets annoyed and snaps.
What changed? And how can you get that back?
Let’s start with what changes between when you’re dating and after you’ve been married for a few years.
When dating, most couples live with wiggle room.
Another word for this is “margins.” Most people, during the dating stage, haven’t bought their first house yet and so aren’t dealing with mortgage payments. They don’t have kids, so they have a lot of extra time. And because you’re in a new relationship, you start to say no to other commitments because dating this new person is so exciting nothing else seems to matter much anymore.
But then that couple gets married and almost overnight they squeeze out all of their wiggle room.
It happens again and again–the first thing that many couples do is buy a house that is exactly at the level they can afford. Which means they can never make the choice to take a lower paying job again, and you will always have to be a two income family unless one spouse gets a major pay raise. Then, because you’re a newly married couple, many churches will ask you to volunteer at 5 times the rate that you were expected to before. Finally, you’ve moved into this big house and so the housework is so much more intense but you seem to have less time than you did before because now your life involves two people, not just one.
Then you have kids and what was already a busy life where money was tight gets even more stressful. You love your kids so much, but you’re just tired of shuttling them to and from school and friends’ houses and activities. Plus, they’re expensive. And so that dream you had of having one spouse go to part-time work so you could spend more time as a family is replaced by the reality that one of you has to do a lot of overtime and pick up weekends shifts (if not a whole other part-time job) because you’ve still got that huge mortgage plus your kids’ educational savings plus all the costs of their activities and just feeding more people.
Soon it can begin to seem like your entire life is about putting out fires, not about enjoying the stage you’re in.
That disillusionment we get about our lives where we love our families but we’re just not happy often occurs because we’ve created for ourselves more needs than we can meet.
We all have needs. Psychologically speaking, those needs are organized in a hierarchy of the most important needs to the least important for survival needs. Things like food and water and good health are most important, while things like having fun and goofing off are least important–the non-vital needs.
If you’ve set up your life so that you’re only barely meeting all of your important needs, you won’t have the psychological energy for the non-vital needs. Many couples are living just at their means or slightly beyond, and it means a lot of stress and a lot of numbers-crunching. Then on top of that, you’re driving kids to activities 5 nights a week and the other two days are either church or the rare time you get to do groceries or go to the dentist.
If you want to foster a marriage where playfulness and joy come naturally, you need to consider where you can create some margins.
You need margins. In fact, God commands us to have margins. That’s what the Sabbath is–a day of rest. If your Sundays are not restful due to volunteering or sports or the like, then you need to find a way to Sabbath outside of Sunday morning. It’s actually one of the clearest commands in the Bible and the one that we so rarely follow or talk about in church.
This concept of the Sabbath rest can be used in all areas of your life–it’s a concept of moderation. If we practice moderation, we have the freedom to listen and answer God’s callings in our lives. Moderation with money means we can be more generous. Moderation with our time means we’re available to help others when they need us. Margins are important.
For Connor and me, creating margins has meant renting instead of buying a house right now so that we can save and not stress about money. It means only being out of the house 3 nights a week. It means prioritizing having friends over twice a month minimum (not all margins are about what NOT to do!). And it means having a cleaning schedule so that our house isn’t so dirty that it hangs over us like a dark storm cloud.
Creating margins made the stress level in our marriage plummet.
Suddenly our relationship wasn’t always tense anymore because we just weren’t as on edge! We still had stressful days, but our life as a whole was no longer stressful. Our money was taken care of, our home looked nice, and we spent the majority of weeknights at home with nothing on the agenda.
And I became infinitely more playful and fun than I was before we had this figured out. Getting rid of the stress whenever possible by living well within our means and cutting down on non-essential commitments has allowed us to be spontaneous, because we have room to breathe. So when Connor is silly and goofy it’s endearing, not annoying, since I’m relaxed and feel safe and secure. And it allows me to feel relaxed enough to be silly and goofy, too.
Margins allow for the spontaneity that you need for playfulness. You can’t schedule playfulness. It just happens. When you have down time and you aren’t unnecessarily stressed about money or time or housework because you can figure out a system, it makes it a lot easier to just kick back and relax or even flirt and end up back in the bedroom! You can’t do that if both parents are out every night driving kids to different practices.
This concept of margins isn’t just about your schedule or money–it also applies to what needs to get done around the house.
A lot of husbands write in saying that they want to just have fun again but their wife is always annoyed when they start to flirt or tease or tickle her.
And when I read that, I often wonder, “But what is she doing when you try that?”
I’ve seen it a lot where a woman will be doing dishes or making dinner or folding laundry and that is the moment her husband decides to be cute and tell her jokes to make her laugh. And she’s thinking, “I’m busy folding the laundry that you got dirty and I had to clean so that you have something clean to wear to work tomorrow despite the fact that you are more than capable of doing your own laundry and now instead of helping me fold it you’re telling me jokes? No thank you.”
In a lot of marriages, the husband can have great margins when it comes to his after-work time because he only does 25% of the housework. But that leaves his wife with much thinner margins. So pitch in–as a general rule of thumb, if one person is working, both should be working.
Many women find it very difficult to get in a playful mood when they feel that everything is resting on her shoulders and she isn’t being appreciated for it. If you want your wife to be more relaxed, maybe you could take on some of the load yourself to take some of the weight off her shoulders. And in general, pitching in and sharing the chores can go a long way in helping her get in a better mood simply because she’ll feel appreciated!
Adding playfulness back into your marriage is more about removing barriers to joy than it is adding forced laughter.
Create a lifestyle that allows for the breathing room you need for the spontaneity for the flirtatious playfulness you had when you were dating. Because although it may mean that your life looks weird compared to other couples you know, it’s never a bad idea to reduce the stress in your life. Especially when the stress is getting in the way of having a joyful, playful marriage.
What areas in which have you found creating margins to be beneficial? Are there some areas you’re working on making wiggle room? Let’s talk in the comments!