We do marriage on hard mode when we make life more difficult than it has to be.
We’re talking about doing marriage on hard mode this month, and last week we looked at the different ways we can make marriage harder than it needs to be.
Today I want to go back to first principles, and then encourage us all to ask questions about how we’re spending our time and our money.
First principles for a fulfilling, rich life:
If you want your marriage to feel close and fulfilling, you need several things:
You need time to spend together to connect where you aren’t doing errands or logistical things
You need emotional energy to devote to your marriage, which means it can’t all be drained by everything else in your life.
Both of those things require a life that isn’t filled with stress or too many demands.
Now, the problem is that life IS filled with a certain number of demands: we all need to make money; we need to care for children or other loved ones who need us; we need to look after our homes and belongings.
And some of us will have more on our plate with others, with special needs children, with sick parents, with a demanding season in our jobs.
But in general, the more that other stuff eats up your time and emotional energy, the more that your marriage will suffer.
When budgeting, we have some fixed costs and we have some variable costs. With life, we need to see things as “fixed” and “variable” too.
We’re familiar with fixed costs in budgeting: insurance, rent or mortgage, car payments, etc. are fixed. You have to pay the same amount every month.
But other costs are variable–you can choose what you spend on things like groceries, clothing, eating out, even utilities to a certain extent. Many of these categories (like “groceries”) can’t be $0, but they can vary tremendously.
You can only find savings from the variable items. You can’t save on the fixed items.
Well, the same principle applies to our lives. Our work hours are often “fixed”. The time and energy we may have to give to caregiving for family members are often “fixed”. But other things are honestly variable–things like extracurricular activities; how much you volunteer; whether you’re taking on extra studying or courses; even how you spend your free time.
The problem is that we often schedule our time with other stuff FIRST, and then our spouse gets the leftovers.
What I’d suggest this year is blocking off time for your marriage first.
That doesn’t mean that you say, “Every Thursday night is date night where we do something romantic.” But it may mean that you say, “Every Tuesday and every Friday we’ll have nothing on the calendar, and every Saturday morning we’ll do all the housework so we’re not as bothered with stuff throughout the week.” Then on Tuesday and Friday you have breathing room, which is what your marriage needs. You can hang out together, sure. But you can also just rest and recharge so that you’re able to invest in each other and be there for each other.
Ironically, when certain “fixed costs” kick in, we often ramp up the variable costs, and make things even busier.
When children come, suddenly your marriage has pressures on it like it never did before. You’re not sleeping. You’re exhausted. Pretty much every waking minute is dominated by the kids to some extent.
And yet it’s often right then that we take on more things that can add stress to a marriage.
We buy the big house that means we have to work harder to pay for it–and often we move out of an apartment in the heart of everything where we could walk places to the suburbs where suddenly we’re more isolated.
We sign children up for all kinds of extracurricular activities that eat into our schedules and our time together.
We take on more roles at work because now we need the money more.
it’s not just kids that make life busier; it’s all of life.
And that’s okay–as long as those are decisions you’re actually making wisely. But often we feel pushed into these things without necessarily picturing what our daily lives will look like once we’ve taken that plunge. It’s not always a bad idea to spend the first few years of the children’s lives with less money in smaller apartments where you also have fewer work hours and less outside stress. It’s a trade-off.
Not all fixed costs are actually fixed.
I’ve shared this story before in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage and in my post on how Keith and I started to grow apart a few years ago.
Here’s how I explained it:
Keith got a job in a different city.
For years his job in our hometown was so stressful. He had long hours, personality conflicts, and constant crises. They were chronically short staffed of pediatricians, but needed the call schedule covered. What do you do if there aren’t enough pediatricians? If you’re a caring, nice guy like my husband is, you step up to the plate and you do extra call.
But that takes a toll.
And finally he said, “enough”. He took a job at a bigger teaching hospital an hour away.
It was the perfect job. My husband is such a good teacher, and the job entailed teaching medical students and residents. He won some awards. He was having the time of his life.
The problem is that he had to about eight calls a month. Those calls were infinitely easier than the ones he used to do, because instead of going in to the hospital in the middle of the night, residents now took care of things and only phoned him for orders and advice. But it also meant he had to stay in that city for eight nights a month.
There was a long commute–and he had to be at work at 7:30. That means that we no longer had breakfast together.
He was home much later often, especially when he had periodic meetings.
And at the same time I still had speaking engagements.
We tried to work his call around my speaking, because our daughters were still at home.
So think what that did: he’d be gone eight nights a month. I’d be gone maybe five. Take a few more nights for his meetings. Then we had church commitments (we ran the youth quizzing ministry at church which required four weekends a year where we’d take the kids away to a competition. Four weekends doesn’t sound like much until you realize how few weekends we’d have).
Suddenly we had very little time together.
We didn’t realize it would be this bad (he was only supposed to do five calls a month when he took the job). But that first month he had his full call load, plus he had two weekends for conferences and training courses. I spoke for a weekend. We had maybe seven nights together all month. And I started to get scared.
Of course, when your schedules are bizarre like that, you know what always happens, right? When you finally have a week together, in its entirety–that’s when your period comes. It doesn’t come when he’s on call. It doesn’t come when you’re away traveling. It’s when you’re finally together again. And I was having major issues in that department and getting chronically anemic, and the stress was horrible.
And it just got hard. So hard.
I started getting used to living my life alone.
So what did we do? You can read the rest here, but the gist of it is this:
We realized that we couldn’t keep living that way, and Keith ended up letting that job go and working half-time so we could do more together, and speak more together.
It took a while for that to become a reality; we had to plan and put pieces in place.
But sometimes you realize that the life that you’re living is not sustainable in the long term.
It may be sustainable in the short-term, but this isn’t what you want for always. And that’s when decisions have to be made.
My big encouragement for all of you today is this: don’t do life on auto-mode. Really think about things. Each decision you make impacts how much time and energy you’re going to have to spend together. Some things are fixed–but not all. And sometimes even the fixed things can be changed, with time.
It’s your life. You get to choose how to live it.
God has plans for all of us, and they include growing our relationships first and foremost. He doesn’t want you always frazzled and never connecting. If you find yourself that way, it’s likely either that you’ve filled your life with things that aren’t necessary, or you’re going through a particularly rough season where you may need a lot of help and grace! If it’s the latter, I hope you have a good support system around you (and pray that God will send that to you!). If it’s the former, though, then pray that He will show you what you can let go of, and what you can change.
What are your variable areas where you can prioritize each other? Are there some “fixed” areas that need to be changed? Let’s talk in the comments! (And I’d love to hear from people who did less when the kids were young deliberately, too!)
Marriage on Hard Mode Series
- Podcast: Are We Making Marriage Harder Than It Needs To Be?
- 6 Ways You May Be Doing Marriage on Hard Mode
- Identifying the One Thing that's holding back your marriage
- Are You Doing Too Much as a Family?
- Why Downsizing Can Be Worth It
- Podcast: Are We Doing Sex on Hard Mode?
- How Gender Roles Can Make Marriage Harder than it Needs to be
- Dealing with the Primary Breadwinner Stereotype so it doesn't hurt your marriage
- What if Marriage Honestly is Hard?
- 10 Red Flags about Marriage and Sex
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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