MARRIAGE ON HARD MODE: Are You Doing Too Much Too Fast?

by | Sep 13, 2021 | Marriage | 12 comments

What Happens When You Do too Much Too Fast in Marriage
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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:

Growing Apart as a Couple--how to pull together when life pulls you apart

From Why Keith and I Had a Rough Few Years

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.

Marriage on Hard Mode: Doing Too Much Too Fast

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!)

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. S


    I really love and appreciate this fixed versus variable time idea. I have been struggling with overscheduling myself lately and I think I need to learn to cut back on variables–this is great insight for me and it’s really hard. My husband works from home and often his “fixed” work schedule is mixed with a variable–“extra work” or “catch up time” and he works far more than his scheduled hours. I think this is a great way to look at this more logistically and by taking a step back. Thank you!

  2. A2bbethany

    This is exactly the kind of article that could’ve helped me our first year of marriage. 3 1/2 years in and we’ve already had hard seasons, and issues that strained our relationship. But we’ve gotten to this nice plateau for now.
    He now works 5 min away from home, and more regularly, home for breakfast and or, supper! We can also visit him and sometimes help a little bit. How rare is that! Im thankful that God is giving us this season of rest.

  3. A.C

    This is so tough. Specially with kids. Honestly we don’t have much time for each other. Specially not now with our third kid that has special needs. What’s so dangerous is that you get used to it. We stopped spending time and it even feels weird when we get a window to actually hang out. It’s very evident we don’t have much to talk about.

    So it’s easier to just hide behind being parents and not feeling that we have time. In our care my wife doesn’t feel much of a need of soending time together. We are a family and that’s it for her. Maybe that’s why I often feel that there is not much attraction anymore. And I guess it’s easier to hide behind being parents instead of dealing with it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry. That is really rough. And it must be so hard with a special needs child.

  4. Elsie

    Serving at church is also another area that can take up a lot of time. My husband and I have been heavily involved in our church for the past few years and are now transitioning out of everything to spend more time focusing on our marriage.

    Contributing to the church is important but the problem is that once you get involved, you get pressured to take on more and more activities. I’ve been on our church leadership team for the past two years, which I was happy to do, but now I am pressured to take on all these side projects, including things that have nothing to do with the leadership team like cleaning the church kitchen or painting the church playground.

    I’m usually good at setting boundaries but the pastor and others at church have been pressuring me a lot lately to the point that I’m considering leaving the church.

    Anyway, thanks, Sheila for this article, definitely so important to make time and space to prioritize our marriages

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, this is definitely an issue! We faced this too, especially when the kids were small.

  5. Anon

    Our biggest issue is that our ‘fixed area’ of work isn’t actually that fixed because my husband is a minister. We clear a day each week for a ‘day off’ and then something urgent turns up… We’ve missed our last two days off and then this week’s one became the only day on which some urgent church errands could be run. So we ran them – but we took a picnic and sat in the car midway, just eating lunch and spending time together! And then went for a short walk and sat on a bench enjoying the peace and quiet. Our ‘day off’ turned into an ‘hour off’, but we still got to spend time together.

    It’s unusual for us to miss this many days off in a row – mostly it’s maybe 1 in 4 because we really do work hard to ring fence them – but sometimes, we have no choice. So we’re learning to be creative about carving out some ‘us’ time in those busy periods – even if it’s just getting a takeaway so we spend together the time that would otherwise be spent in meal prep and clearup or leaving our mobiles in the house and heading out for a half hour walk. Sometimes, it feels like the effort of carving out a bit of ‘us time’ is adding to the workload, but when we do it, we’re always thankful we did.

    • L

      This is full of good ideas …. It’s not always easy or even realistic to carve out huge amounts of time and money … but a lil walk here and a kiss there sounds perfect !

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that is really tough when you’re in ministry! It’s hard to draw boundaries around that.

  6. MB

    We did move out of the apartment when our baby was born, but into a small house, where we’ve stayed longer than we had to, and will probably continue to stay much longer than we have to. We haven’t enrolled our child in any sports yet (first 5 years of life). We also made the decision to stop at 1 kid. And I know it can seem selfish and sometimes I feel like a selfish person for just having 1 but it has helped with prioritizing marriage. For example babysitters for 1 are cheaper than babysitters for 3. Also when the little one is down for nap or night, no one else is interrupting us. And we will approach teen years, when we can have a bit more autonomy and spend a bit more time as a couple again, sooner. What we have still struggled with is putting limits on work and church service. Honestly we havent been super involved in church but that hasn’t felt right. Yet we have felt maxed out on time and energy. So I can’t imagine how some people do it with multiple kids. But we are now, after 5 years of parenting, really looking to plug into church and serve and meet with community again.


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