Men and women in our society devote a tremendous amount of work, planning and energy to finding and dating a prospective mate. They obsess over making their love interest happy and excited, bringing gifts, texting them, exchanging messages on social media, writing passionate love letters, thinking about them every minute.
It’s only natural after all that hard work and emotional stress that they find themselves exhausted and ready to settle into a stable long-term or married relationship.
Our language also preserves this attitude that most of the energy and work goes into that first courting phase of a relationship. We speak sometimes of someone being “a good catch” like a fish, and once you’ve landed that fish the work is mostly done.
People joke about “letting themselves go” once they are married, but it’s no joke – it actually happens. People stop dressing as nicely, or giving as many little gifts and compliments to their partner. Despite the prevalence of separation and divorce in today’s world, there can be a sense of finality and accomplishment once you’ve “put a ring on it.”
And you can’t entirely blame people, either. Often other obligations, usually work, take over much of the energy formerly available for courting. Marriage is a fun and fantastic adventure, but it also tends to focus people’s minds on money and supporting a family. That also takes away time spent on romance.
Finding a place to live together, whether it is rented or bought requires grown up attention to regular monthly payments. Groceries have to be bought, meals must be planned and cooked, dishes must be washed and put away, garbage must be taken out, clothes washed and dried and folded. No wonder so many married couples have trouble balancing their lives.
What We Mean By Balance
The word balance is important here. Something that is balanced has equal weight on either side, so it doesn’t lean or tip over. A marriage is like that, except there are probably more than just two things to balance. But the major things are work and home, or work and love relationship, so we’ll focus on those.
Don’t kid yourself that overwork and an obsessive focus on money and career is actually, by some weird legerdemain, also a focus on your marriage. Yes, it is technically true that your marriage needs money, so you need to do some work and earn a paycheque.
Yes, you need to pay some attention to your career, so that you can perhaps be promoted and make more money to pay for a growing family, or so you can put some aside for a rainy day or retirement.
But just as people don’t live by bread alone, your marriage doesn’t live on only money. Put a plant in a dark room and give it plenty of water and it will still wilt and die without sunshine. The sunshine your marriage needs is love and kindness and attention.
So you need to plan for the future health of your marriage the same way you plan for your career. And do this planning together with your spouse.
Continue to Share Dreams
Have a regular meeting with your spouse – a dreaming meeting. Sit down and talk about the future and your dreams for it, both big and small. If there’s a particular restaurant you want to eat at, or a place you’d like to visit on holiday, a dog you’d like to have as a pet, or a city or neighbourhood you’d like to move to, put it on the table.
Don’t leave out any ideas just because you think they are too big or crazy or expensive. You don’t have to achieve every one of your dreams, but it is important to have them anyway. Talking about them together will remind each of you that your relationship is important and that you’re both excited about it and about each other.
Erect healthy barriers between “work” and “home,” especially if you work at home.
These days, with technology like smartphones, it is all too easy to be sucked into checking work emails or messages when you aren’t at work. Not only is this unhealthy for your marriage, it is also unhealthy for you.
So be clear with yourself about when you are working and when you aren’t. If necessary, turn off your phone when you are spending quality time with your spouse. I’m sure you’ve been out to a restaurant or a walk and seen a couple where both partners were glued to their phones. Don’t do that. You can be creative about this, too – maybe when you are together at home in the evening, you will both lock your phones together in a drawer and leave them there until morning.
Don’t Let Work Take Over Your Life
Work does tend to intrude into all areas of life, and if unchecked it will greedily consume all your free time. Don’t let it. You shouldn’t be ashamed to tell your boss or co-workers that you can’t do extra work right now because you have made a commitment to your family.
Having healthy boundaries at work will pay dividends. But you have to protect those boundaries, and it isn’t always easy. If necessary, have a private talk with your boss so you can explain your commitment to your marriage and be clear about exactly what expectations there are for your job.
This may seem terrifying, but you are likely to find that it won’t be as scary as you think. Don’t ever be shy about asking for what you need – in this case time to spend with your spouse. If your boss doesn’t understand, or if the expectations in your particular career are that you sacrifice your health and family for your work, then it’s time to consider getting a different job.
Just Do It Together
Take care of yourself – eat healthy and get regular exercise and sleep. This allows you to show up relaxed and refreshed for your marriage. You don’t have to exercise together, particularly if you’re into different styles of working out. But you should each do your best to eat right and stay healthy.
One great thing to do to stay connected is to take a class together. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, from sailing to music appreciation to history to cooking. Using your minds and being creative together will always bind you more closely to each other.
And even if the class is a bust (say you manage to capsize your sailboat and have to be rescued by another boat), you will laugh in years to come as you remember the adventure you had. You can also learn from books. Get a field guide to trees, or flowers, and try to learn the names of all the ones you see on your walks through the neighbourhood.
Plan regular dates together, too. Dates can range from small things like a twenty-minute walk together in the morning or evening, or a quick bite at a local food truck, all the way up to a weekend away. The small, quick and easy dates don’t require much work – just a decision by the two of you to make them happen – so they shouldn’t provoke much anxiety or stress.
If you don’t have much money, consider something like eating at every food truck or take out restaurant in your neighbourhood in the next six months. Some of the meals may be not so good, but sharing them will give you something to remember and talk about, and hopefully laugh about.
Planning bigger dates sometimes takes more effort, particularly if you have to get a babysitter or a reservation at a fancy restaurant. Work together to accomplish these goals, so you share the burden.
Marriage is a shared adventure, and you’ll find that planning it together, from the small details to the grand dreams you both have will be fun and also healthy for both of you.
The important thing is to remember to work together.