“I want a husband, not a roommate!” I thought. Young kids, busy jobs, and church commitments left my husband and me as little more than two adults sharing the same house. We occupied the same space, talked in short directives like “she needs a diaper change,” “grab that will you,” “the van needs gas,” and filed jointly on our taxes, but our relationship was thread bare.
The onslaught of needs started early with our two little girls bursting into our bedroom, and my attention shifted to caring for them as we moved through our morning routine. I could see Stephen brushing his teeth, eating his breakfast, and filling his coffee mug, but only through a haze of brushing hair, spilled orange juice and lunch making. Insert pre-school drop-off, work, pick-up, afternoon errands, loads of laundry and dinner-prep and by the time he arrived home in the evenings, I was toast. As an introvert who needs time alone to recharge, being with co-workers and children all day is especially challenging. At 6 pm, the inside of my head was roaring static and I even had trouble stringing words into complete sentences. Bleary eyed, I looked longingly at quiet spaces in our house: my bed, the laundry room, even the bathroom, aching for solitude.
But dinner and bedtime still loomed. We’d finish (or start) dinner side by side, but “how did your day go?” inquiries were always interrupted by crying children or burning bread. By 8 pm dinner would be cleaned up, and the kids would be in bed. But our emotional and physical energy was gone. The best we could do was sit side by side to watch television while falling asleep. Very romantic.
I thought back to quiet dinners, holding hands on walks, Saturday projects that included lots of laughter, and felt hollow inside. Yes, I knew that having children changes the time and energy you have to invest in each other, but I had a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong.
Was our husband-wife intimacy and oneness, dissolving? No big fights, seething hatred or infidelity, but would our exhaustion and distance degrade further to hard-heartedness and ambivalence? I brainstormed what we might do to re-connect, but the regular prescriptions of “plan a date night”, “go away together” or “find a common hobby” all seemed to require money or energy we didn’t have. (Who knew eating Subway could still cost you $30 by the time you include a sitter!?) The thought of adding one more thing to my daily “to do” list made me weepy. What were we going to do?!
I approached an older couple from our church and asked if they might be willing to come to our house and give us some guidance. We had sat under their teaching in several different classes, and I valued their honesty and transparency. Ensconced on our sagging couch one evening, sipping coffee, they listened to our fears and asked a few questions about our routine and commitments. They comforted us with the assurance that many spouses feel this distance, pressure and stress while parenting young children. As they shared some of their own memories of years with small children, traveling spouses, and low energy, I felt some of my fear dissolve. It is deeply comforting to be understood and advised by someone who has traveled through a similar struggle and come through with a blooming marriage.
Towards the end of our time together they asked us, “Could you get up 15 minutes earlier?” They encouraged us to connect with each other before the needs of each day sapped our focus and energy. “Drink some coffee, do a short devotional, pray for each other. Hold hands. Look each other in the eye. Ask what the other has on their plate for the day.” We promised to try it, and they prayed for us before they left. I wondered what fifteen short minutes could do, but we set the alarm those few minutes earlier that night
A year later I can’t say we start every day this way. But most mornings we do, and it’s changed our perspective on each day. Instead of feeling like two adults staggering under the weight of separate commitments and then falling into bed each night, we feel more like a team, a couple, aware of the other’s needs, and prayerfully supportive of each other’s daily challenges.
Now that my husband doesn’t feel like such a stranger, I’ll hug him in the kitchen with little kids hanging off my legs, begging me for Oreos while we make dinner. I grab his hand while we hustle the kids into church, or text him at work to let him know I’m thinking of him. We didn’t have to find $50 “extra” bucks in the budget to go out once a week, or book a Bed and Breakfast, we just sliced out a tiny space in our routine to re-commit to doing life together, and not just somewhere in the proximity of each other.