When I submitted my last assignment for school this past weekend, I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately started thinking about all of the fun things that I wanted to do with my nights. Finally, my nights wouldn't be consumed by classes and internship hours and homework that's due. I sat down with Joe on Sunday for our family meeting, eager to plan some fun things and down time together.
Our conversation during that family meeting went a little like this:
Me: "What do you have going this week."
Joe: "I have this on Monday night, that on Tuesday night and this other thing on Wednesday night."
Me: "So we can hang out on Thursday night?"
Joe: "Probably. I might have something that shifts into Thursday night though."
Me: "Do you even want to hang out with me?!?" (Joking of course.)
I don't know why I thought that time was magically going to appear after I graduated and didn't have homework, class or internship commitments every week night, but apparently I did. I'd forgotten all about lawn care season and how much Joe is usually gone taking care of clients and building his business. He also has church commitments that take up one night a week and sometimes more in the summer. After this season dies down, we have other things that we're planning for (more on that Monday) and then the holidays hit. How do I keep forgetting that life never slows down? There's always something around the next corner that takes up time. Every season of life is different, and the demands on our time shift as well, but there's consistency in the fact that it never feels like there is enough time in our days to do what we want.
I've been disappointed in myself this past semester because I've done a lot more taking than giving in our relationship. I haven't always made Joe a priority, even though I've thought about it often. He has been the greatest support to me in this final semester of school, especially as my carefully laid plans fell apart and it became obvious that we were in for the ride of our lives. Now that Joe is in a busy season of his life, I know that I need to step up to the plate and support him the way that he supported me!
My planner has a checklist "to-do" sheet at the end of every month that I love! There is something so satisfying about checking things off of my to-do lists. My lists have the following labels: wife life, mom life, self care, family/friends, religion/spirituality, education, home improvement, professional life. Each list has a specific purpose for me and has space for me to set twelve goals for the month. On my wife life list, I will sometimes include specific date night ideas or restaurants that we should try. Other things on the list have included taking a Sunday afternoon nap together, baby free date night, a specific meal that he loves, playing video games together, or giving him a back scratch. Maybe it sounds weird to create a to-do list for your marriage, but it helps me think intentionally and act on the thoughts that I have! It encourages me to make time for my marriage, whether it's going on a date together, or just spending a few minutes doing something that I don't normally do but I know that he loves.
As I put together my schedule each week, I make sure to include time that I can spend with Joe. Over the next five months, which I'm labeling as "the next season of our lives" (I don't remember how to speak about time in something other than semesters), I have specific ideas of things that I know will help make time for our marriage. Planned, weekly date nights are at the top of that list because it is guaranteed quality time and something that got neglected the last month or so. Other things on the list in my head include night time walks with the family, dinner from the grill every couple of weeks, Friday lunch dates at home while Bensen naps, etc. I want to make the most of the time that we do have to spend together because even though it's not abundant, I know there's a lot more of it than there has been over the last few months.
Don't use the gaps to make time for your spouse!
Obviously, it's great to spend extra free time together, but your marriage and your spouse should be a priority first! Have you ever seen the object lesson using a jar, rocks and sand that illustrates priorities in life? If you put the sand (the not important things) in first, there's no room for the rocks (the important things). But if you add the big rocks, then the pebbles and then the sand, you'll be able to fit everything into your schedule. Identify the rocks, pebbles and sand in your life, what are they? My marriage, my family and work are my rocks (sometimes rocks are necessary evils). Church commitments, this blog, extra education and house projects are my pebbles. All of the other little things that I do are the sand. When I sit down to fill out my calendar, I schedule the rocks first (date night, weekly rituals, family time, etc.) and then I fill in some of the gaps with my pebbles. Any leftover time each day is spent taking care of the sand in my life.
Knowing your schedule makes all the difference
When you look at your schedule every week/month/year (whenever you do your planning), what are the non-negotiable things that you put on the calendar first? Work hours, class schedules, church commitments and family events are some of the things that get added to my agenda very first and then I schedule everything else around those. Do you ever schedule time for your marriage at the same time that you schedule those must dos in your life? If you're determined to make your marriage a priority, you should, and you should make that time non-negotiable the same way that work, class, and those other things are set commitments that can't be moved.
A couple of months ago, I joked with someone that I hated looking at my planner and didn't look forward to sitting down and planning my life each week anymore. It was overwhelming and I was spending too much time on the pebbles and it wasn't leaving enough time for the rocks in my life. I sat down this weekend, after I'd completed all of my school commitments, and realized that I was excited to plan again. My free time wasn't full of homework deadlines anymore and I could finally commit to spending time with my family every night. If I had taken the time to look at my schedule, I probably would have found that I had more than enough time to spend with Joe. But I let the sand and pebbles get the best of me and felt overwhelmed in the end. No matter how overwhelming my schedule seems, I vow to never neglect my planner again. Looking at it often allows me to make time for my marriage and be more aware of when I need to do the following.
Don't commit to more than you can handle
I would never suggest that anyone attempt to do everything that I've done in the past semester, it was a really bad idea. It was not my plan, at all, and Joe agreed to journey through it with me, but it was not the ideal situation. The things that I had to commit to weren't bad, but all of my commitments combined took up a lot more of my time than they should have. School, work, church service, none of it is bad, until it doesn't leave time for those things that you say are your priorities. If someone asks me to do something and that thing falls into my work hours, it's easy to say no. If I have made plans with family for that time, it's easy to say no. If you've scheduled date night or time with your spouse, do you say no to things that conflict with those plans?
One of the things that I've had to do the past few months is look at what absolutely has to be done and work through my schedule that way. I would have loved to post on the blog more, but that would have taken time away from Joe and Bensen and I wouldn't have been able to justify that, so I neglected it altogether. My house could have been cleaner than it's been and I probably didn't need a month's worth of clean clothes hanging out in baskets in our bedroom, but those things were less important to me that snuggling my baby in the few hours a week that we had to spend together or relaxing with my husband at the end of the day. I let go of a lot of the expectations that I usually have for myself and tried not to let them bother me because I was taking care of the things that were really important.
No matter what your stage in life, there will always be something keeping you from spending every minute of every day together. Some stages may allow for more free time than others, but there will always be other responsibilities that need to be taken care of. Don't let your commitments take up all of your time. I know that Joe and I survived this last season of life because we were determined to make our relationship a priority and because we knew that no matter what life was sending our way, our ultimate goal is to have a strong marriage and family. Make time for your marriage because if you don't, you will begin to drift apart and one day you might wake up and find that you are roommates instead of lovers. Make your marriage a priority and you will have a confidant, partner and best friend to make it through every stage of life with.
What will you do to make time for your marriage this coming month?