So here we are a year into a global pandemic. On one hand we feel like congratulating ourselves on all the adjustments we've made: hygiene OCD, mask wearing, staying home, NOT doing all the things. And this year that probably means not doing Valentine's Day the way you normally expect. What at first felt like a punishing stint in avoiding a virus, has turned into a marathon that heightens and challenges even the most vigilant among us. "These are times that try men's souls" - as the saying goes...yet these are also times that try couples' marriages.
What to do with more quarantined days which seem to loom ahead - even while we wait for an end and a return to what we once called 'normal'? The tiredness, the vigilance, the staying home all the time, can become wearisome, and our usual 'go to' for marriage nurturing may have gone out the window for now. It could be that you'd normally hire a sitter, catch a concert or movie, eat at a nice restaurant and re-connect in the midst of a frantic life. Now most of these are not an option.
Here are a few ideas to hopefully spark the love you already share:
Expand or Enhance the bedtime routine
These are exhausting days that challenge even the best of us. However, challenges can be harnessed to fuel connection, if we choose to engage and share our burdens with each other. Instead of just going to bed, choose to bring a new practice to your conversation. These are simple routines that invite exploration of each other's world and burdens. Ask each other 3 questions: What are you grateful for today? What was difficult for you today? What can I pray for you tonight? Connecting at the end of your day is not a 'small step' but actually a rather major one. You'll be surprised how this short conversation can strengthen your bond.
Plan a Date Night
Our resources and opportunities are very different during these times. But we can still accomplish our relational best even without the usual props. If your kids are of the age where a movie can entertain them, or where you are able to put them to bed early, you can plan an evening where they are settled in another room while you create ambiance for your date. You might bring out candles, the fancy china, the crystal, the centerpiece (that you might even build out of your kids craft supplies, if you are the crafty type). I once made a Valentine's meal when our baby was too young to leave with a sitter - I made a menu, and used the finest everything. Yes, it was a project and it took work. But the point is to view the effort as an investment to accomplish your relational best. Even making up a menu caused me to reflect on how I could serve, delight, give and inspire my husband. This is the kind of work marriage sometimes involves: giving yourself to tilling the soil of your marriage-garden: making it lovely, delightful, clearing space for the two of you to grow.
Write Love Notes
If you are the kind who needs reminders, maybe make a commitment to write one note a week to your spouse and put a reminder in your phone ('Monday: write hubby a pillow note'). Maybe you can't think of what to write, so here are a few prompts - maybe take one or two of these and write the response until you finish them all. By that time you may have developed a habit that will bless your marriage...forever - who knows!?
- I appreciate it when you...
- When I remember meeting you for the first time, I think of...
- These days of pandemic have reminded me how much I need...
- Lately I've noticed these changes in you which are so encouraging to me:
- I know I can rely on you for ___________ and I'm so thankful
- The things I love most about spending time with you are...
Express Appreciation: it never gets old
Does your spouse listen patiently to you? Spring into action to fix a problem? Go to work every day and pay bills? Attend your children’s events? Help with the kids’ homework? Fix meals regularly? Do the shopping? Do house fixing projects? Handle obnoxious people in your life, sending them packing? Protect you, befriend you, help you, serve you, support you?
I'm sure no one spouse does all of these or all of these well. I recognize we are each a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. Early in our marriage I was frustrated because I seemed to want to change my husband - 'if only he would...' became my daydream that fostered a precarious instability in our relationship. There came a point where this longing needed to be released into the loving hands of God. It was a journey, to be sure, but I began to think in different ways about our relationship:
How about loving him for the person he is, not the person he isn't?
How about focusing on the things that are gifts to me rather than what I don't see in him?
What about appreciating all the ways he does serve and give, rather than the few where you see a deficit? This change came about slowly, as I recognized my need to grow in acceptance, contentment and a need to be anchored in my relationship with God first and foremost.
I don't say this to dismiss that spouses need to change. But I do want to reiterate what is already commonly known: the spouse that needs to change most is me - I cannot control another person (though of course influence is a must!). The fruit of needing to control another is anxiety, frustration and disharmony. God calls us to 'self-control;' not 'others control'. If we are parents, we are given the unique call to be somewhat controlling of our children, for a season. Beyond the call of parenting we are not able to control anyone - we can simply induce them to bend to our will, and even then, that might be pushing it.
Having given you these 4 beginning steps to cultivating connection in your marriage, let me again be a your cheerleader: this has been and IS a hard season! You are walking a tough road - but I am confident you will be able to find the hidden gold in these rocky times. The pandemic has been tragic and difficult on so many fronts, but in our homes, marriages and families, there have been numerous silver linings: less busyness, more time together, opportunities for relational growth, reflection, even the development of family rituals, like evening meals. Maybe you haven't had space to create evening family times in the past - but now this may be possible. With the increase in pressure on families to be SO together for SO many days on end, it can be easy for our marriages to coast. Look at the above tips and decide on a few that might serve your marriage - that might set you on a path to deeper unity, richer relationship and ultimately, LOVE.