I met my husband when we were in college. We spent every moment together, giving one another our full, undivided attention. That’s how it is when you’re young and in love. Once you're married, time together often diminishes; real life continues with advanced education, new jobs, adult responsibilities, and babies. As this happens, some think that their love is fading, feeling as though that spark they once felt is gone. However, just like in motherhood, marriages take work. We must make constant efforts to keep our relationships strong, even when life gets busy and the demands pile up.
With my husband in a very intensive PA program and with two young kids, our relationship has often been on the back burner. In the first half of his program, I was working very late hours every night, while my husband was overwhelmed with long school hours and endless studying. On top of that, we had to keep up with the demands of parenthood. Both my husband and I struggled a lot, trying to figure out how to juggle this busy life. It was especially difficult for my husband to devote the time required in his program while also showing love and attention to his family. While he balanced it incredibly well, it took us a long time to figure out.
Whether you or your spouse is busy with an intense school program or working long hours with your job, your relationship does not need to suffer. In fact, your relationship should always be the most important. Here are some ways to keep a strong and solid foundation through the busy moments:
Communication is always key in any relationship, but it’s even more important if you are both swamped with the demands of life. One thing I noticed I had to do when I was feeling distant from my husband was to directly tell him that I needed to spend some time with him. During the busy moments of our day, I’d reach out to him and say, “Hey, can I just have 20 minutes to spend with you sometime today.” Asking for a specific time allowed him to accomplish what he needed to and rearrange his studying in order to give me those few minutes to sit and talk, snuggle up on the couch, or even watch a quick episode of our favorite show together.
2. Schedule Time Together
Look at the monthly calendar together, compare schedules, and find gaps when you can schedule dates. In our house, we’ve found that the best way to keep track of all our deadlines and events is to record them on our large whiteboard calendar hanging on the wall. We can see the whole month at a glance, which makes it easier to find days that we can spend together. My husband has always been great at this. If he notices on the calendar that we have something coming up, whether it's a birthday or other event, he always makes sure to work twice as hard to get everything done so that he can give his full attention to me on those days.
3. Put Away Distractions
When you do have time together, whether you are watching your favorite show or playing a game, make it a rule to keep your phones in another room. Even if you’re not interested in the show your spouse picked, keep the phone away. Quality time is so important. In the world we live in, it’s hard to not be distracted. If you have your phone out, you're disconnecting yourself from the activity you’re enjoying as a couple. So put it away. It sends a signal to your spouse that your focus is 100% on them and the activity you're enjoying together. If phones are hurting your marriage, here are some awesome ways to approach the subject and resolve the problem.
4. Say ‘Thank You' Often
There is almost nothing better than feeling loved and appreciated for our efforts. Mothers are often last to get thanked for all they do. But I’ve noticed that husbands also don’t get thanked for the tiring work they contribute. So thank your spouse often! This is one of the best ways to feel connection and love because it not only keeps you focused on the positives in your spouse, but it allows you to feel validated and noticed when the appreciation is reciprocated. If your husband is in school, thank him for studying so hard. Thank him for working towards graduation, something that will allow him to get a great job and provide for his family. Thank him for spending moments playing with the kids. Husbands, thank your wives for all they do. Put it in writing with a handwritten note or card. Mothers and fathers both give selflessly, so instead of demanding more, find ways you can be thankful for what your spouse is doing.
5. Always Hug/Kiss Goodbye & Say 'I Love You' Daily
The longer you’ve been married, the easier it is to forget just how important the little things are. Try to show affection more often by giving more hugs, kissing hello and goodbye, and saying "I love you" often. Make a conscious effort to make sure you are doing these seemingly unimportant things, because they will strengthen your relationship quicker than almost anything.
6. Send Sweet Texts Throughout the Day
This may be one of the easiest and simple things you can do for your spouse to show how important they are to you. Whether it’s a short text saying “I miss you” or leaving a quick voicemail that they can listen to later, taking a few moments to express your love when you’re busy shows that you’re not too busy to think about them. It shows that you're longing to be with them. And that speaks volumes to your spouse.
7. Improve Yourself
Reflect often on your own actions and make an effort to improve yourself. Remember, you cannot change others. The only person you can change is yourself. It’s easy to feel frustrated at others for what they may not be doing. Instead of being angry at them, look inward and see if there are any changes that you could make. For example, if you’re upset and feel unloved if your spouse doesn’t give you a kiss goodnight, ask yourself if you’ve ever tried to initiate it. Most likely, the answer is no. This applies to relationships in any form. My husband is often good at reminding me that sometimes you have to be the one to make the effort. Sometimes the very things we want in life from others are things that we aren’t doing ourselves. For me, this is often the case when it comes to friendships. I often feel unimportant or uncared for because others don’t reach out and check in on me. But when I reflect, look inwards, and ask myself, “When was the last time I did that for someone else?” The answer is often “Never.”
8. Go to Bed at the Same Time
This has been a challenge for us, but on days that we do go to bed at the same time, we find that we have greater opportunities to talk and spend time together. If we instead stay up late doing our own tasks, we end up going to bed at different times, which results in no nightly conversations. This is definitely negative for a relationship, because with kids and busy schedules, nights are often the only time we have to talk without all the background noise and distractions. Making the extra effort to set a time limit to get to bed allows us to spend time talking and strengthening our bond with one another, as well as helping us both get more sleep. And of course, more sleep means more patience and productivity the next day.
9. Ask Questions
One of our favorite things to do together is to ask each other questions. We often do this at night before bed, but it can be a fun activity any time of day. Ask your spouse fun hypothetical questions or even questions about your future together. For example, we love to play ‘would you rather?’ This is a super fun game and helps you learn new things about your spouse (even if you’ve been married for many years.) Here are some examples: Would you rather go on vacation to Italy or France? Would you rather be fluent in Japanese or Russian? Would you rather live in your dream home and never travel or live in a small run down apartment and travel often? Games like this are a great way to strengthen and build a deeper connection. Come up with your own questions, or check out this fun list here!
10. Try New Things Together
One of the problems with overly busy schedules is that your relationship with your spouse can suffer to the point that you start to lose your attraction or even feelings of love for them. Many people interpret this as falling out of love. With love, you must find ways to nurture and develop it each day to keep it strong. In those first few weeks and months with a new person, your body sends off dopamine, oxytocin, and other hormones, giving you feelings of excitement and pleasure. This “high” you get from all the positive hormones is interpreted as falling in love--being with this person is new and exciting. With time, these hormones level off. However, studies show that novelty in any form can lead to that same dopamine release in the body that you experience when you're in a new relationship. By trying new things, you and your spouse will both feel more excitement and joy about life, which trickles into your marriage when you find that you're enjoying them together. So try that new restaurant you’ve never tried or go somewhere you've never been.
No matter how busy life gets, it’s so important to not neglect or forget those who are most important to us. For my family and this crazy PA school life, the knowledge that this is just a phase has gotten us through a lot of hard days. If for you it doesn't feel like the busy and hectic period is going to end, refocus and reevaluate. Decide if there’s anything you can cut out of your life. It may not seem like it at first, but for most of us, there are things we devote time to that are unessential. It can be hard, but it's worth it if it means giving your kids, spouse, and yourself the love you all deserve.
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