Setting up rhythms and routines for time together gives your marriage greater opportunity to flourish. In order to grow a healthy relationship, you have to invest time in the other person. This time doesn't happen by accident--it requires intentionality, strategic thinking, selflessness, and deep care.
Our lives are busy. It's easy to come home, sit on the couch, and coexist with your spouse. Sometimes, this is okay. A healthy marriage doesn't require every conversation be about your deepest feelings and dreams for the future. That's just a recipe for burnout and weirdness. I'd argue healthy marriages should also include occasionally binging The West Wing together. But if simply going with the flow of life becomes the cultural norm in your family, it will be challenging to overcome obstacles in your relationship or deepen its health. As Jeff Olson says in The Slight Edge, "The simple things that lead to success are all easy to do. But they're also just as easy not to do." It's easy to spend intentional time with your spouse, but it's also easy not to--which is where we fall into trouble.
Here are some recommendations for regular connection points with your spouse that will ensure habitual environments exist for candid conversation and cultivating a culture of connection.
Make it a habit to encourage or serve your spouse. It can be easy to be in your own rut, doing your own things, serving your kids, clients, employees, friends, etc. without doing something selfless in your closest relationship. Sometimes, the people closest to us in proximity become so a part of our space we begin to take them for granted. Having a reminder to do at least one thing to invest in your spouse each day helps ensure against that.
I use an app called Streaks to track my daily disciplines. One of these disciplines is a reminder to intentionally serve my spouse. Each day, this might be something different. Sometimes, it's a text message telling her I love her and care about her. Sometimes, it's doing the dishes or taking our son in the morning so she can sleep in later. These words of encouragement or acts of service don't have to be grand. They're a way to build a more selfless perspective in my marriage. Apart from Christ, I am a selfish human being. Daily reminders to put a check on this selfishness by doing something selfless help sanctify not only my actions, but also my outlook.
You might feel as if a check list or reminder is somehow taking from the relationship, making it more methodical than warm. I'd argue, however, these triggers are more about keeping you accountable to loving your spouse than they are about checking a box. The why behind this daily action is this: to cultivate a deeper servant-hearted mentality toward my spouse through intentional, daily acts of selflessness.
Go on a date night. Changing your environment helps facilitate times of connection in your relationship. A weekly date night is a great way to do this. Going to a restaurant or someplace else creates a different atmosphere, a different set of expectations, and fewer distractions that all serve your relationship. Put your phone on silent, figure out childcare (if necessary), and make date nights a priority. They don't have to be expensive or extensive. Regular dates contribute to a culture where regular connection is normative. My friend Scott Kedersha put together a list of date night ideas if you're stuck (plus, he's been on the podcast talking about maintaining a healthy marriage, too).
This year, my spouse and I made it a goal to go on three date nights a month. Some weeks, it just can't happen--and that's okay. We also give ourselves grace when we don't get out of the house. We order food in and try to change the environment in our home to facilitate a date night setting.
Weekly meeting. We all have status, progress, and strategy meetings at work, so why don't many of us do the same in our marriage? Pick a night each week where you'll collectively take your marriage's temperature and talk through where you've been, where you are, and where you're going.
Almost every Sunday night for our entire marriage, my spouse and I have had this weekly meeting. Sometimes it happens in the car, sometimes on the couch in our living room, and sometimes at the kitchen table. We go through the same six questions each week. The foundation for these questions came from Today's Letters, and the blog's author, Emily Loerke, graciously gave her permission for me to post how we've slightly modified the questions she and her husband go through during their meeting. We use most of what they do, but have added a couple questions and changed a some of the wording. I've started to think through my answers to these questions before our meeting so I can add more value to the conversation.
- How did you feel loved last week? The goal of this question is to answer in specific, situational ways. Sometimes, the answer is general. "I felt encouraged by your this week" is definitely helpful. But, "I felt encouraged when you publicly bragged on how proud you were of me for going through that issue at work with integrity" is light's out. Reflecting on this question also fights a cynical viewpoint toward your spouse--there's intentionally no space for criticism here. It's a specific way to take record of ways you're grateful.
- What do you have going on this week? Without a place to talk about this, it's easy to get out of sync with what's going on in the immediate future. Getting ahead of plans puts you on the same page and limits the opportunities for unnecessary conflict related to surprises in your schedule. This conversation can lead to how you'll navigate logistics, meaning you're having the conversation in a place of harmony rather than frantically trying to figure out who's taking who to soccer practice ten minutes before it starts.
- How can I pray for you and support you? Asking for specific ways your can pray for and serve your spouse should make you more of a learner rather than a teacher. I often incorrectly assume what my spouse needs or wants, but this question makes space for each of you to articulate them for yourself.
- How can I pursue you more in sex and intimacy? Sex is a large part of your relationship, but it's a topic often discussed in unproductive and unloving ways. It can be easy for the primary way for you and your spouse to discuss sex to come through passive comments, faulty assumptions, and unfulfilled expectations communicated through cold shoulders and early bedtimes. This question helps mitigate this pattern by creating a safe space for an open, honest, selfless, and kind conversation about the role of sex in your marriage and how you can serve your spouse more fully in this area.
- What do you see in me that needs to look more like Jesus? This is a powerful way to facilitate a culture of honorable, constructive feedback in your relationship. Meagan and I got this question from some of our mentors while we were engaged, and it's allowed us to solicit feedback from one another with the intent of making us each more like Christ. When you ask for feedback, it becomes more difficult to start from a defensive posture.
- How are you doing on your goals? This is a way to simply keep big goals in the conversation and on our minds.
Celebrate anniversaries. Treat anniversaries with more intentional celebration than even birthdays. It's important to celebrate another year of togetherness in a special way. Go to a nice dinner, take a trip--do something special. My spouse and I save a small amount every month so we can do something special within our budget.
Leave your house. There's just nothing like leaving your context for an extended amount of time for refreshment and connection in your relationship. This might be a hotel in your city for one night, a weekend trip to a nearby place, or a week-long experience in another state. Prioritizing time away contributes toward your ability to prioritize your relationship.
Make your goals together. Don't just create individual goals. Spend time before the start of each new year creating family goals together. Allow this to be a time of shared vision-casting for your family where you and your spouse come up with common ideas of what you'll pursue as a unit.
Establishing regular points of connection with your spouse is a great way to create an environment where your relationship grows. Today is a great day to get started.
Photo sourced via Creative Commons.