Life is stressful under normal conditions: Work. Marriage. Kids. Add to that the tension that came with COVID-19, and most of us find ourselves longing for ways to reduce stress. As we battle Zoom fatigue and manage children who feel stuck in the house, it’s sometimes a struggle to preempt zombie-status before finishing our kid’s bedtime routines.
We need refreshment — physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. We need to pause and check in with ourselves and our spouse to make sure we take time to restore and replenish our whole being.
My husband and I have learned that prioritizing refreshment, even as we work full time and care for our small children, helps us show up as our best selves in our marriage. Here are some questions Jared and I ask to see if we need to refresh ourselves, along with a few ideas for reducing stress.
Do you need physical refreshment?
- How’s your health? Examine your energy levels as well as sleeping, eating and exercise habits.
- What activities fill up your day?
- How would you describe the level of physical affection in our marriage?
If you need some physical refreshment, consider taking a break from your current activities. Take some time to sit and think, rather than do.
If sleep is an issue, come up with a plan. In different seasons my husband and I have alternated early wake-up days, traded night duty for later mornings, and even hired sitters so we could get more shut-eye.
You can work as a team to solve other problems too: For example, can you keep your kids busy so your spouse can shower without interruption or work together on a new eating plan?
Do you need mental refreshment?
- Do you have a hard time concentrating or making decisions?
- Do you struggle with anxious thoughts, irrational fears or negative limiting beliefs?
- Are any weighty conversations or arguments too much to handle? Is it hard to move past recent conflict?
If you need some mental refreshment, give yourself short brain breaks throughout the day. Stepping away from your computer, taking a walk or doing something mindless or creative for a few minutes are effective ways to reduce stress.
It’s also helpful to celebrate small wins and reward yourself with enjoyable experiences after accomplishing something difficult. Moving from one mind-numbing task straight into another is a quick way to trigger mental fatigue.
If tough marriage conversations seem to be hijacking the day too often, plan times for heavier conversations with your spouse so that you come prepared. You don’t want every date night to center on big decisions. And remember to affirm your commitment and love for each other after impassioned disagreements.
If the mental stress doesn’t let up, speak with a counselor. A licensed Christian counselor can help you gain tools to break negative thought patterns and manage overwhelming thoughts and fears.
Do you need emotional refreshment?
- Are you easily frustrated, overwhelmed or brought to tears?
- Do you store up your feelings until you can unload all of them on your spouse?
- Even when spending time together, do you feel alone, unseen or misunderstood?
You can refresh yourself emotionally in several ways. Maybe you need to “let it all out” and express intense emotions by having a good cry or going to an axe-throwing club. Or maybe engaging a different emotion would help. How about finding some lighthearted entertainment?
You can also use creative outlets to explore and release difficult emotions. Journaling, coloring and abstract or acrylic-pour painting are therapeutic ways to process and express your emotions without requiring artistic skill.
Whatever you do, remember that your spouse doesn’t need to function as your sole emotional support It’s healthy to bring in other trusted voices — a friend, a counselor — to help you process your feelings.
Do you need relational refreshment?
- Are you driven to present your best self all day?
- As you consider the people you interact with most often, how many of those relationships are life-giving to you?
- Are you expecting too much from the conversations with your spouse?
To refresh yourself relationally and reduce stress in this area, make sure you’re investing time with people you don’t have to be “on” with, those with whom you feel safe letting down your guard and sharing your genuine self.
Another way to reduce stress in your relationship is to manage your words. If you’re the talker in your marriage, make sure you don’t save all your words for your spouse. If you’re the less verbal person in the relationship, be honest when you don’t have words left. Continuing conversations past the point of active engagement won’t help anyone.
And don’t forget to have fun together! Sharing enjoyable activities helps refresh the “relational” side of your marriage. If you don’t have a regular date night, that’s a great place to start.
Do you need spiritual refreshment?
- How confident are you in your relationship with God and in His love for you?
- Is busyness an excuse to avoid addressing important issues?
- When you engage in faith-based activities, what emotions do you feel?
Spiritual refreshment comes from spending time with God, but it can be easy to let everything else in life take priority. Along with slowing down and listening for God’s voice as individuals, you can also refresh yourself spiritually as a couple by worshiping, praying or serving together. When you share and discuss these experiences, it strengthens your connection and highlights ways to encourage and pray for each other.
Practicing gratitude together by speaking or writing blessings can also revive you spiritually. In our home we have a “Book of Remembrance” to record and remember how God has cared for us through the years.
Do you need quiet?
If your senses are overloaded, it can create stress in all areas of your being. Many of us spend our days engaging with people, enveloped in noise and in front of electronic screens. If binge-watching leaves you feeling on edge, lethargic or pressured, and the thought of doing something you enjoy now feels exhausting, you may need to give your senses a break.
Try refreshing your senses by going outside to create quiet space for your thoughts, simplifying your home environment or taking a break from social media and screens.
Your marriage needs refreshment
Checking in on yourself is helpful because whatever state you’re in, that’s what you’re bringing into your marriage. Knowing where you are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally allows you to make intentional choices and find effective ways to reduce stress.
Talk about how you and your spouse can be sources of support and refreshment for each other when one or both of you feel distant or depleted. The years of parenting little ones can prove taxing to your relationship, especially in COVID-19 conditions. Give yourselves grace for the season and learn how to partner together on purpose. You and your relationship are worth the investment.