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It was late. My husband, Ryan, had just returned home from a meeting with our pastor and church leaders. This wasn’t a typical leadership meeting: This evening, Ryan was asking permission to cut back on the numerous hours he routinely volunteered each week leading worship and working in the youth department. I was tired but anxious to hear the results.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“The pastor asked me, ‘How much time do you actually need with your wife?’ ”
My mind and heart were reeling. Surely our pastor wasn’t asking what I thought he was asking. “Wait … What did he say?”
Ryan went on, “After I explained to him that I felt like you and I needed a weekend or two off the schedule so we could spend more time together, he asked me, ‘How much time do you need with your wife?’ ”
Ryan sighed, the hurt and disappointment slowly crushing him.
In disbelief, I glanced over our weekly schedule. Church was our main priority. I couldn’t shake the war happening inside my head and heart. Aren’t we making the right decisions? Is it wrong for us to ask for more time for our marriage?
Recommitting to each other
We both loved each other, but emotional distance and lack of deep communication had crept in. I felt as if we never saw each other during a normal work week because Ryan was at church all the time. Intimacy was more physical rather than all-encompassing emotionally and spiritually. When we found time to go on a date, we would argue about what to do because we never had enough time together to get past the fighting.
The conversation after the leadership meeting began a painful season of learning to give up and say no to things — even good things — all in the name of marital health and unity. We were committed to our church, but God was far more concerned with our hearts and the health of our marriage than He was with the number of church volunteer hours we were racking up.
Although I thought Ryan and I were checking off a lot of good things on our list of the most important things in our lives, I discovered that good priorities aren’t good at all if they are in the wrong order. They’re toxic for your relationship with Jesus and with your spouse.
A few weeks prior to this difficult season in our life, Ryan had surprised me with airline tickets to Germany. Before I knew it we were off on a two-week trip to Europe.
During our travels, we realized how much our marriage had been put on the back burner. The conversation with our pastor had resulted from our coming home from this European adventure with fresh eyes for each other and a sweet conviction to make our marriage a top priority.
Learning to create margin
Part of loving your husband or wife well might mean giving up things on your weekly schedule for a season. Those things you’re giving up will most likely be good things (for example, leading worship at your church). It’s a bold step. But if one or both of you is feeling disconnected and alone in your marriage, it may be time to examine your weekly schedules.
How much time are you spending just being together? (Texting and talking on the phone don’t count.) I’m talking about unrushed, face-to-face time meant for communicating and enjoying each other’s friendship and company.
Ryan was able to get time off initially, but eventually the church staff asked for an all-or-nothing type of volunteer commitment that ended up being unhealthy for us.
Being overscheduled might be necessary for a season, with definitive beginning and end dates to the commitment. However, daily and weekly rhythms should include plenty of margin for your husband or wife. The amount of time that’s right for you will often depend on how your spouse feels most loved.
I feel the most loved when Ryan intentionally spends time with me. He earns even more points when he does something that I want to do and is enthusiastic about it. Ryan feels most loved through words of affirmation. If I take a few moments during the day to encourage him and affirm him, he feels loved and his bucket is full. Without margin in our days, encouraging him could feel like one more burden. Margin allows us to focus on the health of our marriage and gain a clear perspective.
Setting aside time for a date
One way you can create margin in your weekly schedule is to figure out a specific time and day of the week to go on a weekly date. This is good for your marriage, good for your souls and good for your kids to see you make each other a priority. Having a set date night gives both of you something to look forward to each week. There are endless ideas of what you can do, from trying a new restaurant to dining in and having the kiddos go to the grandparents’ house.
Write down things during the week that you want to talk to each other about on your date. Share the highlights (and maybe the low points) of your week.
Connecting emotionally is vital to marriage. Fill your dates with romance — sit next to each other, hold hands, kiss each other and be vulnerable and honest with each other.
Don’t wait for your marriage to be in a dire place before you start implementing new rhythms into your schedule. By creating margin you can have the space and time to love each other intentionally and deeply. You need time together for your marriage to grow and flourish. Giving up good things to focus on your marriage is one way to do this.
How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family’s marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now.