Is ‘Overwhelm’ Hurting Your Marriage?

Insidious, overwhelm is the urgent that competes with – and often wins – in the daily war between the important and the urgent.

On the wall in my home are family portraits. There’s the wedding portrait, followed by pictures of newborns, and the yearly birthday photo of each child. In some of those family shots, the extreme level of overwhelm shows strongly in my face. The condition is visible in my eyes. Overwhelm was hurting me and my marriage, and if I do not carefully guard my peace and the serenity of our home, overwhelm quickly returns much like a wave swamping a boat.

Are you and your spouse living in overwhelm? We typically greet one another with, “How are you?” The common response is predictable. “Busy. Keeping busy.” As if being busy is the goal.

When I moved to the country, the elderly farmer across the road asked, “When do you sit out?”

That’s when I learned that in the Midwest, couples sit on their porch in the evening, watch the Canadian geese against the sunset, and wave to the occasional neighbor who passes by. Husband and wife touch base over a glass of lemonade.

I didn’t even own outdoor chairs. The demands of career, making a home, nurturing relationships, minding your health and the wellbeing of those who depend on you, connecting to spiritual community, staying current on finances and world events, rotating tires, flossing teeth, cleaning the refrigerator coils and furnace filters add up to overfull schedules. Toss in holidays, open houses, sports games, music recitals, and getting in some needed vacation days which require extra preparation.

When Overwhelm Steals Your Peace

Overwhelm takes an exacting toll on the marriage relationship. Insidious, overwhelm competes with — and often wins — in the daily war between the important and the urgent. Couples are swept up keeping up with trends, peers, and new developments. What would it take for you to live more in serenity and less in overwhelm?

The irony of being in overwhelm is how difficult it becomes to step off the hamster wheel long enough to assess where your marriage is and where you want to grow. Pam and Bill Farrel began weekly Marriage Meet-Ups. As a couple, they tracked where they were and made purposeful course adjustments toward their goals and away from allowing overwhelm to keep hurting their marriage.

The first step is to have a vision for your marriage. What do you want your life to look like in three weeks, three months, and three years? With your goal in mind, consider the example of the British Rowing Team.

The story goes that the British Rowing Team’s performance was not producing wins. Something had to change, so the team adopted a practice to filter everything they did personally and as a team through the question, “Will this make the boat go faster?”

  • Does participating in Friday night’s frat party before Saturday’s race make the boat go faster?
  • Will binging on snack foods make the boat go faster?
  • Does consistently skipping sleep make the boat go faster?

What are you doing that prevents you from making progress toward your goals for your marriage?

Recently I contacted an author to see if she was interested in a short assignment. “I’m honored and the project aligns with my values,” she said.


“But my husband and I set goals for our small business and our relationship. I just can’t take on one more project right now.” She paused. “For this season of our marriage, we’ve learned a new phrase; no for now.”

No More Marriage Overwhelm 

Even good things can be the wrong things for this moment. Overwhelm is rooted in an overfull calendar. Frustration swamps our days when we consistently invest energy, finances, and time into things that are not aligned with the values foundational to our marriage. When we are thinking that if we just get this urgent matter taken care of so we can focus on the important, the feeling of overwhelm is certainly present.

The first step away from overwhelm is choosing what you won’t do. “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything,” said John Maxwell.

Author Greg McKeown defines productivity in his book, Essentialism, as a disciplined, systematic approach to determine where our highest point of contribution lies, then making the execution of those important things nearly effortless. In this way, the focus shifts from how to get more things done to getting the right things done.

So, how can you make the wisest possible investment of energy and time to operate at your highest point of contribution?

Steve Jobs said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

What you choose not to do may be more important than what you actually do. Here are suggestions around what not to do on the path to reduce overwhelm.

Don’t Neglect Your Wellbeing

Optimum clarity, energy, and productivity are rooted in good health. Essentials include:

  • Seven to eight hours of sleep.
  • Stillness for Bible reading and prayer.
  • Solitude to listen to God.
  • Daily movement.
  • One day each week to do what refreshes your soul.
  • Nutrition-rich foods to fuel your body.
  • Plenty of hydration.
  • Connection with nurturing and caring relationships.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed By Decision Fatigue 

Conserve the energy and time required to make decisions by automating.

One friend adopted a uniform of sorts, daily wearing the same style of pants and shirts. A businessperson arranges outfits in the closet and wears the first on Monday, the second on Tuesday, and so on. No wasting time and mental frustration trying on several combinations.

Preparation reduces stress which reduces overwhelm. Consider a morning routine that sets up your day for success. Rise early to journal, study, pray, eat well, and perhaps exercise. Begin your workday investing in your most valuable resource — yourself. Waking at the last minute, grabbing coffee, and dashing to work is a setup for a day of reacting to demands rather than responding purposefully and thoughtfully.

There are many tools available to automate finances, making it simple to set up regular contributions to savings and investments. Using auto bill pay can streamline your to-do list.

Let your calendar remind you of important dates such as birthdays and holidays far enough in advance to respond in a timely manner.

Build simplicity into your life by setting reminders on your phone for car maintenance, dental visits, and the annual chimney cleaning.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed By Shame

Our words can give life or our words can overwhelm with shame. A vital shift with unlimited benefits is to eliminate negative self-talk. By speaking to yourself with the same kindness and grace you give to those you love, your internal monologue becomes encouraging. Eliminate criticizing, complaining, condemning, and excuses.


  • “I should… ”
  • “We need to… ”
  • “I ought to… ”
  • “I must… ”

with “I choose to,” for those actions that align with your values and goals.

Don’t Overwhelm Your Boat

Being consistently overly busy and overwhelmed can indicate a habit of pursuing easier paths to the less important. Before adding to the calendar ask does this:

  • Align with our values for our marriage?
  • Move our marriage goals forward?
  • Add to the overwhelm that is hurting our marriage?

One friend moved home parties to her do-not-do list. If she likes the product, she gives her order but saves time on her schedule for her priorities.

As a way to bypass shopping, deciding, wrapping, shipping, and possibly adding to clutter, another professional gives gifts to special causes in the recipient’s name.

Similarly, one woman makes an automatic monthly donation to a ministry special to her heart. Early in the year, she assigns each month as a birthday gift to someone on her list who receives a notice of the contribution in their name on their birthday.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed By Panic

Do things ever turn out as planned? Regardless, remain confident that God is at work even in this. What is He teaching you about His character in this setting?

Truthfully, it is challenging to eliminate what is hurting your marriage. If defining where you want your relationship to be in the future and identifying what is distracting from the goal were easy, more people would be doing what they feel is important, instead of wrestling through the urgent in hopes to get to the important.

Living in overwhelm is the antithesis of the marriage we want. Overwhelm chips away at our happiness and health as caught on film and framed in my family photos. Armed with your list of what you won’t do, remove nonessentials that steal your already limited energy and time essential to operate at your highest point of contribution to your relationship.

Instead of allowing overwhelm to keep hurting your marriage, decide you won’t get sidetracked on energy and time stealers that do not align with your values for your marriage. Filter what you do personally and corporately through the question, “Will this move us toward our marriage goals?”

To reduce overwhelm in your marriage, what is on your won’t-do list?

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