Maintaining Your Marriage in the Mundane

More Than A To-Do List
The original version of this article was full of tips.  A list of to-do's that have helped my husband and I through busy, difficult and tiring stages of having small children.  It seemed pretty simple: if you just do A, B, and C, then you will keep your marriage healthy.

But months passed since writing that, and life with four became more challenging.  We weren't able to accomplish all of our "A, B, C's" or our perfect idea of what marriage maintence looked like.  Those dates we promised to go on with some regularity were shortened and changed by a nursing baby that wouldn't take a bottle.  The idea of going out of town for an extended trip together is more unrealistic with 4 kids under 4.  Even watching a movie is rare, now that we share our bedroom with a baby crib and can barely keep our eyes open past 9:30, especially if a screen is playing.

Even so, our marriage isn't writhing in discomfort as much as it could be.  Yes there are days and moments where connection is difficult, but overall, we are committed companions who enjoy a deep relationship with one another regardless of the season.

Attitudes That Promote Health & Growth 
So what is it that helps us maintain and even grow in this busy season of life?  Well, it's much more than a few simple to-do's.  Here are some attitudes that have helped me:

Remembering how much the Church should adore Christ:
When I have moments of feeling stale or just distant, I take a while to meditate on the love the Church has (or should have) for Jesus.  The great bride listens to, worships, obeys, submits, and joyfully carries out the mission of her Bridegroom.  The church is made lovely by Jesus, and is happy to be in his presence always.  The church doesn't (or shouldn't) groan under the leadership and authority of Jesus, but should come under it with passion and zeal.  While the parallel is just an image, and isn't a perfect picture of marriage (because husbands aren't perfect like Jesus, nor do they have Ultimate headship), it's a reminder of how much I should love my husband as an earthly bride.  Sometimes even this thought reignites passion and intimacy when I remember what our relationship points to.

Choosing to connect, even when I'm tired:
You know those moments when you can do something, but you're tired and resist it?  Maybe it's a conversation when you just want to be "off duty" for the day.  Maybe it's a chance to do an activity together, but you really want to just browse the internet or read a book.  Maybe it's an opportunity to serve, but you're worn out from serving all day and you seemingly can't stomach anymore.  But those are the moments where our choices can draw us closer or pull us apart.  Just recently, my husband wanted to tell me all the details of his day.  Although I usually welcome this type of chatty talk, on that particular night, I had visions of taking an epsom salt bath and falling asleep before 9:00.  But I also saw that I had a choice to make.  Picking my own thing over our conversation would communicate, "I don't care what you have to say." Likely stifling similar conversations in the future.  So instead of taking my bath, I sat and listened (even though my eyes were heavy and gently closing), and I'm confident it was a worthwhile investment.

Believing the best:
One thing that has helped my relationship with my husband immensely is my perception of his intentions.  When I was a new bride, I remember being easily offended by my husband's actions.  If he was late from work and forgot to call, I assumed he wanted to avoid me and took it personally.  If he committed to something that took time away from us, I assumed it was because he cared about this other thing more than me.  If he forgot to do something I asked, I thought he was purposefully putting off the activity.  But time and grace has softened me and given me a truer perspective.  These days, I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that my husband loves me and our family.  I believe that his intention is to pursue me, be a godly leader to our family and take good care of our needs.  I believe that when he makes decisions, he considers the impact on his flock at home.  When my perspective of him is shaped by these beliefs, I find that I'm not very easily offended.  If he's late for dinner, it still might be inconvenient, but it's not a personal assault to our relationship.  I'm much more likely to empathetically ask, "Is everything okay at work?  Did you have a hard meeting?"  This attitude keeps us on the same team, working toward the same end - not opponents.

This one seems unromantic on the surface, but it's the thing that makes us swoon in all the love stories.  True love endures and keeps saying yes, pressing forward and fighting for the relationship against difficult odds.  Think of any chick flick you enjoy, and likely there's a story of a couple (or a person) fighting to be together.  We have this longing in our hearts because the God of the universe, the great lover of our soul, pursued us at the most difficult cost even when we weren't interested.  This serves as a model to us, even when our relationship isn't meeting our perceived needs.  A great covenant love is one that keeps pressing forward and being faithful, even when it's hard.

Follow The Example of Christ
These aren't clean and easy tips or to-do's, and they aren't accomplished with a few babysitters or a weekend amidst palm trees (although those things are amazingly wonderful).  These are ideals, values, character traits and beliefs about the core importance of marriage.  It's not an extensive list (I didn't even talk about doing spiritual things together like serving, praying or studying scripture - also important), but it's a place to start.

So if you have young kids and you're feeling the pressure to pull away, become complacent or just ignore your marriage - resist!  Remember how much the Church is to love Christ, how you won't regret the connection, how you know deep down your husband cares for you, and how you can model God's love as you remain faithful to your covenant.  These things can not only mean survival, but a marriage that passionately thrives amidst diapers, night wakings and long seasons of disciplining toddlers.

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