Dear Sweet Friend,
I found it so endearing today when you shared with me that you missed your husband: the same husband you live with. I know that your lives are very busy with your careers and your young kids. I also know that you are a wonderful match. I love that you are paying close attention to your marriage. You asked me to write about how to stay connected to your spouse and here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Most of us are still figuring out marriage day-by-day, so please know that I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area. I’m honored that you think I might know something about strong marriages.
- Go to bed at the same time as your spouse.
I know this is impossible sometimes because of work schedules or travel, but I think it’s important to try to go to sleep together. If you are staying awake when your spouse goes to bed just to watch TV, then you might consider picking another time. Here’s why I think this is important: there is something tender and sweet about talk before sleep. There’s also something symbolic about crawling into bed with your spouse that signals to your children that you are DONE for the day. “Your mother and I are going to bed now” sets a much needed boundary with your children. Getting in bed with your partner says to your children, “I am not available to you 24/7. Your track uniform is not my problem at 10pm.” I’m not strict about sleep and sometimes a kid still wanders into our bed in the middle of the night. I do think it is wise to at least start in the same bed with your spouse.
Avoiding your spouse at night might be a red flag for something else going on in your relationship. If you don’t want to go to bed at the same time as your spouse because you are too resentful or angry or just annoyed with your spouse to sleep near them, you should probably address that. Sometimes, what you are avoiding is intimacy. I completely understand that inclination. There was a stretch when I was either pregnant or nursing for two years straight and everyone needed something from my body. I wanted to be alone for one hot second. I missed myself. In hindsight, I think Bryan missed me, too. It gets easier the older your kids get to remember how crazy you once were about each other. You didn’t get married to just be room mates, right?
Many years ago, I heard a woman on the radio say that men need three things from their wives: food, respect, and sex. I was offended on behalf of men that she thought they were all such simpletons. Two decades into marriage, I’d still argue that men are more complicated than she indicated. HOWEVER, I’ve also learned that it doesn’t hurt if husbands are getting those three things. Besides, there is a lot about being married and being a parent that isn’t very fun. Sex is fun. Don’t overthink this. Just do it.
- Ride in the same car together.
Our family has gotten in the habit of taking separate cars, in case we need to evacuate a birthday party or church or just lunch. When the six of us get out of the same car, people look surprised. (Maybe it’s because we’re packed in there like clowns!) When I’ve felt disconnected from Bryan, sometimes I have to think back to the last time we were in the car together. We are a ‘divide and conquer’ kind of couple. We rarely run around town together, so time alone in the car is practically a date. Even if we are driving to watch Caroline play basketball at a school in the next county, it can feel like sacred, protected time. If you feel disconnected from your spouse and can’t remember the last time you were in a car together or went to sleep together, I’d start there.
- Go on regular date nights during a rough patch.
If you only go out on a date twice a year, it’s too much pressure to have an amazing time. Start with a casual night out. Put away your phones and sit at a real table. Do not talk about your kids or your finances. Try to remember what brought you together in the first place. Did you meet playing pool? Go do that. Did you hike a lot when you were dating? Find a trail. Just remember that this doesn’t have to be the best date in history.
- If you can find someone to watch your children, go away together.
Even though it isn’t usually practical or easy, I think trips together are fantastic. It’s a way to actually have a conversation and not just pass information about kids, schedules, and car repairs. Sometimes, some stuff that has been brewing finally comes to light. Don’t be alarmed if you struggle to connect at first. I remember one getaway that started with a rip-roaring fight. I’d decided to kick off the trip with: “This has to be the most amazing two nights of our life since my parents have our kids and I hope they can keep everyone alive. Wait, why aren’t we having more fun? Do you not want to be here? Bryan, are you listening? Forget it. This was a bad idea. We should probably just go home now.” Take a deep breath. It doesn’t have to be the same as your honeymoon.
Recently, Bryan and I went to San Francisco and I decided ahead of time that I was going to pretend like we were still dating on this trip. I wanted to impress him. I wasn’t going to be fake or change my whole personality, but I thought I’d try to give Bryan a little break from ‘Anna in High Definition’. I packed almonds so I didn’t get weird when I needed food. I didn’t complain about getting lost. I was game for most of his athletic adventures, including biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t announce my tactic, but at the end of our trip my husband said, “You’ve been really fun, Anna. Thanks for being so flexible.” Of course our spouses will love us no matter what, but sometimes it’s nice to give them your best self instead of just your leftover self.
I have a few more ideas, but I think this is enough for today. I’m also worried that I scarred you by talking about sex. Let’s take a breather before we get into in-laws…