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When my husband and I were engaged, three friends close enough to be in our bridal parties were getting a divorce. Talk about a sobering start to wedding planning.
Tying the knot felt weighty. It was painfully clear we couldn’t get married because that’s the next thing you do or because we were “in love.” Even though we believe in God and intended our marriage to last, we knew from respected friends that believing in God did not guarantee a happily ever after.
Getting married meant building something that would either have a strong foundation and last or would be vulnerable to crumbling. It had to be intentionally designed.
The longer we’re married, it’s easy to see why people split. There is so much pressure on a couple. So much regularly weighing on the relationship tempting it to break. We would find ourselves watching other relationships and noticing everything that seemed to make them thrive or snap.
We realized that the best couples we knew were intentional, even rhythmic, about their priorities. So over the last ten years, we’ve sought out predictable patterns to keep us strong and in sync (and most of the time even really happy.)
- When we’re tempted to act like roommates, because we’re exhausted, these snap us out of it.
- When we’re so consumed by the day-to-day task of caring for kids that we start to forget who we are and why we love each other, these help us remember how to have fun together again.
- When we start subconsciously accumulating a list of frustrations, judgments, unmet expectations, and disconnects with and about our other half—these create a space to work through it.
- They keep us united in our vision and expectations for our life, both day-to-day and long-term.
Whether you are newlyweds, chasing little ones, raising teenagers, or empty nesting— here are four rhythms that help build a foundation that can last. Half are fun. Half are admittedly kind of boring but necessary. All four play a huge role in creating a marriage that can thrive.
WHY: When God was establishing a culture for Israel (His people), He gave them a top ten list. One was to take one day a week and not work. If you believe in God at all, you have to assume that whenever God does something, he has really good reasons. Rest trains us in countercultural ways of life that return us to His original design: freedom, relationship, joy, peace, and more.
This was the first rhythm we adopted as a couple, and I can’t begin to imagine all the ways it has saved us.
- It reverses the slow death of the daily grind.
- It’s an antidote to stress.
- It frees us from feeling beat down by busy schedules and obligations.
- It makes room for connection, restoration, and gratitude.
- It forces better order and intentionality in the other six days of the week.
- It reminds us that we’re God’s kids who he actually loves. Kids get to play. They aren’t defined by what they accomplish. They just freely dance and play and enjoy.
- If you don’t subscribe to God, countless studies show that people who rest and play well produce better work and live happier lives. Give it a quick Google search if you don’t believe me.
So, one day a week, we turn off our email. We don’t work on anything. We indulge the chance to be together and do something fun.
- Embrace the learning curve at first. Most people don’t know what refreshes them. So, ask each other: What would an ideal day look like? What does it look like individually and together? We noticed if we were out all day, we’d come home tired. But if we stayed in all day, we’d veg and get bored. So we spend mornings in, make a great breakfast, take our time getting out the door, then do something out of the house the rest of the day. We tackle the struggle of resting with little kids by one person getting up early with the kids and the other sleeping in. Then the other stays in to read or sleep during the kids’ afternoon nap, and the other one can get out for a run or time to themselves.
- Experiment. Don’t give up if it takes a while to figure out. Try new things! Rest doesn’t have to mean staying still. For some, it’s relaxing by the pool, going to a movie, taking a nap, reading, or going out with friends. For some, it’s active, like going for a hike or a run or taking a day trip. Introverts might want alone time. Extroverts might want to be with friends. Learn something new or be creative. Try lots of new things until you have an exciting rotation of options you love.
- Embrace the learning curve again in each new season. We were rocking our days off as a kid-less couple. Then we had babies and had to learn all over again. We’d have an awesome summer, but then winter comes, and we have to get creative again. But the payoff is worth the work. Keep learning and building skills because you’ll never regret having margin, feeling rested, and pursuing play. Don’t be discouraged if some of your Sabbaths aren’t great. Keep tweaking and be encouraged by each good moment you do have that you wouldn’t have had if you didn’t try.
- Plan for it. Even the most spontaneous personalities can benefit from planning their Sabbath at least a bit. Call a friend in advance to make plans. Make sure that place you love is open. I wish I could just wake up and magically have an amazing day (so badly!) But usually, I need to think it through a little in advance. Sure, it’s extra work, but it’s WORTH it.
WHY: OK, here’s the first boring one. But many couples split because the tedious things just create too much friction. One person feels the weight of the house more than the other, or expectations never match up and it causes conflict. We all have different definitions of what a “clean house” looks like, but we all have a limit. Keeping the house from hitting that limit does wonders for your sanity level and oneness.
- Find your limit and create a plan around it. We have a short clean-up routine (most) every night, so the house doesn’t get too wrecked. But the best thing is that we make a weekly time right before our Sabbath to fully reset the house. We call it “Preparation Day.” It’s where we do all “the little things” that pile up and create stress. The errands, the doctor appointment scheduling, the insurance paperwork, the yardwork, the school forms, the grocery shopping, the bathroom deep clean, the investigation into whatever is making the laundry room reek so bad, whatever. We make space for it every week so we never get too behind. Then we can walk into our day off with a stocked fridge, clean house, and fresh laundry. Not to brag, but some weeks the laundry gets put away and everything. Not only does it help us relax that the house is together, it keeps the weekly life maintenance sustainable so it’s (usually) never too much work all backed up at once.
- Divvy up work between everyone in the house (with a specific day you’re going to do it). Look at everything you want done each week and agree to own your part. Choose to serve each other. Assign each part to someone with a set day it will happen so you can fall into a rhythm of sustainably doing it. Ever heard that quote, “I said I was going to do it. You don’t have to ask me every six months about it.” Yeah. No one wants to nag. Don’t make them! Have a set time your better half can expect that certain things will happen, and follow through.
This is the rhythm we’ve skipped more than any of the others. It’s a shame, because it’s definitely the most important, and it should be fun. Our hardest season of marriage was when our first child was six months old. We’d both been sacrificing so much figuring out how to be parents, we didn’t realize we had to re-learn how to be married while parenting. So we started dating again. Every date isn’t perfect, but the cumulative impact of weekly dates makes a world of difference. For a better “why” and “how” than I can articulate, check out this article my (awesome) husband wrote.
WHY: Early on, mentors challenged us to bring our work skills home with us. Whatever intentionality and skills you give to your work, your home needs them too. If you’re spreadsheet savvy, a financial planner, an organizational wizard, a strategic thinker—give those skills to your marriage, parenting, and household management.
They modeled “family meetings” that consisted of both spouses sitting down at the kitchen table with computers like they were about to conduct a business meeting. Which is pretty much what they did.
We adopted their advice and found that all three other rhythms of the week work better the more we work this one. Without it, date nights and Sabbath get ambushed by miscellaneous tasks, questions, and to-dos. We’re supposed to be at a romantic dinner, but it keeps getting hijacked by questions like, “Oh, I forgot to ask, did you reschedule that dentist appointment?!” I’m gonna be honest. Kind of a cooler.
So we strategically throw all that annoying life stuff into a regular spot in our week. At least once a month, it’s a budget review. Every week includes a miscellaneous list of all the little things that we have to decide. Are we going to that birthday party? Are we giving to that thing? Do we want to invest in so-and-so? Did you sign that permission slip? How are we going to handle this new wave of tantrums? We found all those little life decisions created so much clutter if they were just flying back and forth in our email accounts or being snuck into dinner conversations or the last few minutes of conversation before bed. It felt messy and annoying and stole from the quality time we could be having. Give them a specific place in your week so it doesn’t hijack the rest.
Organizing the details of life is like organizing your house. If something doesn’t have a place, it gets lost or creates clutter. “Family Meetings” are perfect for critical “little” logistics like managing the calendar, or big stuff like making a budget or debriefing how parenting is going lately. It can also be a place to raise the looming fight that’s likely to explode at any moment. If you don’t have a set time to talk about it, you’re going to lose track of those conversations or they’re going to build up and make a mess of the rest of your week.
- Have a set time that you’ll do it every week. Then you can both expect it, know when it’s coming, and one spouse isn’t bugging the other every week about when/if it’s happening.
- Make it easy. When we have something pop up that needs to be discussed, either of us can add it to our shared list, and we know we’ll talk about it at the next “family meeting.” No need to worry we’ll forget. No need to let it steal from our date night or rest. No need to plan the meetings either, because we just work through whatever was put on the list. Set aside an hour the first few times until you get into a rhythm and figure out how much time you need. Some seasons we can do it in 20 minutes, and sometimes we need way longer.
- Do whatever you can RIGHT THEN. After you’ve been accumulating a list all week, then you can work through things when you’re mentally prepared to do it (and not feel ambushed by them at random points throughout the day). We can complete those choices and not feel like all of life’s logistics could be lost at any moment because there’s just too many of them to keep up with. Don’t give yourselves more homework. Just use the time you have already set aside to knock as many things off the list as you can.
- Own it together. If one spouse is all in on a family meeting and the other one thinks it’s a drag (and shows it), it’s not gonna be pretty. Don’t ask us how we know. Choose to prioritize the nuts and bolts of making life work, and know that this one hour a week will make all the other hours in the week far better.
- Make it suck less. For the record, this one is not fun. So if you’re doing it in the morning, add lattes and donuts. If your meeting happens at night, make a cocktail or order takeout. There are probably other ways to make it fun, but we’re foodies, so I have no idea what they are. We just always add fun treats. This rhythm is work, so if you start dreading it, change it up to make it a little more fun, but don’t let it drop.
Daily and annual rhythms are powerful too, but we’ll save those for another day. You don’t have to start these all at once. It’s OK (and to be expected) if they go badly at first! But together, identify the biggest pain point, and start there. Sure, some of this is a lot of work. But you know what’s more work? A bad marriage. Choose to care for your time and rhythms with all the ownership, responsibility, skillfulness, and priority it deserves, so your marriage can be the life-giving, joy-bringing relationship it was meant to be.