Leftovers: good for Thanksgiving; bad for your marriage.
Today I’m continuing my series on how to keep your marriage strong for the long haul with a discussion about priorities. (You might want to catch up on parts one, Keeping Strong for the Long Haul, and two, Asking Different Questions.)
Today’s Choices Affect Tomorrow
It’s incredible how many things we have competing for our time and attention – perhaps more than at any time in history. The pressure to have it all, do it all, and excel at it all is pervasive in today’s western culture.
We tend to live our lives in such a driven fashion that it’s easy to unknowingly trade the important for the immediate. I’ve done it many times in my own life. What we often fail to realize is how much the choices we make today affect our marriages in the long term.
While there are many distractions that can detract from our marriages, today I’m going to choose two of the biggest. While both of these affect young couples the most, they are factors that allow your marriage relationship to drift into roommate status in the early years, and this often has significant long-term impact.
The Parent Trap
There is more parenting advice available today than ever. It seems as though we are preoccupied with becoming the perfect parents and raising perfect children. The pressure is tremendous, especially in the Internet age. There are more than 4 million mommy blogs offering advice and constant reminders of all we aren’t doing. Social media is full of posts about perfect children of perfect families living in immaculately decorated homes. The poison of comparison keeps us striving to do more than we can possibly do for our kids and homes, all the while feeling guilty for all we are not yet doing, not to mention the damage it does to our marriages.
Here are two facts that may help you when sorting out your priorities:
The best thing you can do for your kids is to have a strong marriage. Showing your kids what respect and sacrificial love look like will bear fruit into multiple generations.
You and your spouse are one; you and your children are not. Your marriage relationship is based on a unique kind of covenant. Don’t make the mistake of relegating it to equal status with any other relationship, including the one with your kids.
Consistently prioritizing your children ahead of your marriage, however well-intentioned, is a significant reason so many couples facing the “empty nest” season suddenly find themselves rooming with a stranger.
The Quest for Success
Particularly in America, the desire for more stuff is deeply ingrained in our marketing-saturated culture. Success is defined by having the nicest house, the most “toys,” the highest corporate position, the most influence or the biggest bank account.
These definitions of success don’t line up very well with the Kingdom of God. Yes, I believe God wants to bless and prosper us, but I believe it breaks His heart when we sacrifice our time, effort and attention for worldly success to the detriment of our marriages. That’s always a bad trade!
Yes, providing well for your family is important, and having a good work ethic matters. The problem comes when we are giving so much to our careers that we have nothing left for our spouse. This is another priority issue where comparison works like a poison as we continually strive to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Historically, men fall into the career success trap more than women, whereas women tend to have more priority issues concerning their children. However, such stereotypes are shifting with the huge increase in women in the workforce and the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads. And of course, there are many other areas where priorities can get out of line besides these two.
No matter, the real issue is putting our marriage and spouse first so that we keep our marriages strong for the long haul. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will all be better once the kids are grown and our careers are well-established. Putting your marriage on the back burner for any reason, for any period of time, inflicts serious damage on your relationship. And while nothing is irreparable or beyond God’s ability to redeem, the best choice is always to avoid only giving your spouse your leftovers.
The problem with relying on leftovers is that we run our lives with such little margin that there is typically nothing left after we’ve poured ourselves into everything else. Like it is with food, leftovers are fine for a while, but eventually, they no longer satisfy.
Revamping your priorities requires you to be continuously vigilant and watchful. Remain aware of the dozens of daily opportunities to choose your spouse and marriage over the other things in your life. Find little ways to stay connected throughout your day with text messages, hidden notes, or phone calls. Such small connection points are especially important when spouses travel frequently or work different hours, but truthfully all couples would benefit from such frequent positive interactions. It pays to pay attention!
Set aside regular time together. Find ten minutes a day for genuine conversation, perhaps immediately after the kids are in bed. Try to keep these conversations focused on more than just functional matters. Regular, meaningful conversation is an important part of building intimacy between you.
Another important way to build intimacy is to make sure you leave time and energy for sex. Few marriages can survive for the long haul when sexual intimacy is lacking or missing altogether. It not only weakens your marriage and makes it vulnerable to outside temptations, but it robs your relationship of the pinnacle of intimate expression.
The point of this post is not to lay a big guilt trip on you. Rather I’m encouraging you to reexamine how you prioritize your marriage among all the other demands of daily life and wake you up to the truth that keeping your marriage strong for the long haul might require you to change how you invest your time and energy.