The last few months have been incredibly stressful for our family. As the stressors piled up, my husband and I each went into “Get Stuff Done” mode. We operate well there. Because we have had many stressful seasons during our twelve years of marriage, the grooves run deep and we fall into them quickly.
The problem with “Get Stuff Done” mode is that we work there separately. Almost out of survival, as a way of preserving our collective energy, we both hone in on areas of life we do best and leave the other person mostly out of the equation. Survival obviously comes first during times of high stress, but staying in relationship auto-pilot for too long has negative effects on our marriage.
I noticed these negative effects recently on a rare evening when our calendar was clear. I felt like I hadn’t seen my husband in close to a week and was sure we hadn’t had an actual conversation for even longer. Via text, I communicated as much. He responded, asking if I wanted to stay home to “Netflix and chill” that evening.
In the middle of our text exchange, a friend asked me if I wanted to get together that evening. This friend is easy to talk to, asks engaging questions, and is an all-around fun person. I knew there would be nothing hard about our time together. By contrast, I knew there were some potentially difficult conversations my husband and I needed to have. As important as I knew those conversations were, I just didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to have them. So I hung out with my friend instead of my husband.
I honestly planned to somehow fit both my plans with my friend and my husband into the evening. But by the time I made it home from visiting with my friend, my husband was asleep.
As I crawled into bed that night, I knew my husband and I had not stayed emotionally connected during this stressful season. We had survived, we had gotten stuff done, but we (particularly me) were finding emotional connection elsewhere because of the busyness and stress of the season.
It wasn’t easy, but the next day I apologized to my husband and expressed my need for more face-to-face time, more meaningful conversations, and more down time for our family. My husband agreed and accepted my apology. Since then, we’ve set aside one night of the week to just be home together. It’s not a night to talk about work or finances or really anything stressful; it’s a night for us to reconnect as a couple.
It’s easy to slip into unhealthy patterns. Building healthy habits takes hard work and persistence. After nearly twelve years of marriage, it’s a lesson we’re still learning.