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Health for Your Marriage: Make space by saying no

We are in the middle of a multi week series answering the question: “How can I find health in my marriage.” Last week we talked about how the conflict in your marriage shouldn’t be about who wins, but about your growth. Please consider going back and reading last week’s column on the Herald’s website, on Revolve’s website or in the Revolve Church NJ App.

Today’s pointer: Make space by saying no.

Unless you are the rare anomaly, you are surrounded by too much. I don’t just mean stuff (though that is part of it). You have too much going on in your life. Your kids have sports, dance, gymnastics, glee club, church commitments midweek, benevolence club, social clubs, and on and on. I don’t name these specific items to pick on anything in particular, but I think that you get the point. You’re too busy.

Let me paint a picture for you. You were young and in love. You pursued one another, romanced one another, wrote little notes, took photos, went on picnics and snuggled while watching a movie. Most likely, there was a time when you and your spouse couldn’t get enough of each other. Time together was precious and important.

Then you grew up. You had kids, you got jobs, you started your career. Now, all that energy which used to be poured into romancing your spouse, getting to know one another, dates and walks on the beach has been replaced with advancing in your career, changing diapers, arguing with teenagers, or chauffeuring your kids around.

Have you ever stopped for a moment to think about how all of that busyness is impacting your marriage?

Relationships require time - real quality time - like we talked about a few weeks ago. You need to have time (and energy) to talk, to share your thoughts, dreams and fears with those who are closest to you. The busyness of life tends to cannibalize this in our lives, eliminating opportunities to share with those who are closest to us.

Many couples willingly stop fostering the intimacy in their relationships to make space for two big things: kids and work.

In the area of work, men quite commonly will take all of that drive that they once used to woo their spouse and, now that she “is there’s to keep”, turn it towards their vocation. This is why many men (and women too) feel more married to their jobs than to their spouse. Sure, they do it under the guise of providing for their family so they can have all the things that they want, but this can come at expense of what they need - your presence.

With kids, it is common for couples to become partners and co-workers in raising children rather than a couple in love with one another. This is one reason why, in my opinion, so many couples get divorced when their kids are out of the house. The couple started off in love, sure, but over the years they drifted into friendship and then acquaintances. Before they knew it, they were ships passing in the night. The only thing that they had in common was raising their kids. Once the kids are gone, they don’t even remember why the liked each other.

In both of these situations (work and kids), it is easy to convince yourself that this is the right decision. “My kids want to do X activity. Why should I say no?” “If I want to get ahead, I need to put in extra hours at the job. Otherwise I will be passed for that promotion.” The problem is that kids and your job are insatiable and if you keep giving with no boundaries, they will keep taking.

If we are to have health in our relationships, it is crucial that we reprioritize. A friend once told me Schedule your priorities. Don’t prioritize your schedule. Look at your calendar. Is quality time with your spouse scheduled? If not, what is on there? Work appointments, doctor appointments, and the like? If time for your spouse isn’t scheduled, time with your spouse will get bumped! You schedule what's important to you. You make time for the things that you love!

To schedule your priorities, you will have no choice but to eliminate some things from your life. You might find that it isn’t healthy for your marriage or your family to let your kids play a different sport every season. You might need to say no to serving on that board. You might have to take a step back from things you like doing on your own so you can build health into your marriage. You might need to work out at home instead of going to the gym because it takes 30 minutes longer.

What in your life is eating away your time that is a luxury and not a necessity? Things, responsibilities, commitments begin to control us, and they will mercilessly demand more. Learn to say no. Say no to your kids, to your boss, to your friends. Make your spouse and they will notice!