Everyone has what I call “seasons of distance” in their marriages where drifting apart seems imminent.
They’re inevitable, and they’re usually no one’s fault. My husband and I are just emerging from a “season of distance” when he had a combination of a heavy call schedule and a conference, so he was only home three nights in two weeks. At the same time I’m desperately trying to finish the edits for my new book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and I’m under deadline. So he’s gone and I’m stressed, and neither of us feels really supported. But it’s no one’s fault.
I remember another big season of distance where we seemed to drift apart: Keith was finishing up his residency in pediatrics and had to study for his pediatric exams. At the same time we had a baby and a toddler, and I was quite simply exhausted. Again, neither of us felt we had the support we needed because we both had so much on our plates, it was hard to be there for each other even though we wanted to.
A friend of mine is entering a season of distance as her dad starts chemotherapy this morning in a city two hours away from where she lives. She’ll be spending a lot of time supporting her parents over the next few weeks and months trying to help her dad get more comfortable and deal with the pain of the tumour, which is likely ultimately fatal.
These are all stressful times where you begin drifting apart if you’re not careful–and again, they’re no one’s fault. It’s just life.
Today I’m part of the Embrace Your Marriage virtual conference, running every Monday in September. Today is the last installment, and we’re looking at how to embrace your friendship. I thought I’d take a bit of a different tack this morning: how do you keep a friendship and still feel close during these seasons of distance which pull you apart?
I’ve written before about keeping a friendship with your husband–about finding hobbies to do together, and spending time together, and walking together, and I absolutely believe in these things. But my husband and I do have hobbies and we do have things we do together, and yet that didn’t come into play at all in the last few weeks. Sometimes you can know how to build a friendship, but you go through seasons where those things aren’t enough or aren’t always possible. Then what do you do?
I’m a big believer in this “turn a bad day into good data” philosophy–or, in other words, instead of getting mad at yourselves for messing up, look at what happened to make you mess up and then figure out how to avoid it in the future.
As I shared earlier, I really did mess up during this season of distance. I let the fact that we were both feeling isolated take over my emotions and started a rather meaningless fight, and I’m really sorry for it. But looking back I can see where we went wrong, so I’d like to share a few pointers for these seasons of distance to see how we can keep them from pulling us apart emotionally, even if we’re apart physically.
4 Ways to Keep from Drifting Apart During Stressful Times in a Marriage
1. Talk Everyday
Check in everyday if you’re apart from each other and really talk. It doesn’t have to be for long, but actually share something meaningful.
Think about it this way: there are different levels of initimacy when you communicate. You can share facts–“today was so busy and I didn’t get done the chapter I had to finish.” You can share opinions–“I really think the chapter’s good the way it is and I don’t want to change it.” And then you can share feelings–“I’m just so overwhelmed, and I’m worried that nothing that I’m saying is even very profound.”
A lot of times when we’re busy we tend to stick to the facts and opinions level of intimacy. We don’t really go down to share feelings–or even fears.
And what makes you feel like you’re drifting apart? When you feel as if your spouse doesn’t understand the big things going on in your heart, or all the big things that you do.
So here’s a suggestion: Everyday, even if you only have a few minutes to talk, share your “high” and your “low”. Or share your biggest success and your biggest disappointment from the day. When were you happiest/most proud? When were you feeling worst about yourself? They don’t have to be big things, but they have to reflect real emotions. And as you share, you’ll likely figure things out for yourself, too. Sometimes we don’t even realize what the source of your angst was all day until you think about it (“I got a really nasty email from a co-worker and I didn’t know how to process it and it hung over my head all day, even though the co-worker has no power over me.”)
2. Talk About the Little Things
The “high” “low” exercise lets you talk about feelings. But don’t neglect the little things, because most of our life is little things. If you want to feel as if your spouse knows what’s going on in your life, then share those little things, too. You can call it your “check-in” exercise. Each of you take turns, where you don’t interrupt each other, and share for about 5 minutes all the things that happened in your day. That way you’re up to date, and you feel as if the person does share your life.
3. Leave Well
When you’re parting, whether it’s saying good-bye on the phone or saying good-bye when your spouse leaves for work, leave well. If you’re in person, see them to the door. And then ask these two questions: “What can I do for you today?” And “How can I pray for you today?” Just two questions. In times of busy-ness these matter so much–they say, “even if I’m busy today, I’m going to take the time to pray for you, and I’m going to do something for you, because you matter.”
4. Don’t Bring Up Big Issues
Here’s the final one: put those big issues on the back burner. If you feel distant, if you feel like he’s not a good parent, if you feel as if you’re not resolving a big conflict–don’t talk about it. Here’s why: when you go through seasons of distance, your mind will automatically make these issues bigger than they really are. In fact, your mind may even create issues that aren’t there (mine did).
Decide that in your marriage you will regularly talk about issues when you have time, not when you’re both stressed. In these busy times problems are magnified, so trying to talk about them is unlikely to solve them, and will likely increase the feeling of distance. Keep them until you have time again.
I didn’t do all of these things during the last few weeks, and I really regret it. In fact, my husband and I are talking about implementing these four things more regularly right now. I don’t want to feel distant again when it’s no one’s fault.
I could say more about what to do to keep a friendship close–stay off of screens at least for part of the evening, go for walks together, go to bed at the same time. These are all important. But sometimes I think these four things are all you can do. In those seasons of life where life is almost too much, these four things will keep your head above water in your marriage.
So now I’d like to know, what do you do in seasons of distance? What do you do to stay close when life is pulling you apart? Share it in the comments.
And here’s your Embrace your Friendship Challenge all of us are giving today: Carve out some time to spend together. Do something that takes your minds off of screen time. Then make it a habit.
So far in Embrace Your Marriage, I’ve talked about:
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