Wifey Wednesday: Stop Living Separate Lives!

How to stop feeling like you're leading separate livesStop being so busy.

We hear that advice all the time–we need to cut down, we need to cut back, we need to be home more. We have to stop running around. I’ve written about it at length (like this post on why kids don’t need to be involved in every extracurricular activity under the sun). We know we’re busy.

But increasingly I’ve been wondering if the problem with busy-ness is not the busy-ness per se but instead what it represents–the fact that we are on the go so much that as a couple we start living separate lives.

That’s where I’m at in my marriage right now. My work-at-home job is busy, and his job is busy. We have minimal activities outside of work, but since I travel to speak, and he’s on call a lot, many evenings are already gone. I can cure some of the busy-ness by hiring a maid, or by getting other people to help with some aspects of our lives, but it doesn’t help the essential problem: we feel as if we’re living parallel lives, not sharing one life. At some point, it becomes hard to operate as a unit.

What I’ve realized lately is that I like having someone to take care of me–someone who can take some of the burden of decisions off of my back, and someone who can say, “it’s going to be all right.” But it’s hard to believe him if he doesn’t have the whole picture. And how can he have the whole picture if he’s not there?

This is true not just if you work at a “job”, but also if you’re busy homeschooling or in ministry or just taking care of the family. If you’re busy with things he doesn’t do, then it’s hard for him to understand your life.

It’s the same with his job. I want to help him, but it’s hard to because I don’t fully understand all that he does all day.

That, it seems to me, is the real problem. It is not just busy-ness. It is separateness.

This fact that each of us increasingly has a life outside and apart from our spouse, and often it’s hard to re-integrate them at the end of the day. I’ve written before about how seasons of distance are often the breeding grounds for major marriage problems, even if the marriage is a strong one. And so my husband and I are taking stock and trying to figure out how to not just cut down on busy-ness, but more to make sure that we are not leading separate lives.

Here, then, are some of the steps Keith and I have talked through trying to take to re-integrate our lives. I hope that this can help you avoid the “parallel lives” feeling:

1. Keep the Same Schedule

I know this won’t fly if you work opposite shifts (I’ll deal with that in Monday’s Reader Question of the Week!), but going to bed together and getting up together helps you feel so connected. Bedtime is a great time to share your day and relieve some of the stresses. I wrote last week on how practically to make your schedules fit, even if you have kids, and I hope that helps! Keith has to be up at 6:15 to go to work, so we’re going to bed early, and I’m starting my own workday at 7 (and finishing at 3). That way we’re in sync.

Frequent reader Lori commented yesterday that she and her husband get up together every morning and pray for each other every morning. Such a great idea! When you start the day together, you cement that bond and it doesn’t feel as much like it’s separate lives. That’s hard, though, because it means getting up early enough that you’re not rushed. That is possible–but it likely means also heading to bed at a much earlier hour. It’s a hard shift to make, but it’s worth it.

2. Don’t Bottle Things Up

When we have a limited amount of time together we don’t always want to bother him with our problems. I’m guilty of this–I think to myself, “I finally have time to relax with him! I don’t even want to think about work!” The danger in that, though, is that both of you can start to have no idea of what goes on in your spouse’s “other” life. You don’t have to share everything, but here’s something that can help:

Every night, share one success of the day, one worry of the day, and one prayer request for an upcoming decision/project.

It doesn’t have to take too long, but that way you’re keeping short accounts with each other, and you’re praying for each other. My assistant Holly and her husband Chris pray together every night about their various work challenges. Chris even prays for me and Keith, since we’re such a huge part of Holly’s life! I really appreciate that, and I know as Holly prays for Chris’ work challenges, it helps her feel connected to his world, too.

3. Get to Know Work Colleagues

If you can, visit your spouse at work (and have them come to your work, if you work outside the home, too). Meet his colleagues. Introduce him to yours. It’s easier to feel part of each others’ lives if you can at least picture where your spouse is everyday, and know a little bit about who they’re talking about.

4. Ask For Advice

I know the adage that you’re not supposed to fix problems, you’re just supposed to listen. We hear this all the time–men just need to listen, not try to fix. But the truth is that sometimes I WANT him to fix it. I don’t want to worry about it. I find things stressful.

Often the things that we find stressful are not necessarily stressful for someone else. I find weeding through comments stressful because I take things to heart a little too much. Keith would laugh things like that off much more easily. I told my husband about it and asked what I should do, and he told me without missing a beat that I should ban certain people. I did. And life is so much lighter! When I was homeschooling two children full-time I found teaching easy, but marking work hard. I always got behind. We talked about it and it was Keith who figured out a strategy that works.

I have issues with administration and planning, both of which he’s really good at. Sometimes the things that are eating me are things that he could solve easily, if I let him run with it.

Similarly, the things that he often obsesses over are things that I would solve quite easily.

So once a week or so, have a brainstorming session where you’re ALLOWED to fix problems, not just listen. Share the things that aggravate you about your job, or your homeschooling, or keeping the home, or whatever, and listen to his, and then just brainstorm a whole bunch of answers. You may just find an easy solution!

5. Dream and Vision Together To Make Sure You Won’t Lead Separate Lives

Finally, we may work in different spheres, but to stay a unit, we need an overarching vision of where we’re going as a family and as a couple. I’ve got some free printables you can use to talk to your spouse about how to dream big for your family. They’ll help you get on the same page and figure out where you’re going. And as you start to think about that, sometimes we’ll begin to see solutions to the “separate lives” problem.

Jay Dee, another frequent commenter, said yesterday that he’s recently gotten a lot more involved in homeschooling their kids, instead of leaving it all to his wife. He spends a bit of time catching up with the kids and with her after he’s home from work, and now does some of it. It helps him feel involved. But they got there because they talked about their vision for the family.

So figure out where you’re going. When you feel like you have a plan, then you will be leading lives together, even if you’re not together 24/7.

These are the steps Keith and I are taking more and more to stop the separateness. What are you doing?

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave the URL of a marriage post you’ve written in the linky below! And be sure to link back here so that other people can read these great marriage posts! If you’ve ever walked through this “separateness”, how did you fix it? What did you do to get on the same page? Let me know in the comments!


  1. When I get home from work actually, not school. But yes, I think it’s important to keep each other involved. It also helps that my wife proofreads all my articles for my blog (both for readability, but also because of the sensitive nature of the topics, we want to make sure we’re both on board with what’s going out there). I do my very best to keep her involved in “my life” as much as possible, and we keep in contact through messages and texts throughout the day, that helps us feel much less separated during the work week.

    And on the days I work from home, I make sure to eat lunch with the family (dinner is with the family every day).

  2. I can not agree more as far as keeping the same schedule! My husband had to start getting up 4:15am. I was sleeping in later but then he wanted to go to bed earlier than I did. We made a deal that I would get up early with him if he went to bed at a certain time to ensure I got enough sleep. We decided to make that sacrifice for each other and I think it was the best thing we could have done! Yes, it does take time to get use to but totally worth it!
    Cassie recently posted…3 Truths I Wish I Would’ve Known as a NewlywedMy Profile

    • 4:15 would be really a challenge for me. Wow! But good job! And think of all you could get done that early in the morning, before the world is awake. I’m sure it’s a good change!

  3. My hubby had shoulder surgery 2 weeks ago, & had to sleep in the one chair in our house where he could be upright with a bunch of pillows and halfway comfortable. He got to come back to sleep in our bed last night finally,(still with tons of pillows!) but we fell asleep holding hands. Talk about being separate in the same house! Your post was so timely for me to think of the self-imposed separateness I do. Excellent advice AGAIN, Sheila!
    Juana Mikels recently posted…Giving Thanks in Hour of Darkness & Wednesday’s Link-up Party!My Profile

  4. My husband and I have consistently gone to bed at the same time for our entire 23 years of marriage, save weekend nights that he might decide to stay up for an XBox marathon with the boys. I think that habit has been THE best thing that has kept us close through some rough seasons.
    I also get up with him every morning to make his lunch and coffee and send him off with a nice kiss. Our alarm goes off at 4:45 AM and we have recently started reading a daily devotional together and praying briefly before we get out of bed. It doesn’t take but 5 minutes, but starting our day with that connection has been really sweet.
    We also try to go on a bike ride or hike together every weekend. It is our little hobby that we share just between the two of us. Imagine being out for a long bike ride knowing your kids are at home doing their Saturday chores. Sweet feeling! Honestly, our Saturday mornings are a better time of connection than an evening “date night.”
    I do need to work on asking his advice and input more often. I tend to be an internal processor and think through things on my own. I see how inviting him into the process would help him to feel more a part of my daily life. Often, if I’m sharing about something I’m grappling with, I get annoyed when he gives input. That probably doesn’t help him in the area of feeling like my “hero.”
    Thanks for a great post with great practical advice!

    • Yes, I can be the internal processor when it comes to work–though not with anything else. I need to learn to talk about it, too, so that Keith can “rescue” me. The times I have let him in he’s actually come up with some great solutions!

  5. Hi there!

    I think this was a great startand will be implementing these items!

    I’d love to see you do a continuation on this article for people like me.

    My husband travels extensively for months at a time for his job.
    It has nearly broken our marriage two or three times now because when he is here we actually typically do quite well. But when he leaves, we often break down.

    How do we keep it together when he and I are only in the same state 40% of the year?
    How do we balance having alone time with catching up with what his family needs done during that 40% of the time?
    (Typically when he is home, we spend almost every weekend helping his ailing parents)

    • Oh, Erin, that sounds so tough–especially about the parents. I’m going to do a Reader Question next Monday about working different shifts, but this is an even bigger problem. Let me mull it over. And I definitely have something to say about the aging parents, so that’s a great post idea, too!

  6. This is so timely. So many of the things that people say to do to remove from your life in order to spend time on each other make us laugh because that isn’t what we are doing to begin with. What can we skip with three kids under 4? Church? Cleaning the bathroom? Meals? No one is happy with that for very long.
    The best gift that my husband gave me after this last baby was the freedom to choose a few hours of housekeeping each month. We had to make some other sacrifices but it was so worth it to carry us over that rough time.
    We are trying out going to bed around the same time (he is a night owl but I need to go to sleep sooner since I will be up during the night with the baby), scheduling sex twice per week so that if the kids interrupt on multiple nights we make love at least once (it’s a start, folks, really) and scheduling a twice weekly business meeting to go over the plan for the week and the weekend at least keeps us on the same page. Still working on that last one. Life is work but when we are doing it in tandem rather than separately, we feel closer to each other.
    We learned earlier in our marriage to ask or to let the other person know what the goal of the conversation is at the outset. I am particularly guilty with the fix-it approach so I need that clarification. Sometimes there is emotional sharing and sometimes there is problem solving that requires a slightly different kind of listening and calls for a different kind of response. We do have different abilities and there are some places where we shore up each others’ weaknesses quite well when this process works the way it is supposed to.

    • I love that idea of clarifying the goal of the conversation, too! People say that men are the ones who always want to fix things, but I am totally guilty of that. I’m always giving advice when sometimes my husband just wants me to listen. So talking about goals is so important!

  7. I love this post. My husband and I went through a 2 and a half year period of living separate lives after our 5th child passed away 32 minutes after birth. Me trying to figure out how to live and take care of my family when I couldn’t even take care of myself and him going to work everyday to get away from seeing me hurting so bad. Which also ended up getting him into an emotional relationship with another woman. It was a very hard, dark time in our marriage but God has helped us start mending all of that and we are getting back to being each other’s priority a again. And really greeting to know the people we are now. We have both changed so much. But we got to the breaking point and had to decide we wanted to hold on and fight for our marriage and for each other. Now he’s more involved with the kids and I and wants to be home with us. I think working on this stuff and offering each other forgiveness has made our marriage even stronger. Thank you Sheila for your posts. Many of them have helped us get to where we are.

    • I’m so glad you emerged on the other side! And yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes struggles do make you stronger, because you decide to fight for what’s important.

  8. Such a little part of your article but….WHAT WAS THE SOLUTIONTO FALLING BEHIND ON GRADING LOL!! We do a great job in our home staying on schedule and not being too busy, but like you, I have a hard time keeping up with the grading :) Or maybe I should ask my husband what he thinks I should do ;)

    • Hi Monica! Ha, you made me laugh! Okay, basically Keith started marking their math. I could handle everything else, but he marked their math and went over it with them. And he marked their Latin. Often he’d look at other things, too, but the math was really the sticking point, so he just took it over. :) But yes, see if your husband has any ideas!

  9. Thanks!! He has offered many times to take over the grading lol Guess “someone” has to let go of the control lol Math is a great idea. I am often apprehensive about having other people grade for me, because I feel I am more detailed or thorough about reading context or seeing if they got the set up of the problem right but the math wrong, I may give half credit. But if I allowed others to help me grade, my husband or my daughter who’s 19, I wouldn’t be behind lol. Happy Thanksgiving!! Your book and blog have been such a blessing in our marriage and you have helped us restore the passion :) Thank you for all of the time you give to speaking and helping marriages in area that’s often left unspoken about. You are an encouargement and a blessing! Now go enjoy your day with family :)

    • Thanks so much, Monica! But it’s actually not Thanksgiving here. My youngest daughter is trying to convince me that she should get the day off since her American friends get the day off, but I’m not budging. :)

  10. It definitely hasn’t been easy but it has been worth it to get where we are now.

  11. Sheila lol…oh yeah I forgot your in Canada!!! Well, Happy regular work day :) lol

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