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?

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