We live in a busy world, getting busier all the time. Both men and women, teens and children seem to be constantly occupied with a bombardment of pressures, scheduled events, entertainments, and distractions. Our work hours seem to get longer and longer, crowding out other activities and enjoyments. Then after work, we may often compensate for the pressures of work by coming home to hours of screen time - whether that be TV, Facebook, internet browsing, video gaming, or Netflix. We keep our smart phones with us constantly, creating a ever-present connection with the outside world through messaging, texts, emails and phone calls. We seem pulled in a thousand directions, without a break. We may compensate by trying to multi-task; but sometimes that leaves us even more overwhelmed and unproductive than before.
What impact can this frantic lifestyle have on our marriages and relationships with our children and other family members? Plenty. Time is one of the fundamental languages of love, and is a key element in all the others. If time is in short supply in a close relationship, love will soon feel like an accompanying casualty. Like an unwatered plant, even the best relationship can wither, become weak and sickly, or even die from a lack of consistent care.
How can we turn around this destructive trend, and find the time to preserve, protect, and nourish our most important relationships? Here's 3 key suggestions to help:
First - Trim back the non-essentials.
You will not "have" the time to nourish your essential relationships. Instead, you must find the time, you must make the time. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to do that is by trimming back the non-essentials. Like decluttering your house, dejunking your time means removing things that are not really needed, to make room for the things that are truly important. It means creating space and time and energy for essential things.
Here's some suggestions for dejunking your time:
- Reduce unnecessary screen time. Many of us spend our worklives staring at a screen - so why do we go home to do exactly the same thing? Reconsider how you use your free time. If it is sitting in front of a screen - watching, browsing, gaming, listening, or cyber-connecting - then not only are you doing unnecessary harm to your health by sitting too much. You are also doing unnecessary harm to your relationships by robbing them of what could otherwise be rich interaction time. So turn off the TV, log out of the video game, keep your Facebook time limited to no more than a few minutes each day. Turn your attention instead your spouse, your kids, your actual relationships.
- Learn to say no. This can be hard for some of us - to limit the number of projects we take on; to reduce the amount of effort we place on various projects. But unless you say no to a few things, you will not be able to say "yes" to more important things - like time with your spouse or children. So look for things you can trim back or remove altogether. Where possible, delegate some of your responsibilites to others
- Simplify the essentials. For things you can't say no to, like core job responsibilities and key household tasks, consider - are there aspects of those responsibilites that could be trimmed back a bit? Do you really need to iron the sheets or make the gourmet meal? Do you really need the personally-made little handouts to teach the lesson? Do you really need to work those extra two hours at night when you could be home with your family instead? Of course we need to do a good job fulfilling our work responsibilities. But we need to be just as diligent at caring for our relationships.
Second - Find ways to share tasks or activities you do anyway.
We all have tasks in our lives that must be done - grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, basic house and yard care, and so on. We may also engage regularly in exercise, recreation, or other activities we enjoy. We can find creative ways to turn those essential, unavoidable tasks and recreational pursuits into meaningful time with our loved ones.
Here's some suggestions for turning your regular activities into shared relationship time:
- Do routine chores together. It doesn't take your full focus or brainpower to chop vegetables, pull weeds, grocery shop, dust the living room, or a thousand other basic routine tasks around your home. So, do them together, and talk while you do them. Invite your spouse or an older child to come to the grocery store or hardware store with you. Talk to them as you drive there and back; maybe share a treat while you're out. You'll get the job done more quickly, while simultaneously strengthening your relationship. And in getting the job done more quickly, you create additional time that you can invest in a more focused, enjoyable activity together when you finish the chore.
- Find ways of being physically active together. Go on a walk or bikeride with your spouse of child. Bring a family member with you to the gym. If you exercise together, not only will you spend more time together, you will help motivate one another to stay active and helathy.
- Share your recreational time together. Take a loved one with you on your fishing trip, or to see the play, or to visit the museum. Whatever you do for fun can be shared with a loved one. That way, your recreational time builds essential bonds between you, rather than being "one more thing" that pulls you apart.
Finally - Create time that intentionally focuses on strengthening your relationship.
Once you have created more time by simplifying your life, and by sharing essential activities, you can identify some fully-focused pockets of time to invest in nothing but making your relationship stronger.
Here's some suggestions for investing focused time in your relationship:
- Set at least a few minutes daily of check-in time. Maybe it's a quick phone call home during your lunch hour. Maybe it's a few minutes talking about your workday once both spouses arrive home. Maybe it's that daily family dinner, or family prayer time. Maybe it's a short bedtime routine each night with the kids to help them settle down for sleep. At least for a few minutes each day, dedicate some time regularly to checking in and focusing on your loved ones. Like daily watering a plant, this can help keep your relationships strong and positive.
- Set a weekly time to specifically address concerns in the relationship. Set up a weekly planning meeting, about an hour long (perhaps on a Sunday afternoon or another less-pressurized time period), to talk through finances, scheduling, concerns, hurt feelings, or other issues in the relationship. Having a regular, dependable time to address these topics in a premeditated way helps you relax during the week, knowing that there will be a specific time you can solve any problems or challenges that arise - rather than waiting for them to explode over the course of the week.
- Set specific times to have fun together. Go on a weekly date with your spouse. Or even schedule a weekend marriage retreat once or twice a year. Take a few days off, and enjoy the time with your loved ones - perhaps as a vacation or stay-cation; perhaps simply as a time to catch up on a few needed tasks together around the house. Make it fun. Include talking and treats. Build memories. Take slly photos or videos. Laugh, play, enjoy one another's company. And don't spend this precious time together in front of a screen. The time is just too rare and precious to waste on someone else's programming. Focus it entirely your loved one.
By implementing these suggestions, you can enliven, enrich, and protect your most important relationships. Invest the time, and remember, "If you do not put your family first, it will not last;" and "We give our lives to that which we give our time." Give your most precious gift - your time and focused attention - to those who matter most to you. It will increase joy and satisfaction in your relationship - both for you, and for those you love.