1. Protect each other’s limits
Something Kyle and I have been learning over the years is that we have different limits than others, including one another. This year particularly we have grown in applying that knowledge of each other’s limits. In not only acknowledging them but moving into an acceptance of them and then acting in a way that promotes and protects them. In letting our spouse draw their own boundaries and then helping to keep them.
More personally, for me to lovingly respect Kyle’s limits often means gladly and graciously cutting off a show to make sure he gets the sleep he needs. Or recognizing his signs of word fatigue and being willing to cut off a conversation and pick it up again later. For Kyle to loving respect my limits it often means gladly and graciously cutting work hours to make sure I get the rest and reprieve I need from home life. Or recognizing my signs of social fatigue and being willing to say no to a get together with friends and planning one for another time. We all have different capacities. And they matter. We have grown in seeing how failing to respect and protect those capacities can produce burn out and break down. Yet on the other hand, how fighting to respect and protect those capacities can produce health and wholeness.
2. Push each other’s limits
While we have seen the necessity of protecting limits we have also seen the benefit of pushing them. Like in all of marriage, promoting and protecting can create the kind of trust that is required for pushing. We are more likely to allow those who selflessly serve us to also stretch us. Serving does not shove. It does not obtrude or insist. It sees what is good for the other and it gently nudges and urges towards that end. It even reaches out a hand and walks to it together. We are finding, often by failure, that there is a way to serve your spouse based off the knowledge of how they are naturally wired to be yet also a way to push them based off who you know they can be and are still becoming.
Practically put, based off of my above examples, I sometimes stay at things longer than I want to and Kyle sometimes sleeps less than he prefers to. I’m in go-go mode more than is comfortable and he listens for longer than is natural. Sometimes we ask this limit pushing of one another with our words and other times we require it of one another with our actions. This kind of stretching and strengthening is being produced in us slowly and subtly. It is kindly and carefully pushing the line of our limit outward. It is increasing our capacity. It is helping us to flex a weak muscle. It is changing us and challenging us in ways we wouldn’t have been. And we are better because of it.
3. Don’t forget to look
I wrote a whole blog on this a few years ago so I’m just going to quote a part of it because after this year with more work hours, more commitments, and more kids this has never been more pertinent —
“There are three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart… I see you. Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you. Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you. With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you. When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you. Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you. With tired or tear filled eyes. With stretched or scarred skin. With a heavy or happy heart. I see you. Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.”
We are ever learning that marriage is about making the choice to re-see each other again and again and again.
4. Put it plainly
Even after many years with a person, it can feel uncomfortable to point blank say what we want. To quite literally spell it out. As in “I really want to spend intentional time with you tonight,” or “it would mean a lot if you would comment on my appearance more” or “it seems like you’re not pulling your weight around the house as much.” I may or may not have been known to even say “THE NOTE (you know that theoretical one that will be real some day) CAN LITERALLY SAY ‘I LOVE YOU, HAVE A GOOD DAY.’ THATS IT. THATS ALL.”
Sometimes spelling it out makes us feel pathetic. Pathetic that we care so much about seven actual words being written to us on a page and left before work but also pathetic that at this point I might as well have just done it for you and pretended it was from you. But the truth is that sometimes the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be is just to lay out the path plainly. Vague hint dropping doesn’t tend to build the best bridges. That doesn’t mean our spouse didn’t care enough to see what was on the other side, it just might mean that they didn’t quite know how to get you there on their own. Prompting and planning do not have to make things disingenuous. Therefore we can still gratefully and graciously receive them for what they are.
5. Schedule the things that matter
Kyle and I both tend to balk at the idea of being planners. As if being described as one is somehow an insult. But we’ve learned the hard way that whether it’s a date night out or a game night in, life doesn’t tend to do us the courtesy of interrupting itself to present a magical moment of deep marital connection. Moments, ones of investing and enjoying and resting, mostly seem to come from carving out time and then committing to it. From sinking calendars together and setting reminders. This boring and rigid thing called planning actually ends up producing an eager anticipation for the weekly routines and the monthly rhythms and the yearly traditions. For the late Friday nights and the slow Saturday mornings. For the folding of laundry together and the texts that say “let’s sit down tonight and check in with each other.” This year particularly it has looked like sitting down every Sunday night to talk about each day of the upcoming week. To try and pencil plans in according to priorities. And oh how I’ve come to look forward to those beautifully boring Sunday nights of planning and praying with my husband.
I think overall what I’m trying to say is that we’re still learning that relationships are just not as glamorous or spontaneous or romanticized as we like to think they are or should be. That it really takes ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s mundane and adultish and slightly disappointing. But maybe extraordinary marriages are really just made up of lots of little ordinaries through the years. The little ordinaries that become extra ordinaries.
6. Time really is a good teacher
Recently a quote was shared with Kyle that says, “in marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.” As I’ve been thinking about the tension of time, particularly as it collides with marriage, I thought there really wasn’t an easier or better way to state it. Marriage is up and down, back and forth, round and round. It is not so much a steady climb or upward trajectory. After all, nothing in life is always and only moving in one set direction.
Yet I think there is another element to time that comes into play. It’s the reality that, in general, time really does change things. And us. I’ve always found it a bit disheartening when people offer advice and encouragement in the form of “it just takes time.” But I get. Because it’s true. Time does have its own unique way of helping and healing and strengthening. Time takes… time. We cannot speed it up. But on our 6th Anniversary I can say that Kyle and I have already been married for long enough to at least begin seeing that life together is full of reoccurrences. Reoccurrences that allow us to keep revising and keep messing up and then keep trying again.
Whether it’s painting a room, hosting a guest, having a baby, or planning for a birthday party… the more times we do something the easier it typically becomes. The twentieth time may not seem as exhilarating as the first, but it usually seems to feel richer and go smoother. Because time teaches some tricks of the trade. It allows us to see where we can bend and where they might break. It shows us how to come out next time and play better as a team. It reminds us what really matters. It allows us to step back and see how much we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. And then it gives us hope for how far we have yet to go.
Because time really does change things.