The Next Episode
Living in the “The Next Episode” of Marriage
Funny how life has a way of speeding up and blurring right past us, while at the same time, creating a slow erosion of what was once so significant in our lives. I bet you can think of a few things right now that were once so enjoyable, easy to execute, and were effortless to make time for. I recently started playing basketball again since gyms have started opening back up after being closed due to Covid. As I’m playing, I’m noticing something. Much of what was once so easy for me to do has become a little more difficult. I remember being between 17-25 years old and I could easily walk on the basketball court, do a little ankle stretch and play. It didn’t take any time to prep, stretch, ramp up, or get going. I could just lace up the shoes, wiggle the ankles a little, and play ball. Now, it takes about 10-15 minutes of putting on my braces, lacing up my shoes, stretching all the muscles, ligaments and tendons, shooting around to loosen my shoulders (since I’ve had surgery recently), and then it takes one game just to get the body moving at a decent rate again. One thing is certain, over time things change! Funny thing is, I don’t remember them changing. There has been a slow erosion of what I used to be able to do. If it had changed more rapidly, I would have noticed. Maybe in some area of your life, you can relate.
I believe one of the places this type of pattern shows up in a big way in our life, is in relationships, particularly marriage. Have you noticed that some of the things that were once so easy for you and your spouse, have become so difficult? Think about it. Remember going on dates and conversations were easy, stress was low, and you just enjoyed being in each other’s company? What changed? Well, that list could vary from person to person, but let me guess at a few things that may have shifted some things for you: kids, bills, jobs, degrees, in-laws, gas prices, sports, schooling, promotions, cheerleading practice, swim practice, baseball practice, soccer practice, basketball practice, football practice, working concession stands, chess club, Covid, working from home, going back to the office, working from home again, going back to the office again, stress, sudden losses, trauma, hurt from others, hurt from each other, changes in your body, health issues, weight gain, weight loss, new habits, resurfacing of old habits, dietary restrictions, blended families, church life, small groups, serving God and God’s people, starting a new business, losing an old business, retiring, injuries, surgeries, and exhaustion, just to name a few. In all of this, it becomes so easy to lose track of loving our spouse and staying connected to them. Let’s face it, life was never easy, but earlier on, it used to be simpler. For some, it now becomes so easy to skip date nights because let’s face it, half of the time it ends in an argument or we end up talking about all the things wrong with how life is and what we don’t like about it. What happened to all the fun? Well, I wanted to give you some tips on how to shift your approach to your time together to get back to a simpler life that can be enjoyed, rather than endured.
1. Become Intentional
Rarely does anything accidentally end up where we want it. Becoming intentional about your time together can go a long way to ensuring that you are connecting and communicating in a healthy way. Oftentimes in pursuit of spontaneity, we decrease something that should be a priority. I’ll never forget a leadership lesson I learned that I have implemented in my marriage, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth planning”. In other words, why do we see the need to plan in fine detail so many things in our lives, but when it comes to our marriages, we can often just “see what happens”. To start becoming intentional, here are some tips. I’m going to elaborate a little on these two because I believe these are key!
- Have a consistent date night
Let me encourage you to put some planning into the date night and let nothing get in the way of it. Everyone in the church knows that Wednesday nights belong to my wife. I’m unapologetic about it because my friends, my family, and our church, need to understand that keeping my marriage healthy makes me better for everyone else. On the rarest of occasions that we can’t get away from an event, or a First Wednesday happens, we already know that the following Thursday or Friday are replacing it. This intentionality lets my wife know she is a priority and ensures we stay connected.
- Prep the conversation ahead of time
Have you ever gone on a date with your spouse and had nothing to talk about? Let me have an honest moment of transparency. This was a place that Ashley and I had found ourselves in a few years ago. It was after our son, Jabyn, had gone to be with Jesus. With our attention being on someone else for years, then me taking over the church that was weighing on my mind and not wanting to bring that home with me, it had Ashley feeling like she was on the outside of my life. We sat at dinner one night and she said, “We don’t talk anymore”. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had sworn I would never be that husband, and here I was. Well, I decided I was going to change that! Rather than just saying, “I’m busy”, or “I’m just tired”, or blaming something else, I took it upon myself to change it. I spent an hour that next week finding silly articles with stupid questions that sparked some of the greatest laughter, most enjoyable conversations, and gave us a starting point to re-engage the joyful marriage we once enjoyed before life happened. Let me encourage you to start prepping the conversation ahead of time. By doing this, it’s not saying that you have nothing to talk about with your spouse, but it helps in those times when you feel like you’ve already talked about everything from the day or week. I literally have a document in the “notes” section of my phone that consists of links to articles that I find to use as conversations on date night. Don’t be afraid to be intentional about your date night by prepping some fun conversations to have. To help you, I’ve listed a few of mine below.
2. Invest in each other
So often we ask God to bless something that we’ve stopped investing in. When it comes to your marriage, you get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t invest, you can’t expect a return. In the Bible, it’s called sowing and reaping. Here are a few tips to invest well.
- Celebrate big moments in big ways
Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, graduations, and any other big moment in your spouse’s life, should have you hitting the pause button to celebrate. Invite friends over to a party or travel somewhere, just the two of you. Buy the cake and the balloons, show up big, even if it’s outside your personality type or social style, even if it seems embarrassing, just do it. If it’s worth celebrating, then it’s worth making a big deal out of it. Your spouse may even tell you not to, but this is the only place I’m going to tell you to ignore them and do it anyway.
- Be consistent with small moments
Big moments are great but they are also few and far in between in many seasons. Therefore, it’s not the big moments you need occasionally, but the small moments consistently. My challenge to you is to do something once a month that tells your spouse how much you love them in a small way, or medium-sized way if you’re an over-the-top kind of person. A yogurt trip on a Friday night or a Netflix and chill kind of night is great. Send the kids to a sleepover at a family member’s house and make some popcorn for when your spouse gets home and watch a movie together. Plan a game night or a nerf gun war around the house night (Ashley and I recently did this and we laughed so much) or start a tickle fight on the couch. Just create consistent small moments together.
- Spend the money – Investments always give a return
Stop saying, “We will do that when we have more money or more debt is paid off”. Sometimes you truly can’t afford something and if you can’t then don’t try. But sometimes we can afford it, we just keep choosing to invest in everything else other than our marriage. I want to encourage you to spend the money, go on that trip, see that new city, fly to that location, eat at that restaurant. Have that experience and create that memory. There will always be a reason why you should spend that money differently. Sometimes you just have to say, “We’re doing this for us” and go for it. So, I’m telling you to pay for it, if you can afford it!
* This one can be taken to an extreme. If you truly can’t afford it and you will have to put hundreds or thousands of dollars on a credit card, then wait and save. Financial stress is counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish with this article.
3. Communicate in healthy ways
Oftentimes our communication exists, it just exists in the wrong places at the wrong times. Here are a couple of tips to help keep your communication going in a good direction.
- Create times to have hard conversations
Nobody likes to have hard conversations. But those growing and developing conversations are necessary. Remember, marriage isn’t just about happiness, it’s about holiness. You have blindspots and your spouse can help point them out. Create a monthly opportunity to ask a simple question, “How can I be a better spouse?” Remember not to get defensive about the answer. I encourage people to go for a walk down the street or go to a park and walk around to have this conversation so that you’re away from kids and in a neutral environment. The truth is, those conversations are coming whether you like it or not. You might as well have it in a calm and helpful way, rather than waiting on your next big fight to air it all out.
- Don’t have the hard conversations in the fun times
This one is simple even though it’s not always easy. Don’t have hard developing conversations on date night or in fun times. Let those times be fun, we can have the hard talk later. By the way, this is possible when you strategically plan times to have hard conversations as mentioned above.
- Have fun
Why is it that the older we get the more boring we become? I know that not everyone is this way, but if you are, change that. I married my best friend, Ashley, and I love to make her laugh with an often borderline inappropriate joke. I love to send her memes and gifs that I’ve found or Instagram reels and TikToks that I know she will laugh at. I’m silly with her and we have a blast together. Let me encourage you to go have some fun!
4. Enjoy intimacy
I saved the best for last! No seriously though! Intimacy in marriage is key. Why is it that we have such a hard time as Christians talking about sex? Furthermore, why is it that when we finally get married and now we’re supposed to have sex, it becomes weird to acknowledge? Intimacy between two people in all ways should be fun and exciting. Some of you may need to bring that back into your marriage. The true, genuine, physical and emotional connection between a husband and wife is necessary to longevity! Intimacy goes far beyond the physical, but it certainly includes physical connection. Even as we grow older, staying intimate through proximity and affection is key. (Let me also mention here to be aware of your spouse’s boundaries and preferences. Honoring your spouse is key when it comes to intimacy) Here are a couple of tips for enjoying intimacy.
- Flirt with each other
Flirt with your spouse. I’ll say it again, FLIRT WITH YOUR SPOUSE! Just because you’re married now doesn’t mean the flirting stops, it just means you now put all of your flirtatious energy into one person for the rest of your life. Fellas, when you’re walking through the kitchen run your hand across the small of her back, or lower lol. Ladies, don’t be afraid to send winky text messages to get a point across. Rub their arm, kiss their forehead or cheek, tickle them, touch their leg, whistle at them when they put on that outfit, or when they’ve yet to put on that outfit! Seriously, keeping a fun, sexy, and playful environment in your marriage is key!
- Have sex
Last, but certainly not least, have sex. Again, this is one of the great benefits of marriage and yet we treat it as if once we are married we shouldn’t talk about it or acknowledge it. Well, I’m gonna say it. Some of you just need to go and enjoy having sex with your spouse. I know one thing is for sure, when a couple who is fully capable of having sex, stops having sex, there are most likely significant problems on the horizon. As long as the appropriate hormones are present, sex helps generate the necessary connection for other kinds of intimacy, like communication, flirting, and passion. Likewise, those other kinds of intimacy also generate the necessary connection for sex. They both feed the other. So let me encourage you to, in a proper and consensual way, build a connection with each other in ways that increase a desire in each other to enjoy each other. In other words…have sex with your spouse!
I pray that these tips help you and your spouse have a healthier marriage. I believe this next season for you and your spouse can look like the beautiful moments of the past, but it’s going to take some intentionality. Life has its way of robbing us of the joy and life we once experienced, and there’s one thing I know is true, if all you do is all you’ve ever done then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got. Let’s change some things in our marriage to have the marriage of our dreams, now.