This blog was originally posted as a guest post on This Average Mom. Check out her blog today!
This past week my husband and I endured numerous rounds of sickness that had me up in the middle of the night. Someone in my family was up with something, and it required attention and care. Just the other day, it hit me—I am amazed how tired I feel! Actually, what amazes me more is how, not that long ago, this roller coaster of sleep disturbances was the norm. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how I survived when my sons were small. Somehow, in some miraculous way, my marriage and my family came through this taxing and tumultuous season in one piece. Yes, we were frayed at the seams, but we made it!
Those early years with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are precious. There is much to enjoy. However, it can be hard to enjoy these times when we feel spent, when our fuel gauge is on E for Empty. Caring for a marriage when raising little people with big needs can feel pretty overwhelming. Joy often becomes overlooked as a luxury item instead of an important need worthy of time and attention.
So, the million-dollar question is, “How do I keep marriage joy levels high when I have little ones?” This answer will require creativity, some intentionality, and lots of flexibility. I would like to share four relational skills that, when practiced, can make a drastic difference in getting through the early years with your sanity and your marriage-joy intact!
First is joy. Joy is glad-to-be-togetherness. We use our face, eyes, voice tone, gestures and body movements to genuinely convey we are glad to be with someone. As parents, it is easy to share the joy with our babies. However, by the end of a long day, when we collapse on the couch next to our spouse, joy requires a bit of intentionality. We can use our glances, cuddles, words, and stories in the form of highlights from the day or even previous joy memories to spark joy at the moment. Joy is not happiness that is circumstantial and short-lived. Rather, relational joy in these moments would be, “This day was hard. I feel exhausted. However, I am really thankful to have you here with me. I am glad we are in this together.” We use our attention to focus on our spouse as well as our eyes, face, and body as the canvas to convey our gratitude to be together.
Next is appreciation. Appreciation is what we call packaged joy because we can open it any time we like. Appreciation is also remembered joy; it is a gift that keeps on giving. There is no expiration date. Even if we do not feel joyful at the moment due to our current circumstances, we can feel joy by reflecting on previously shared moments of joy. Sharing appreciation helps us feel seen, understood, and loved by our spouse. We can use appreciation by telling stories of joyful times but also by sharing qualities in our spouse that bring us joy. Here we express what we like about our spouse. Be specific and keep in mind this is not the time to focus on qualities that annoy us. My husband and I find it easier to add appreciation to our routine. We use mealtimes to share highlights from our day, and we take time to cuddle and convey what we enjoyed from the day just before falling asleep each night.
Our third skill to increase joy levels is to share relational stories. Telling relational stories about the good times, including stories from my day, and stories about each other, connect us with our spouse. We feel closer to our spouse when we share and listen to special joy stories because we better understand each other. When the stories are joyful, we create the opportunity to smile and laugh together. Use stories to reflect on special shared memories together, and you will feel peaceful and joyful.
Our final skill, ironically, is quiet together. Rest and quiet are not simply inactivity, but rather the purposeful pause to rest with our spouse, hold each other, and connect through silence, giving our thoughts and our body a chance to recharge. It is hard to build joy when we are tired! I can still remember how incredibly tired I was in the early years with my sons, when they were newborns. Carving out time for rest with my husband was crucial to refresh my emotional capacity and recharge my relational battery. Quieting can be especially helpful when we feel exhausted from the demands of the day. We may not have much left for high-energy joy, but we can still be glad to be together through some rest and snuggles.
When all else fails, at the end of the day, comfort and connection can be found when we focus on how it feels to be “in this together” with our spouse. It is when we feel alone that the hard stuff becomes even louder and harder to manage. I still remember the days when I was ready to pull out my hair because of the lack of sleep and the challenges associated with a colicky baby. Yet, I felt thankful Chris and I had each other. I was not alone in my hardship. We had each other in the midst of our struggles. In this step, we can include our friends and family who are also with us in our struggles.
Regardless of what stage of life you are in, practicing these practical skills will enhance and brighten the spark of joy in your marriage. You can learn more about joy and practice some fun exercises in my husband’s new book, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages co-authored with Dr. Marcus Warner. Go even deeper with The 30 Days of Joy For Busy Married Couples book that Chris and I wrote to deepen our joy reserve. May your marriage joy increase!