Marriage is hard. While there are so many wonderful things about marriage, there are also seasons of survival. At least, that’s the season my husband and I have been in. After an injury last summer and some added pressures at work, his joy seemed to have disappeared. I’ll admit that mine went out the window around the same time since I had additional responsibilities and stress too. It seemed as though we were working on getting through a difficult time. Both of us had this idea that eventually things would return to “normal.”
A couple of weeks ago, things came to a head in a long and difficult conversation about our coping. He was struggling and trying to “keep it all together,” by hiding his coping mechanism from me. I was struggling and hiding with my coping by attempting to sleep it off. Neither one of us felt glad to be around each other or our children. Life was trying to put one foot in front of the other – and we both felt alone in it.
Last fall, we had the privilege of attending Jen and Chris’ Thriving Marriage retreat for a day and a half. It felt like a shot in the arm we needed. Both of us felt like we were back to our usual selves and felt more connected than ever! I remembered Jen and Chris sharing with us that spending 5 minutes in appreciation/gratitude three times a day for 30 days resets the nervous system to peace. While this bit of information stuck with me, I hadn’t started trying it. I thought we were all filled up from that retreat and we would be back to normal again!
Clearly, that was not the case. Our tear-filled conversation a few weeks ago was evidence of that. And then it hit me. I asked my husband, “When’s the last time you’ve done something that fills you up? That you enjoy doing?” He couldn’t think of anything. I recalled with him how, before his injury, he had been actively playing sports, gardening, working on house projects, and playing with his family. I hadn’t seen him doing any of those things anymore.
It occurred to both of us that we didn’t play anymore. We didn’t look for the day-to-day things we could do to enjoy ourselves and our kids. No wonder we felt life had been drained from us – it had! Once this lightbulb went off in our heads, it was like a complete 180 degree about face. The next night, my husband shared his love of stop motion with our 9-year-old son and they made an adorable short film with legos. I could see the joy in their faces as they worked together, and the pride my husband had in enjoying his passion with our son.
Since then, I have put Jen and Chris’ fact into action and set a reminder on my phone to go off three times a day. The reminder pops up and asks, “What do you appreciate?” I take a deep breath and focus on God’s gifts for the day. I find myself looking for those moments now before the alarm even pops up. I still see my relational circuits turn off, but its less frequent and it takes less time to get them back on. I find myself angry at times, but I don’t live in it like I used to. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have rough days. I do and so do my kids and husband. But now we can find the bright, shining moments of joy and play even in the foggiest of days.
Are you struggling with the tasks of life too? I encourage you to practice finding moments of appreciation or gratitude a couple of times a day. Maybe even write them down in a notebook you can look at when you’re struggling. Or search for an activity that will fill you up and share it with a friend or family member.
As a married couple, the timing of Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey’s new book, The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, also made an impact in how we look for ways to “play together” and close the joy gap they describe. I highly recommend this resource for all married couples.
Lieza Bates is a recent addition to the THRIVEtoday family, serving as Marketing and Communication Coordinator. She has been married to her husband, Paxton, for almost ten years and has three spunky children, ages 9, 6 and 4. She loves Jesus, braids, make-up, photography, design, and her family (although not all in that order).