There were 101 reasons why a March getaway with my husband didn’t make sense: the kids’ spring activities in full swing, a weighty trial with one of our kids, a pivotal time of transition in our church, financial cost, preparation for a conference I was speaking at in a couple of weeks, and did I mention trying to figure out the crazy carpool schedule? My husband assured me this getaway was a much-needed gift, and with his parents generously coming to spend the week with our kids, how could we say “no”?
It wasn’t until we were on the road and away from the hustle and bustle of family life that we took a deep breath. Driving through the hills of western Pennsylvania in the quiet of our car, we were finally able to process some of the life we’d been living the past few months. With each mile further from home, it seemed that weights were being lifted off of me. I think we slept more in those few days than we have in the past year. Long conversations while walking on country roads or lingering over breakfast reconnected my husband and me, bringing us back from the fragmented life we’d been living. “I don’t think I knew how much we needed this until we were here,” I told Ben.
Our fast-paced American lives tell us to work harder, do more, enroll our kids in one more activity, and say “yes” to one more volunteer request. Our speedy lives often run on autopilot, without leaving time to process how we’re actually living. Are we connecting with our kids or just driving them to the next activity? Do we share long embraces and lingering kisses with our spouse or are we just ships passing in the night?
For Ben and I, it seems that as our children have gotten older, the intensity of situations we face—from trials to extracurricular commitments—has increased. Although I’m not changing diapers and nursing babies in the night, I’m running an Uber service and trying to keep my eyes open until eleven o’clock when my teenager arrives home. Suddenly there are no nap times (for the kids, at least) or eight o’clock bedtimes that allow my husband and me a couple of hours to reconnect. We’re often going to bed at the same time as our teens, or they’re staying up later! There are early morning bus drop-offs and late-night talks, all part of this time of life called adolescence. I recently read that parents suffer from the most sleep deprivation in the newborn years and the teen years. I believe it.
I’m not complaining about our stage of life. It’s filled to the brim with mostly good things. I love having teens and a pre-teen and a five-year-old (who daily reminds us to laugh). But I’m realizing that as we embrace our life in all its fullness, the marriage relationship is often the first thing squeezed out.
A Christ-Centered Marriage in a Child-Centered World
Ephesians 5 tells us marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. As the husband leads and cherishes his wife, he is a living portrayal of Christ leading and cherishing the Church. As wives honor and submit to their husband, they exemplify the Church submitting to Christ. It’s a relationship of utmost importance, one that displays the gospel to a watching world. As we nourish our own marriages, our love will spill over into the lives of those around us. Taking time to rest and invest in our marriage allows us to better serve others and live a life zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). It’s not selfish, but life-giving.
Our kids demand our attention in a way that our spouses do not. We can drive ourselves places, make our own lunches, figure out our own schedules. As they try to navigate relationships and schoolwork and future plans, we’re now having with our kids the late-night heart-to-heart conversations we once had with each other. Time alone as a couple becomes even rarer and more difficult to find. For this reason, scheduling intentional one-on-one time becomes crucial. Carving out time alone together is a way we break from the craziness around us and rest in the green pastures and still waters (Ps. 23:1–2) of life.
For Ben and me, that means regularly putting date nights (or days) on the calendar. Without it marked with black ink on white paper, it’s likely going to be pushed out by the kids’ agenda or ministry or work. I’m not talking about a legalistic “date night,” but time carved out without the rest of your family. Maybe this will involve hiring a babysitter and going out for a few hours or planning a lunch date while the kids are at school. Or even swapping babysitting with another family. When our kids were younger, this provided a free way for us to have some much needed alone time. Now that our kids are older and we have built-in babysitters, we ask them to reserve a Friday night to watch their younger siblings. Without intentional time to connect one-on-one, we run the risk of letting our marriages be trampled by the agenda of everything else. We honor the one God gave us to live life with when we prize the marriage relationship and consider our spouse’s needs as more important than our own (Phil. 2:3–4).
I recently read the argument that date nights are just a Western phenomenon. While that very well may be true, it is also a Western phenomenon to live a breathless life without human limitations. Our child-centered American culture tells us it’s perfectly reasonable to spend money on ballet lessons or travel soccer or private school . . . all for the good of our kids. But spend money on a babysitter or marriage counseling or a weekend getaway? Well, that’s selfish and unnecessary. Most of us living in America don’t need a free pass to exempt ourselves from pursuing intentional alone time with our spouse, but a push to make it a priority. The book of Hebrews exhorts us to keep marriage in its proper place: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Heb. 13:4). One practical way we do this is by investing time, money, and energy in our most important earthly relationship.
While a good marriage is not built on weekend getaways and date nights, our years spent ministering to struggling couples, along with our own nineteen years of marriage, tells me that it’s naïve to think marriages will grow and thrive without needed time alone together. Obviously, there are situations where a husband and wife must be separated for a long time, whether it be due to military commitments or missions or work travel. And we can trust God to give those couples grace to stay united and strong despite the distance. But the vast majority of us have a daily choice of whether to pursue intentional time alone with our spouse or not. One day, our four kids will all be leaving the nest. I still want to have a vibrant relationship with my husband that looks forward to the empty nest years instead of dreading them. Investing in our marriage now is both a means of grace and a safeguard for the future. It’s worth the effort.