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This may not be the hardest question I’ve ever asked, but it’s one that has bugged me for years. My wife and I didn’t have a lot in common when we married, but we loved each other and had a good friendship. We figured marriage would work out because we got along so well and lots of people told us that good marriages happen when the couple is good friends. We’ve been married for about seven years now and struggle to find things to do together that we enjoy. When we were dating and engaged, we mostly just hung out at our different houses, went out to eat, and did stuff together around town. We’ve got small kids now and we are home a lot more, but don’t like the same TV shows, music, movies, and so on. It’s really hard to find things we can enjoy together and mostly end up doing our own separate things in the evenings when the kids are down. We aren’t in crisis or on the verge of divorce or anything, but we’re both wondering how to get back our spark and fun we had in our marriage.
I want to commend you for reaching out for help before things reach a crisis level in your marriage. You’re wise to see the early signs of disconnection between you and your wife and take action to correct it. Please know that what you’re experiencing is completely normal, even for couples that have similar interests. The marriage and family lifecycle goes through multiple stages of change, including periods of distance. Even though you may not agree on what to watch on TV, it’s important for you to both agree on making your marriage a priority.
You’re in a physically challenging stage of marriage and family life. Late nights, early mornings, interrupted sleep, constant interruptions, and very little adult conversation are the norm. It’s easy for the marriage to take a backseat during these years because of the relentless demands of small children. Even though you are both completely committed to your young children, it’s easy to fall into a family-centric pattern that ignores the marriage.
Doing things with your kids is certainly more convenient and less expensive than finding babysitters, but you both need regular experiences feeling like a husband a wife instead of only a father and mother. In fact, you’ll be a stronger father and mother when you strengthen your roles of husband and wife. You can still be family-focused when you are marriage-centric, but it’s easy to forget the marriage when you only focus on the kids.
Because you’re so physically drained at the end of each day, it’s easy to slip into isolated patterns of self-soothing through screentime, books, or other personal interests. You may crave some alone time without any interruptions, even if those interruptions are from your spouse. The hyper stimulation of life with small children can make solitary confinement seem like a dream.
It’s good to have a balance of alone time, couple time, and family time. You can support each other in your alone time by taking turns and letting the other really enjoy distraction free time earlier in the day or evening when you actually have energy to do something.
It takes discipline to take back your marriage from the pull of numbing isolation. You may think you’re coping, but too much isolation will actually drain life from you and make it harder to feel rejuvenated. You’re an individual, a spouse, and a parent. Make sure you honor each role in your life. You will spend the most time with your children, especially when they’re little, but you’ll be surprised how some alone time and couples time can help you recharge. You don’t need much time alone or together to make a difference. Just make sure you’re building it into your schedule.
It’s also important to mention the need for good friendships. When you’re dating, it’s easy to believe that your spouse will meet all of your emotional needs. Even though a strong marriage is based on a deep friendship, your friendships with other men and your wife’s friendships with other women can be a deeply satisfying source of strength, fun, and support.
You’re wondering how to spend your evenings. I recommend you turn off your screens, plan a date with your wife, and make some deliberate decisions about how you’ll spend your downtime. Build in a balance of solo, couples, family, and friend time so you can meet all of these different needs. Your marriage will feel more like a source of rejuvenation if you both come to the marriage as whole people connected to yourself, others, and your children.
If you want to find common interests, then use your dates or evenings to try new things. Get creative and see if you can discover things you enjoy. Even if you never find something you both love, you’ll enjoy the journey of discovery. You’ll make good memories as you try things and learn together.
You don’t have the benefits of the drug-like high of infatuation that is part of young love. Infatuation will make any activity seem totally interesting, which is why you didn’t really care if you had common interests when you were dating. Now is a time to stop chasing that high and find ways to learn and grow together as individuals and especially as a couple so you can offer yourselves and your children a strong foundation of connection.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.