Jim and I (Doug) meet with too many couples who have created a script for their marriages that substitutes Jesus’s promise of abundance and fullness and replaces it with busyness, activity, and stress. The following are three course corrections you can make to move from busyness to abundance in your life and marriage.
Strengthen Your “No” Muscle
The little word “yes” is a dirty word that gets you in trouble and adds fuel to your pace. To slow down your life and marriage, you’ll need to learn how to say no to really good things so you can say yes to the most important things.
One immediate action you can take to combat busyness is to make a list of all the responsibilities you currently have that are causing busyness and stress. Give it some good thought and make sure your list is exhaustive. After you’ve finished the list, show it to your spouse and allow him or her to add anything you’ve forgotten or ignored. Then go through the list one responsibility at a time and ask yourself: “If I stop doing this, what will the consequences be?” All of your choices have consequences, and those choices are what made you so busy.
Remember you only have 1,440 minutes a day. You can’t be all things to all people.
In another column, write the consequence next to the responsibility stressor so you can see what you’re dealing with. After that column is complete, start crossing responsibilities off your list. It will feel painful at first because you’ll be personalizing the corresponding consequences (even though nothing has happened yet). Be honest enough with yourself to admit that if you can’t find a responsibility to cross off the list, you may be more broken than you realize. You can’t do everything! Remember you only have 1,440 minutes a day. You can’t be all things to all people. Here’s the good news, though: You can talk to Jesus and ask him to give you both the wisdom and discernment to make better choices.
Say No to Noise
There are lots of different types of noise that clutter our minds and busy our lives. The question for you to ponder in your own life is, What do you consider noise? We view noise as anything that distracts us from intimacy, listening, and reflecting.
One noise that is especially obnoxious is what I (Doug) call mobile-phone noise. It’s always calling my name. I actually like it a lot—too much, in fact—and that’s the problem. It was stealing my attention from those who were closest to me. Because of that, I now have a self-imposed, self-regulated rule about answering my phone when my wife, Cathy, or any of my kids are in the car with me. I just let it ring until it switches to voice mail. I don’t want that noise competing with those I love most.
It might be a new concept for you to think about your mobile device as noise, but consider this: One study revealed that the average time spent answering a text message is less than 30 seconds, and the average person looks at his or her handheld device 85 times a day. These noisy intruders enter our lives uninvited and distract us from relationships. They can even wound those we love. For example, when you look at a text message while you’re with your spouse, you interrupt a relational connection. By simply glancing at the text while you’re engaged in conversation, it can send the message, “This phone is more important to me than you are.”
At this point you may be thinking, What does this have to do with busyness and the long-term success of my marriage? Everything! All those intruding noises are competing for those finite 1,440 minutes you own each day. The trade-off for spending some of those minutes texting or using social media isn’t worth the sacrificed intimacy when you could be spending that time with your spouse. To prevent marriage drift, you must take advantage of opportunities for connection and put the phone down. That text, game, or photo can wait.
It’s not uncommon for couples to establish a few noise-reducing rules for their marriage, and we would challenge you to come up with some that work for you. In addition to my no-phone-while-my-family-is-in-the-car rule, Cathy and I have a rule that we don’t look at our phones when we’re in bed. Our bed is a sacred place, and not just for sex. It’s for conversation, snuggling, prayer, and laughter. We don’t need the added noise competing for those precious minutes, and neither do you.
Here are two important words that may help you: power button. It’s okay to disconnect from your devices so you and your spouse can connect. If you’re going to find silence, you’ll have to pursue it, and saying no to your mobile device more often will definitely help.
Practice the 1 Percent Rule
Start with giving your spouse just 1 percent of your day. That’s 15 minutes of face-to-face, knee-to-knee connection. This means turning off the television, shutting down the computer, and putting your phone in jail. These few minutes, set aside every day, will make a big difference over the course of weeks, months, years, and decades. Your marriage can become rock solid if you slow things down, block out noise, and commit to a daily time together. Most of us pack too much into those 1,440 minutes a day, and it leaves us harried, stressed, and lacking intimacy with our spouses. Let’s change that. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, and we know you can do this!
Our dear friends Fadi and Kim actually give each other at least 30 minutes a day. Every morning before work, they sit down together with cups of coffee and have an intentional time of connecting with each other. They’ll often end that morning time with a prayer, a hug, and a kiss. Then they go their separate ways and run a business, chauffeur four kids, ride horses, work on their house, entertain friends, do home with the kids, and much more. You get the drill. When things begin to settle down at night, they sit for 15 minutes and have a glass of wine together to close out the day. Fadi calls this routine their “beverage bookends.”
Do they share other times throughout the day? Sure, but these bookend moments are intentional and protected: the phone goes unanswered, and their children know not to interrupt them. Fadi and Kim—and others with strong, healthy marriages—know the importance of these focused times together and make them happen so their marriage doesn’t drift. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time for it to be the powerful time.
There’s a great story in the Bible where Jesus challenged a woman named Martha to slow down and focus on what mattered most. He essentially told her that her busyness was quenching her chance at abundance. That’s our message to you: If you want to win in marriage, you have to figure out how to slow down, pay attention to what’s in your heart that’s causing you to hurry, and learn to say no to the intruding noises and priorities that are stealing some of those precious 1,440 minutes from you.
Busyness doesn’t have to define you or your marriage. In marriage you’re called to love, not race; serve, not rush; and care, not hurry.
True love requires time, and time is something busy people don’t have. Allow your love to stop, stroll, and even meander. That type of love will defeat busyness, win over stress, and keep you headed toward your intended destination.