Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

How to connect with your spouse while raising children

6 ways to connect in the busyness of raising kiddos

My husband and I were married for 10 years before our first child was born. We had 10 years of being able to do things like talk without interruption! Now as the parents to an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old life is different, and we can struggle to finish a conversation. Learning how to connect with your spouse in the midst of raising a family can be challenging. We’ve found a few strategies that work for us.

Connecting with your spouse is about more than going on dates. While date night is awesome and I highly encourage it, connection means taking the time to really listen to each other. You certainly can (and sometimes need to) share your deepest feelings, but you also should share the small stuff as well.

I mean all the things you think about in the shower that you mean to talk to your spouse about but don’t get a chance to. Or all the things you start to say and get interrupted. I’d say it even includes some logistical details sometimes that you just need to communicate and connect about. Connection is about sharing life together.

1. Find good times to talk.

One of the best ways to connect with your spouse comes by communicating well. I learned pretty early on in our just over two decades of marriage to start important conversations with the question: “Is this a good time to talk?”

That one question has saved us some grief and arguments in our marriage. Since my husband and I work from home together, we have plenty of opportunities to interrupt each other at inopportune times. So in order to connect with each other, we start with finding the right time to do so.

He may have something he wants to discuss with me and connect with me about right when I’m in the middle of trying to finish an article before my deadline. Or I might need to talk with him about something that happened right when he is preparing for a conference call.

By asking if it’s a good time (and being kind and honest with the question and response), our chance to actually connect improves. Some times are just not convenient times to listen — really listen — to what someone is saying to you.

2. Set boundaries with your kids.

This one looks different depending on your kids’ ages. We haven’t dealt with this with teenagers since our oldest kiddo is 11, but we’ve dealt with it through every stage previous.

The baby days are hard because babies are unpredictable. So, you have to get creative in order to connect with your spouse. When our youngest was a newborn, my husband knew I was struggling. While our daughter had always been a good sleeper, our son wasn’t. I had many nights where I was up the entire night only able to sleep about two hours before our 3-year-old was up for the day. I would literally fall asleep in the middle of saying something to my husband when he got home from work.

One night, my husband left an encouraging note on the changing table reminding me that I could wake him if I needed to. That short note, written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook was the perfect way to connect at that point in our lives.

As our children got older, we got into routines as a family. Their bedtimes coincided. Quiet or nap times overlapped intentionally. Even now they both have to be in their rooms for the night at the same time. So, my husband and I know that by 8:15 p.m., both kiddos should be settled in for the night. That’s important because those are times we know we can connect.

And then there are other times (especially right now with virtual schooling) that we stop our kids from coming into the home office during the day because my husband and I need a moment to connect. Sometimes we connect even by grousing about school assignments together!

3. Utilize kid-free time.

Kid-free time seems like it would be a no-brainer to connect with your spouse, but sometimes we get distracted and spend that time doing other things. I’m an introvert and recharge with quiet. I completely understand that sometimes kid-free time means you just want to not talk or do anything productive. And you need those breaks!

Just make sure that you allow some time for your spouse in the midst of it. Make some time to chat about what’s been going on in your lives or thoughts. My husband and I even end up spending kid-free time talking about the kids. We are in this parenting thing together and sometimes we need to connect about how we’re doing it to make sure we stay on the same page.

When it comes simply to connecting, no topic is taboo, not even your kiddos. The act of sharing your thoughts and concerns with each other connects you with your spouse.

4. Do something fun together.

One of the best ways to connect with your spouse is doing something fun together. This totally depends on what you guys find fun, but look for something you both enjoy.

That said, don’t be afraid to branch out and try what your spouse thinks is fun and vice versa. Since he was a kid, my husband has been a gamer. He enjoys both video games and tabletop games, specifically role playing games. While I played video games with him occasionally, I resisted tabletop role playing games for year.

When I finally tries role playing games with my husband, I found that I enjoy them as well. It’s something fun we love doing together and lets me see a whole different side of my husband and his creativity. And we end up with memories made together that we can talk — and usually laugh — about later.

We also enjoy watching movies together. While it doesn’t sound like something to connect us, we talk about them afterward. We usually don’t have in-depth discussions (though it’s happened and you totally could), but even just sharing what we each thought of the movie helps us connect with each other.

5. Go for a ride or run errands together.

The car can be the perfect place for connecting with your spouse when it’s just the two of you. Nobody can interrupt your conversations! My husband and I have done some of our best connecting on car rides and/or while running errands together.

We’ve connected and had fun while shopping for our kids’ birthday gifts. When we go on road trips for doctor’s appointments for me, we spend part of that time talking and going over topics we care about. We’ve talked through all sorts of things in the car.

Another way we sometimes connect on longer trips is listening to Podcasts together. My husband has some favorite ones he’ll listen to while I read or nap. But there are some we like listening to together as well. (One of our joint favorite Podcasts is a role playing game.) You could also listen to audio books together if that’s more your style.

6. Don’t forget the small stuff.

Finally, connect with your spouse in small ways that make big differences. The right words can make your bond stronger. Say thank you when you notice your spouse doing chores or taking care of something so you don’t have to. Stop and give your spouse a hug when he or she is folding laundry. Pick up their favorite treat at the grocery store.

Connection in marriage happens in small ways every day. You don’t have to have long discussions on deep topics. Your actions and facial expressions can connect you just as much as words. I love the feeling when my husband and I share “a look” about something adorable our kids have done or even something frustrating that’s happened. It reminds me we are on the same page and on the same team going through life. And that’s what connection is all about!

Beyond the vows: For richer or poorer

“Beyond the vows” is a new series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

When my husband and I got married, we were young college students. Promising to love each other for richer or poorer wasn’t all that hard, because we came into the marriage with minimal riches. My husband had a blender. I had a toaster. We ended up with hand-me-downs furnishing our small college apartment and slowly began building a life together.

We’ve come a long way in 19 years. We have more than a toaster and blender now. We have a whole house full of stuff for both us and our two kiddos. Compared to where we started, we are currently in a richer phase of our vows, but it hasn’t always been that way and it may not stay that way. Life changes quickly and unexpectedly.

The first money struggle
Money is one of the things married couples fight about most. And we’ve had some strong discussions about money. Most of our issues happened early on in our marriage. I was in charge of paying bills and dealing with finances. Any time my husband had a question about how our money was being spent, I got defensive. DEFENSIVE! It was a struggle because he was the main source of income, yet I was the one handling the finances. We knew we needed to communicate, but finding a way to do so where my emotions stayed out of the way was tough.

I am quite good at being overly sensitive. Each time he would want to buy something and I’d tell him it wasn’t in the budget, he would ask where our money had gone. I took it as a personal affront that he was saying he didn’t think I was doing a good job with our finances. He wasn’t saying that; he was just legitimately curious of where our cash was flowing.

And then there comes the matter of how I did our finances — like the actual process of tracking income, expenses and paying bills. Neither of us had managed a household before. It was a learning curve we dealt with together, for the most part. Our first household was a small apartment through the university. Utilities and cable were all included in our rent. So we eased our way in.

When we moved off campus to another apartment, we added in having to pay for utilities and cable and such. I had a way that made sense to me to organize our finances. It made no sense to my husband. Any time we talked about it, I got defensive. DEFENSIVE. Again, I took it as a personal affront that he thought I was messing up. In reality, he was just trying to help me streamline the process.

In the years since then, I have learned that my husband’s natural disposition is to be efficient. Things that are over complicated and take more time than they should annoy him. We have had many discussions and continue to even nowadays about the financial process for our family. I’ve learned to let down my defenses and actually listen to his ideas. We’ve worked out a system now that runs so much smoother. And I couldn’t have done it alone.

The lean years
While we worked through all of those things and lived through the college newlywed days, nothing really prepared us for 2007. On June 1, my husband came home from work early. He’d lost his job. We sat together on the floor of my home office in a bit of shock. Then I had to get up and go take photos for an article the local newspaper had assigned me to write about the company my husband had worked for. It was one of the most difficult days I’ve had.

What we didn’t know then is that it would take a year for my husband to find another job. My work as a freelancer did provide us some income, but not very much. It also didn’t provide us health insurance, which was a big concern for us then because I was taking an expensive medication for my bladder condition, interstitial cystitis.

We learned a lot in that year. It was before we had children. We did have a dog. We would laugh about how we’d scrounge $30 to pay for him to be groomed every few months when his fur got crazy long (he was a Lhasa Apso), but we’d trim our own hair at home. We had a budget of $5 to spend on each other over that Christmas. We were in our first home by that point and worried about losing it. We worried about having our cars repossessed.

But you know what else we learned? We weren’t on our own. My husband could only draw unemployment for six months and even that was just under half of what his income had been. Somehow, though, God took care of us. I can’t even tell you how now, because I truly don’t know. But we never missed a mortgage or car payment. Each time it seemed like all of our resources had dried up, something happened to sustain us. We both marveled at God’s goodness and provision through that period.

And, looking back now, I am thankful that we went through that. The lack of funds caused me to stop taking the expensive bladder medicine that was not really helping much (if at all). That same medicine was proven last year to cause major eye issues for patients who took it for a long period. My husband went from a job that was causing him incredible stress to a job that he loved with great co-workers and management. It was a year of famine before feast, even though sometimes it felt like a feast would never come.

Beyond money
While we have learned to love one another in richer and poorer, we’ve also learned that richer or poorer goes way beyond money. I’ve loved my husband completely when I didn’t know whether we’d be able to pay our mortgage and when I paid bills without struggling. Through our time when he was jobless, we told each other, “I’d rather be in hard times with you than good times without you.” That is what marriage is about for richer or poorer. Hard times are going to come. That’s what the poorer is about, whether it’s financially poor or otherwise. But good times are also going to come. That’s what richer is about, whether it’s financially rich or otherwise.

We haven’t always had a load of money. Heck, we are pretty comfortable now but we still don’t have a load of money. We have, however, always been rich in love. Somehow through the struggles of managing finances as a married couple for a household and surviving a devastating financial year, we have stuck together, grown together and come to appreciate each other even more.

I don’t know what the future holds for us. We were blessed to move into a new house last April that is what I call my dream home. I would like for us to live here until our kids are grown, but I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that as long as my husband and I have breath and are together, we will weather any storm that comes our way and bask in the sunshine as well. We will be together for richer or poorer.

Learn more about the “Beyond the vows” series and how you can share your own story here!

Find other articles from this series:

Beyond the vows: In sickness and in health

“Beyond the vows” is a new series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

A couple of weeks ago, I was sick. It wasn’t awful, horrible, wish-I-would-die-instead sick, but it was miserable. I went to bed early and soon started having body aches and chills. Those two symptoms are a bit intensified thanks to my fibromyalgia. By the time my husband came to bed, I was feeling quite awful. I got up and put on a second layer of PJs and grabbed an extra blanket. Though I was exhausted, it took me a couple of hours to go to sleep.

One of the things I do when I feel this way is rock back and forth gently in bed. I don’t even realize I’m doing it most of the time, but I sure enough was. It was a long night, but I made it.

The next day, my husband said he hadn’t slept well either. I thought he just had a restless night, which sometimes happens to him. We went through the day with me taking copious amounts of ibuprofen because we had an event we needed to attend for our son. That evening, my husband asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling better, which was true. And he then confessed that he reason for a bad night’s sleep was that my rocking kept him awake until 1 a.m. when I finally dropped off to sleep myself.

I told him that he should have woken me up or asked me to stop because I don’t realize I’m even doing it. His reply was that he knows that’s what I do when I don’t feel well and he didn’t want to bother me. So, instead he chose to have a crummy night of sleep. He gave me grace that I needed because I wasn’t feeling well.

Here’s the thing you need to know about my husband. That man has been through such a long list of health issues with me. He has loved me in sickness and in health — and sometimes much more sickness than health. In our 19 years of marriage, he’s seen me through three minor surgeries, three major surgeries, two childbirths and countless other health struggles. He has been patient. He had driven me many times to a specialist in another state four hours away just because he knew I needed to see that doctor. In fact, he’s the one who even encouraged me to go to that specialist who I thought was too far away.

Along with all of that, he’s also picked up my slack more times than either of us can count. He’s gone grocery shopping, made dinner, bathed the kids, helped with homework and rearranged his schedule time after time to take over when I didn’t feel well enough to do so. This man has sacrificed his own happiness and wellbeing on my behalf innumerable times.

Yet, when I was sick with a bug and keeping him awake, he didn’t complain once. He could have. It certainly would have been justified after all he’s been through with me. Instead he kept his promise to love me in sickness and in health. He didn’t even tell me what had happened until I was feeling better. He keeps on giving me grace and understanding instead of selfish irritation and frustration.

Is he perfect? No. But neither am I! Has it always been this way? Not completely. While my husband has always been loving and understanding, we had to do our fair share of work to be able to communicate well through sickness, because it’s hard managing chronic health issues in a marriage. We were only three years into our marriage when my health took a dramatic turn. It brought along with it some emotional issues for both of us that we’ve had to work through in order to truly love each other in sickness and in health.

And now, here we are. I don’t know how you’d ever put this on a Valentine’s Day card, but this is what true love looks like to me. Marriage and love are so very many things beyond big romantic gestures and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Those things are awesome; however, it’s the little stuff that makes a love story. It’s being awake half the night because your wife is rocking herself to sleep and not complaining. It’s taking care of dinner when the thought of it has her in tears. It’s walking the kids into school on a blustery morning so your wife can stay warm. It’s encouraging your wife to not settle for second best when it comes to her health. It’s being there every single day and choosing to work together. It’s understanding that compromises are sometimes necessary and laughing together should be a priority.

The vow to love each other in sickness and in health doesn’t even begin to explain the depths of what that means. They are easy words to say, but they can be difficult to live out in reality. Love is about action and sometimes putting the person you love ahead of yourself. And that’s always worth celebrating!

Learn more about the “Beyond the vows” series and how you can share your own story here!

Find other articles from this series:

Beyond the vows

I’m so excited to introduce a new series from Families with Grace called “Beyond the vows.” We’ll be taking a look at marriage in real life and in real situations that go, well, beyond the vows!

The background story
I have often thought about the vows my husband and I exchanged on our wedding day way back in 1999. We were 20 and 22 and thought we’d done some living. We didn’t know how much living life had left for us! We still don’t know what all life has in store. In all these years we’ve had many ups and downs. And through all of them, we have understood our vows more than we ever could have on our wedding day.

It wasn’t hard to vow to have and to hold each other. As newlyweds, we were excited about that stuff! In the years since then, we’ve learned what it means to have and to hold through all sorts of situations — from times of great joy, like when our children were born, and times of great sorrow, like when loved ones died.

Promising to stay together for better or worse was easy, too. Staying together through good times is pretty darn easy. It’s the hard times that bring the challenge. Sure, we had arguments and trials in our relationship before we got married. In fact, our engagement got off to a rocky start when my family wasn’t happy that I wanted to get married before graduating from college. Since getting married, though, we’ve had plenty of worse times through the years and learned they can bring us together or tear us apart. They can make us stronger or weaken our relationship.

And then making a vow to stay together for richer or poorer wasn’t so hard as young college students, because rich wasn’t something we were! We just knew we’d be rich in love and we were — and still are! We learned about poorer, though, when my husband lost his job in 2007 and spent a year before he found another one. Poor times are certainly harder to weather together.

Our vows also included that we’d stay together in sickness and in health. The day we stood before God and our friends and family, we were both young and healthy. Three years later, I became not so healthy when a bladder condition I had battled since childhood came rearing its ugly head with a vengeance. We have learned the full truth of sickness and health probably the very most of all the vows.

We also didn’t struggle to vow to love and cherish each other. We loved each other so very much that day. In the years since, our love has grown and changed in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. I love my husband so much more today than I did that today because of all we’ve been through together. Of course, that vow also means loving and cherishing even on the hard days and difficult times when you are at odds with one another.

Finally, it’s easy to promise to love someone until death do you part. We confronted that pretty early on when in our first year of marriage we almost died thanks to a carbon monoxide leak. But, we have also learned that death is a whole issue we have to deal with in other ways through the loss of loved ones from extended family members to our beloved dog who was like our first child.

The idea for the series
As I was writing a blog post along these lines, specifically on “in sickness and in health,” I started thinking about how our wedding vows mean different things now than they did on our wedding day. And then I realized this topic needs more than one post and more than one voice! So “Beyond the vows” was born. I am excited about it and think it will be a great series.

Each post will cover a portion of wedding vows and how those vows have evolved through the years of being married. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to have been married for a long time to know the reality of life beyond the vows. You just have to have lived some life together.

How you can get involved
I do want this to have more than just my voice. Here are the vow topics being covered:

You can write your own story in 700 to 1,000 words or you can share a few highlights of your story with me through email for me to include in one of the posts. Either way, I will edit for clarity and style to make sure that Families with Grace’s posts are consistent. If you prefer to be anonymous, let me know that. Otherwise, please include a short bio to run along with the article that has your name, how long you’ve been married and any other family info you want to share. If you are a fellow blogger, I’m happy to provide a link to your blog in the post as well.

The biggest requirement of these stories is they MUST be positive. They should be honest and real, but they need to have a positive or encouraging message in the end. My goal with “Beyond the vows” is to cheer on other married couples on their journey and remind them they aren’t alone in navigating life as mister and missus.

If you are interested, send me a message through the Families with Grace Facebook page or email me at stacey(at)writtencreations(dot)com.

Find other articles from the series:

5 tips to keep your marriage strong with a newborn

Advice for your marriage with a newborn

When our daughter was born in October of 2009, my husband and I been married for just over 10 years. We’d weathered lots of life’s storms together including chronic illness, extended family health scares, death, job loss and financial devastation. Through it all, we remained a team, ready to take on life’s challenges together. We strove to work together and not against one another. We hadn’t, however, navigated marriage with a newborn.

Nothing prepared us for parenthood. My husband and I knew it would be hard. We weren’t young. We weren’t naive, but it was way harder than we expected. I’ve yet to meet a new parent who said otherwise. It’s sort of a total system shock. While becoming a first-time parent is a great and exciting event, it’s also highly stressful — especially when you figure in the hormones, the sheer exhaustion and the total upheaval as life as you knew it.

We learned some lessons the first time around with a newborn. So when we had our son in January 2013, we were able to better adjust. Both of my babies were completely different kinds of babies. They are still different. But these tips, which I first wrote just before our son was born, helped keep our marriage with a newborn strong both times.

1. Don’t keep score. 

In the early months of our daughter’s life, I kept a mental score of who did more. It was me — always. After all, I was the one who got up with her all night, I was the one who was pumping for her around the clock, I was the one whose body was still healing and on and on and on the list could go. However, I was failing to notice the things my husband was doing. He was waking up at night, too. After working long days that involved a three-hour total commute, he’d come home and take over so I could snooze. He was changing diapers. We both did a lot. 

I realized I resented him as he slept while I sat in a dark living room pumping more milk after having changed, fed and gotten the baby back to sleep. I have lots of reasons why I felt this way (hormones, exhaustion, etc.), but none of them justified it and it was hurting my relationship in silence (well, mostly in silence save for a few bursts of passive aggressiveness — a trait I work to stifle because it’s hurtful).

Once I got over myself and realized keeping score was only making things worse, I was able to accept my new role as a mother and milk provider and appreciate the things my husband was doing. I realized sometimes he did more and sometimes I did more. As long as we were both making an effort to do the best we could, I couldn’t complain. Keeping score only makes things worse for your marriage with a newborn.

2. Let each other express emotions freely, without judgment. 

When you’re exhausted and dealing with a baby who isn’t cooperating, sometimes you’re just plain angry at your squalling bundle of joy. It’s neither rational nor reasonable. But, it happens. Being able to share that with your partner and have them understand, take over if necessary and not judge you helps you move on and move past it.

I struggled a lot in the early days with my daughter. I thought I was failing her and wasn’t cut out to be a mother. My husband never judged me. He supported me, encouraged me and helped me move past it. I whined and cried about being tied to a breast pump and never being able to have a normal life again, and he was patient to encourage and support me.

When I was weary from our son not sleeping at night for the first three months, my husband left me a note to find in the middle of the night. It reminded me I wasn’t alone and could wake him up if I got overwhelmed. 

3. Take time for each other. 

I’m not talking big, elaborate dates. Some of our best times in those first couple of weeks after our daughter was born were when one set of our parents would come over and watch the baby for a couple of hours so we could rest. We’d head straight to bed, set the timer so we didn’t sleep for 18 hours straight like we felt like doing and snuggle in for a nap together.

We didn’t have compelling conversations about being new parents. We didn’t whisper sweet nothings in each others’ ears. Instead we just enjoyed rest together. As time went on, we carved out time for more like quick dinners at fast food restaurants without a baby in tow. No matter what, though, making time for one another is important for your marriage with a newborn.

4. Accept help from the outside. 

This goes along with number three. It’s hard to make time for each other when you’ve got a baby demanding help and attention so often. Add in that during times the baby sleeps you have to deal with things like laundry, pumping, showering, sleeping and eating, and there’s very little time or energy left for much else. Having help from others is fine. Maybe it’s a friend who will come and hold the baby for a while. Or maybe you have retired parents around who love to snuggle with their grandbabies.

Whatever the case, it’s OK to ask for outside help. In fact, I’d say it’s even necessary for your own sanity and the sake of your relationship. Asking for help doesn’t mean you aren’t good parents or can’t handle having a baby. It just means you’re human, recognize you sometimes need a break and understand you need to stay connected to your spouse to stay sane through this journey.

5. Always be compassionate and respectful.

Sometimes in order to be compassionate with our spouse, we have to remember that it’s not all about us. Our spouses are people, too, with their own wants and needs. Remaining compassionate when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed is hard.

But remember your spouse is just as exhausted and overwhelmed, and sometimes he needs you to give him some grace and vice versa. Both of you will mess up. Both of you will get short with the other and need them to just drop it and understand you’re coming from a place of exhaustion, not anger.

That said, being respectful to each other is key as well. Sometimes people are kinder to complete strangers than their own spouses. Not cool. You can never take back words once they have been said. You can apologize, but the words have left their mark. Try to remember that when the baby is crying, you’ve been up for 19 hours and you just realized you’re out of clean sleepers because your spouse forgot to do the laundry like he said he would.

(And, because my husband reads my blog, I must point out I made up this last scenario. I don’t think it happened to us, but I couldn’t think of an actual example, though I know these types of things happened.) You’re both doing your best.

Parenthood isn’t easy. The newborn days are rough. They’re hard on each person and relationship. At the end of the day (even when that’s 2 a.m.), the important thing is that you have this new, tiny life that came from the two of you. It’s awe-inspiring and overwhelming at once.

And, as someone whose youngest baby is turning 6 in a couple of months, I can assure you that the newborn days do pass and pass quickly and one day you’ll be able to sleep again.

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