Those of us with small children know the importance of routine (otherwise, nothing gets done). Those of us in stressful work environments know that routine can often make things run a whole lot smoother while we are on the job, and we know that the lack of it can cause us even more stress.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines routine as “a usual or fixed way of doing things.”
In marriage, some of the routines, patterns, and habits we’ve fallen into can cause us stress and weigh the relationship down: throwing the old routine out the window and embracing something new can sometimes be the very antidote to stress we’ve been searching for with our spouse. Sometimes in a marriage, routines can get a little stale. Perhaps one spouse is always cooking and doing the dishes while the other is always stressed at work or making sure the bills are paid.
I can think of five things in particular that my spouse and I started doing for one another that went against our normal way of doing things; it really fanned the flame of our love and appreciation for one another and ultimately strengthened our marriage.
1. Complete a task you don’t usually do.
When my husband started doing the dishes after I made a meal, I was thrilled. It’s a small thing, but sometimes, you just want to sit down after all that hard work in the kitchen.
When I started supplementing our income with teaching classes in the evenings when our kids were in bed, I knew he was thrilled because financial stress is a huge burden for couples. Since changing our routine, we’ve learned we work much better toward our financial goals as a team.
2. Do something different in the morning.
I hate to say I used to nag my husband with questions in the morning. It was not his thing. He wanted quiet to get his feet under him and get moving. So instead of asking questions, I do my best to give him quiet. Our kids ask a whole host of questions as soon as our eyelids open (but that is another story).
My husband used to throw himself into what needed to get done at the start of the day; now, he makes sure he stops before his wheels get turning. He stops, gives me a hug, and tells me I’m beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to start my day.
3. Do something different in the evening.
We both used to completely zone out to a T.V. show in the evening when all our kids were finally in bed. We still do this, BUT about a year ago, I suggested we watch a 15-minute sermon to help set our hearts and minds in the right place for the next day. These 15 minutes together have made a massive difference in our parenting and our relationship. Afterward, we pick out a show and laugh together. But those 15 minutes have made a huge difference overall in our patience and perspective towards parenting our children. God has used those sacred 15 minutes that we’ve given Him in our evenings to teach us so much about His love and how we are to love one another. Sometimes the smallest change in routine can amount to massive results.
Another example of changing our evening routine is that we both do bedtime with the kids now. It used to always be just one of us. Which sometimes caused resentment, knowing one parent was relaxing while the other was still parenting. Our kids love it, and we love it. We read stories together, which often leads to silly character voices, tickle fights, and tons of “I love yous” from our kids.
4. Give each other alone time.
I think some of us are not that great at giving our partners time and space to themselves, but if you are the kind of person who thrives after some time alone to rest and recharge, this is incredibly important.
After having three kids and feeling constantly needed, we both discovered that we needed at least a small chunk of time to ourselves each day. We accomplish this by taking turns going to the park or bringing the kids to visit family. Something that gets either of us out of the house for just a little bit and allows the other person to have some breathing room before everyone comes back, and it is loud and crazy all over again.
5. Say “I’m Sorry” before things get out of hand.
My husband and I are both very stubborn. If one of us hurts the other person’s feelings, we get into the routine of staying angry or upset. At first, I didn’t think of this as a routine, but if you look at how fights tend to go in your marriage, you might be following more of a pattern than you realize. Maybe it looks like this:
Spouse A says something without thinking. Spouse B gets incredibly upset and gives Spouse A the silent treatment. Result: the argument is left unresolved.
We’ve changed our “routine” by learning to apologize as soon as we’ve hurt the other person’s feelings. It’s not easy to admit when we’ve said or done something wrong, but we are getting better at it. There is nothing worse than that sinking feeling in your gut when you know you’ve hurt your partner or they’ve hurt you, and you feel as though they don’t care or they’re too angry or too busy to fix the problem. We do our best now not to give each other that painful gut feeling and resolve the argument by apologizing or righting our wrongs before entering into days of resentment and frustration.
Our routines are what give us our results. If you keep getting unfavorable results in marriage, it might be time to change the usual or fixed way you do things and try something different. It might be time to change your routine. Just because your parents or your spouse’s parents did things a certain way, that does not mean their routines will necessarily work for you. If anything, most couples learn what works for them and what doesn’t as they journey through the trenches and triumphs of this life together.
So if you keep getting unfavorable results in your marriage, let me remind you that it might be time to change the “usual or fixed way” you do things and try something different. It might be time to change your routine. The way you did things before kids might not work once you have kids. The way you did something last year might not work this year. Sometimes even the way you did things yesterday might not work today. Marriage is a journey of endless sacrifices and surprises. Don’t miss out on the good parts because you’re too stubborn to change your routine.
If you find that you are fighting with each other more than you are fighting for each other (believe me, we’ve been there), it might be time to do something you don’t normally do.
Prepare to be surprised. “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine…” –Song of Solomon 6:3