“Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day.” –Barbara de Angelis
We just had a kid-free weekend away as a couple. We went to a concert, enjoyed great meals, strolled through the streets talking for hours, and stayed in a swanky, hip hotel. It was perfect. Then three days later, I looked at my husband with panic in my eyes and blurted, “I think we are growing apart!” He nodded and replied, “I know. I have noticed the rut.”
One of the dangers of running a business and spending a lot of time with your spouse is that it’s easy to fall into a rut. The drift can come slowly — like the tide quietly pulling away from the shore. It can become so normal to be together that we stop taking quality time for our relationship. We don’t have to go out of our way to plan time together; we see each other all the time. But we are not always using that time to really pay attention and hear each other. Oftentimes, we are running errands or performing managerial duties for our CrossFit affiliate, and we are together to accomplish a task, not spend quality time on our marriage.
When I feel us entering one of these ruts, I sound all the alarms. I verbalize my feelings when I can sense distance forming between us so that we can address it immediately. My husband tends to think I am a bit dramatic, but I am certainly not going to sit and watch the drift happen! Who in the world wants to live in a home with two people moving through life, never seeing or listening to each other?
It’s possible to be completely productive, run our household, cook healthy meals, maintain an active lifestyle, raise our kids, and continue our careers while in a rut, and that is what scares me the most. It can just happen. The drift comes, and we are just moving through the motions, running through life on autopilot without feeling. So yes, call me dramatic, but I make a huge scene when I sense a distance forming.
At times, we need to set clearer boundaries with work or technology. Maybe we can have a planning session and lay out our goals for the business, but then we can put the kids to bed early and have dinner and an indie film with no work talk or cell phones allowed.
Sometimes we need our own space in our home. Our kids have to knock before they enter our bedroom. We decided it was important that we have one space in our house that could be ours — a room of one’s own. Other times we need to laugh and play. Not too long ago, we decided we needed to “feel closer,” so we went out and jumped on the trampoline together for 30 minutes. We laughed until our bellies ached. A quiet meal together, a tech-free talk over a cup of coffee, an evening walk, or even a workout are all simple ways we can stop and be proactive in a moment of staleness.
Just as I work to redirect my thoughts in so many areas of my life, I also have to channel my energy and emotions when I have designated time with my spouse. Creating boundaries has become increasingly important. My husband and I both need to be seen as individuals with interests and opinions about the world around us — not just business partners. After all, we are human beings, not human doings.
It is a tremendous balancing act that takes intentional action. I don’t believe that successful marriages just happen by chance. They involve constant work, fine-tuning, and attention. We must avoid autopilot at all costs and seize the moment to be present as a couple.
After I sounded the rut alarm, my husband and I took the kids to the pool and sat for two hours talking it out. What was happening in the space between us? We discussed possible causes and plans for improvement. I was not aware of some of my behaviors and neither was he. We listened and really heard each other. Those moments of open communication might be what I am most thankful for in our marriage. After 15 years together, we are not so arrogant as to believe that drifts don’t happen to the best of us. If we run a successful business and raise happy children but lose our relationship — the foundation on which we build our dreams — then we will have missed the point entirely.
It is our duty to ourselves to keep a finger on the pulse of our marriage and keep the ruts at bay.