Just because your season in life is hard
doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed to famine.
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“It’s fall break this week,” my husband mentioned in passing yesterday.
I looked up and waited. I waited for the explanation that neither of us needed.
Neither of us gasped excitedly. Neither of us winked or smiled.
It means a couple days of no class, nothing else.
Fall break really means catch up on homework. And if he would happen to find an extra hour or two, it would likely fall to fixing something on the car or house that has been piling up on his mental to-do list.
My husband is a third of the way through schooling, with his eyes set on a Physician’s Assistant degree. It is a lofty aspiration and a salty one when juggling a full-time study load on top of a full-time job, not to mention our family and church involvement. To say “his plate is full” is just a polite way of saying he can’t reach around like he used to.
He just physically can’t. He only has so many hours in a day.
Our times together are no longer spent on dates at Olive Garden, next to the crackling fireplace with perfectly seasoned soup and salad at our fingertips. We rarely go leisurely shopping together anymore; either he makes a mad dash into Walmart for milk and eggs on his way to school, or I load up the minivan and buckle car seats and spend an entire afternoon navigating the cart, children, shopping lists and potty runs.
Online shopping was designed precisely with someone like me in mind.
We knew this season would be hard. We really did.
But no one prepares you for HOW hard the next season is going to be.
Perhaps you aren’t in school.
Maybe your husband is a truck driver.
Perhaps he is stationed with the military.
Maybe he is a full-time pastor and his evenings are spent in meetings and long phone conversations.
There are endless scenarios which bring you to the desperate question:
How can you stay connected with your husband during an intense season?
These 7 tips are things that help me to keep breathing and smiling:
1) Believe in this season.
From the very beginning, we decided we were going to be in this TOGETHER.
When we finally got married, after liking each other for five eternal years, being best friends for life was at the top of our list. When we moved to Honduras and navigated mission life and Issac’s death, we clung to each other. When we moved back to the States and Daniel started a business and we bought a 100-year old fixer-upper house, we sweated side by side.
And then school came up. We’ve watched couples grow apart through schooling and stress and separations. It is an ongoing discussion of ours because we always want to be connected. We talk about “doing school” as a family. We all make sacrifices, we all see less of Daniel. The kids and I watch a lot of medical documentaries and dig deeper into science because it is what “we” are studying. It helps us all feel a bit more connected to atoms and DNA and all these complex body functions.
But this school season breaks down to me being on my own a lot more. I AM growing stronger as a person with my husband in school. Not exactly independent, but more confident in who God is making me to be. I’m figuring out how to do stuff Daniel used to do when he had time. I might be tiny, but I’ve seen this glint of admiration in his eyes when I surprise him with a new skill.
The beginning of every book has a preface, a backstory, and a moment where the author paints a backdrop on the canvas for the story about to unfold. In these crazy seasons, it is important to remember who you fell in love with. Our perspective is always clearest when we step back, take a deep breath and look wide.
Instead of giving in to feeling sideswiped by abandonment or solo parenting, back up. Remember how you got here. Daniel has told me at several really crucial times in his schooling journey, “If you were not supporting me, I’d quit.” And while it sounds super sweet, it is also a HUGE accountability. I don’t want to be the one to hold my husband back from that calling deep inside of him. I know he is supposed to do this, and while the price is high, the price of holding him back is higher.
Fear will always cripple, faith will enable.
In lean seasons like this, Satan loves to jump in and drive wedges into marriages.
Anything beautiful is worth working for.
Your marriage will have growing pains and difficult moments.
But always remember that on the other side of the hard is a beautiful thing.
Press through it.
“A marriage is not a joining of two worlds,” says Mike Mason, “but an abandoning of two worlds in order that one new one might be formed.” (“The Mystery of Marriage“)
My sister has spent most of her married life in rural West Africa where she and her husband have been serving both Africans as well as aspiring missionaries learning the culture.
One day, on one of our treasured phone calls, she told me,
“God has been showing me how I had an attitude of ‘never enough’ of my husband. It was like I was starved, and no matter how much he gave me, it was never enough.” Surrounded by the parched Saharan desert, her own heart was sandy dry. And no matter how much her husband would pour into her, it would drain right back out again.
“But when I let God meet my needs and care for my heart, I was able to release my expectations toward my husband. And the most beautiful thing happened. Even just the little moments together were enough!”
The rain had come to the desert, and that was all it took for life to spring up again.
I had to chew on that awhile. Because it was a really rich morsel of meat, the one you never find bobbing in a bowl of peanut stew or served on a roadside chop bar…
2) Remember that God is passionate about drawing me to Himself.
As much as I love my husband, he is not my salvation. Many times since we started this school journey I’ve realized that I leaned too much on my husband: for my mood, for my stability, for my identity. While extremely uncomfortable, this season is a bit like an operation, letting God peel back layers I never knew were there. Or perhaps I pretended weren’t there.
But they are, and instead of fighting and running from my problems, these are God moments. These are little opportunities to let God prune me and cut away the selfish me so deeper and better things can grow.
Motherhood is stacked full of delightful and heart melting moments. It is also the hardest thing I have ever done. Make sure you surround yourself with God’s word or books honoring His perspective of parenting, like “Loving the Little Years” or “Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.” While your husband is plowing through textbooks that weigh 49 pounds, stretch yourself with applicable inspiration that make you want to be the best mom and wife you can be. If you can, when he is burning the candle late at night, grab your book and snuggle up to him and study side by side.
So while my husband is neck deep in biology and chemistry, I’m facing new elements of pride and selfishness. Neither are easy, neither are especially fun. But it is so very good. It’s that growing more muscle kinda good.
3) Speak words of life to and about your man.
Most likely, he already knows the car needs oil, that the AC is threatening to give out, or like in our case, the kitchen STILL isn’t finished. Don’t join the nagging accusations in his head. He already hears them every day. He knows he isn’t reaching around.
He probably feels like a man tossed overboard in a storm in the ocean. His life jacket is barely doing the job, and each wave threatens to take him down for good. Toss him a lifesaver, not a stack of bricks marked “To do.” Align your words to your husband with God’s, so you help empower, not nag your man.
Become his biggest cheerleader.
“I know that test was so hard, but look at the grade you got! I knew you could do it.”
“I am so proud of you for working with excellence.”
“I’m so grateful that you still make a point of connecting with the children each day…”
Listen to him talk about his class project or ask questions about what something means in his biology class (even though it is ALL Greek to you).
Show interest, even when it has nothing to do with your life.
Sometimes there are issues that will need to be discussed. Painful ones.
Pray over an issue before you have that honest conversation with your man.
You need to be honest and real about how hard it is for you.
But only after you have let God wash away the bitterness and anger from your heart.
You will never invest into your marriage by seething in anger and pulling away. In a healthy marriage, you BOTH need a voice, and both need to be heard. But if there is conflict, keep it behind closed doors and away from the listening children.
Even if there are differences and hard subjects with your husband, you have the opportunity to speak about his strengths to your children. You don’t need to air your dirty laundry to them. It can be the smallest things, “Did you notice how Daddy always empties his pockets before putting his jeans in the laundry! That means so much to me…”
4) Get practical.
Here’s where it gets fun! Is he gone some evenings? Make the meals you DO have with him meaningful. They can be very simple; maybe pick out a dish or a salad he especially loves and set the table beautifully. Without a word, he can look at the table and see you intentionally created the flavors and presentation just the way he loves it.
I can always make my husband’s eyes light up if I make a simple rice and bean meal, with cilantro and plenty of lime to squeeze over it. It doesn’t cost much at all, but because it is a childhood favorite of his, it hits a happy button.
My husband is a very neat man. I mean, the kind that wipes up the sink after he shaves and the kind whose clothes drawer stays neat long after mine is a jumbled mess again. I never considered myself a messy person, but then I had kids, and gone are the days of a perfectly clean and orderly house. But each day, before he comes home, we do a quick pick up or “blitz” as we call it. We set the timer for 15 minutes and divide out jobs. A high-speed clean means random stuff is gathered up and put away, and maybe floors swept if there’s time. That way he walks into a space that looks peaceful and cheery. It’s hardest with little ones, who are perpetually dumping toys, but we are learning to both reduce the toys we have and involve the children in regular clean up times.
Find your husband’s happy buttons and know how to push them. Sometimes that means late at night, speak his love language. Maybe touch is how he feels love. Maybe acts of service, like washing his car. Only you know what means the most to him. So do it!
5) Make home a happy place.
Our men can feel the atmosphere when they get home. If you are a stay at home mom, most of your waking hours are spent in this place. Make it a happy one!
Laugh with your kids.
Light a candle.
Turn on worship music that makes you want to dance.
Buy a plant that cheers up your living room. Even when money is tight, a $5 plant is a good investment in our home because it is a “bouquet” that keeps living and growing and making me smile.
By actively creating a joyful home, we make it a haven for our busy husband.
And for ourselves too!
6) Embrace your limitations as opportunities.
Let’s face it, you can’t do everything. You can’t be a healthy gourmet cook, grow a garden, run a flourishing side Etsy business, dress your children on thrifted treasures, keep your house impeccable, and read to your children for hours every day.
One morning as I sat in the early hush and was trying to read my Bible, a cascade of “You should do this, and you really need to make that” absolutely peppered my mind. Suddenly I grabbed a paper and scrawled:
“You can’t do everything. Listen to God’s dreams for YOU, and forget the rest.”
That means I let my Etsy shop dreams go down the tub drain.
It means this last year I had the most pathetic garden ever.
It even means this year I laid down my aspirations to have the perfect classical home education approach and chose a structured teaching program that has allowed less teacher-student conflict in our home. It was hard, but it was the right thing to do. The relationship I was praying over is growing in healthy ways.
Being willing to let go of expectations has truly freed me to do other things that were more important for our family, in this season. Your family will look different than mine because God has different chapters and plans for each of us.
Are you struggling with finances? Become a DIYer. Dive into yard sales and resell quality items you picked up for a steal.
Need to update your home? Embrace Pinterest for visual inspiration. Paint tired furniture.
Browse budgetbytes.com and discover how fun and healthy cheap food can be.
Follow people online that inspire you to make the most of what you have.
I’ve really enjoyed “The Nesting Place” as the author drew me from my fear of doing it wrong to trying new things. I love her quote, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful,” as it describes so well not only how we decorate our homes, but how we live and embrace our seasons of life.
Whenever you face a closed door, there is an opportunity elsewhere. Is your cup half empty or half full? Perspective can make or break seasons like this.
7) It takes a village.
You aren’t intended to do life alone. God made us social people, and even the most introverted of us need input and someone to smile at us every once in a while.
Follow inspirational people online.
Meet a friend for coffee without feeling guilty.
Read good books, like this gem: “Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe.”
We need real people in our lives, ones we can be ugly honest with, and they will love us in it all. Hopefully, they will be the kind to point us back to reality when we are lost in the details of a messy morning with the kids.
And just like you need people, people need you. Your story is just what someone needs.
When God is allowed to fill a human with Himself, that story is too powerful to keep hidden.
You don’t have to be perfect to encourage someone. There may be another lonely mother out there who feels like she is drowning, and you have just the words she needs to hear. Take courage. Your story is powerful. Take a deep breath and share it.
And just so you know, you are gonna fail sometimes, and that’s ok.
Some days you are gonna mess up. You will lose your patience with the children, and you will feed your family cereal for supper. You will dig through the mountain of wrinkled laundry for your husband’s shirt, and you will complain to God, ’cause it’s all too much.
This is the give and take in life. And while we always want to think about the mountaintop experiences, sometimes the most formative moments are the ones where we find ourselves flat on our face. We’ve messed up again.
I think these moments are the biggest ones because it is here when we expect God to clobber us with a big stick that he gathers us into his arms, and wipes our tears. Instead of condemnation, he whispers, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?” Welcome to the best moments with God, the ones where we find how safe and loved we are, right after we mess up big.
We find we are always loved, regardless of how weak or strong we are.
One of my favorite books is Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” because she gently leads you to the place of your deepest hurt and most shattering loss and helps you see that God is there. Instead of fighting the pain, God wants to lead us through it, and show us unimaginable gifts hidden in them.
Your marriage can grow deep roots even now because you are looking to Someone bigger than you to write your story. You will find in your moments of biggest need that you serve a bigger God.
This is just a season. And you are going to make it.
All photo credits go to the lovely Grettagraphy.com
11 Comments Add yours
This is just so so good. It’s so easy to drift apart emotionally in the busyness of life. Also the part about dealing with our own anger and bitterness before we discuss things honestly with our man is a huge key to getting somewhere and bring heard. Blessings to you!
Ah….. I so needed this. Just the other day my husband and I were talking about how impossible it feels to have quality talk time in this season. So your tips come at a good time for me.
This is so good! I can relate and resonate with all of this. Yes, the strength I’m building in this season is good. I learned too, that I leaned & depended on my husband for so much and I can tell he’s proud of me too for things I manage without him. I’m learning new things about myself and my confidence grows. Thanks Melissa!
Melissa, I needed this so badly this morning! Thank you again for being a vessel. I’m not a mom, I’m a young wife, but I can identify and you definitely spoke to my heart! I will grow through this season of sickness, infertility, and just downright tough-ness because God has a plan through it all! Thank you again!
I needed this too! Thank you! I am working as a nurse while my husband goes to school full time and does side jobs to help with income. While it is not ideal, it is our life before children come. It IS tiring to feel spread thin… trying to do it all… So I thank you for your reminder that I CAN’T do it all!
Blessings to you!!
Well I don’t think a cereal supper is any sign of neglect. Yummy!
Wow…this resonates with me SO much. It’s as if you crawled inside my brain and articulated what’s been brewing inside, yet served with a balance of wisdom and advice beyond my years. And for that I am truly grateful. I “get it” on so my levels; my husband, too, is in nursing school. Just know that you reached a place in this lonely mama’s, and (being real here), wife’s heart. That’s why this is meat for me to chew on too – “…when I let God meet my needs and care for my heart, I was able to release my expectations toward my husband.” I’m walking away from this article deeply encouraged that there’s someone else who “gets it”…the long, lonely hours parenting solo, doing family gatherings alone, the pinching pennies, the date-less evenings turned into late hours studying, etc etc. But I’m also coming away from your words with a greater desire to make this house a haven, to dive deep into study and God’s Word as it pertains to growth in me personally, and to allow myself to go into pain knowing God will meet me there to refine and strengthen. THANK YOU for sharing your heart virtually. It’s been a huge blessing to me. Keep writing! ❤️
Awwwww I’m so glad you are encouraged. You are NOT alone in this journey! I’d love to chat more… Feel free to connect on FB (Melissa Troyer)
You’re doing such a good job. ♥️
This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank-you for your honesty. Much grace to you. ❤️
I came back this evening to read this cause I needed it again. Thanks for writing and pointing us back to looking into ourselves and not throwing it all on our men. May God bless you!