By Claire Musters
The pace of life these days is quite extraordinary, and yet, whether both go out to work full-time, one works part-time or is based at home all the time while the other works, somehow young couples have to find a way to juggle all the chores and pleas from family, church, and friends that vie for their attention constantly.
I can’t claim to have all the answers, but, as a woman who has been married for 18 years, I have experienced both the crazy times (when both of us were working ridiculous hours – I was in a publishing house and my husband was a recording engineer/record producer). I went freelance in order to see my husband more and these days we have two fairly young children and I work part-time from home as a writer/editor too. Oh and my husband has left the recording studio for the church… he’s now the associate pastor. Here’s a few practical thoughts that have helped me over the years – I really hope they will help you too… (And don’t worry I’m saying them to myself as well, as life is still going at a pretty ridiculous pace for me!)
1. Carve out time for your marriage
I know that many of you will be working pretty long hours, particularly if you are at the point of forging your career. However, believe it or not, aside from when you were single of course, this period of your life is the one in which you will probably have the most free time available – even if it doesn’t feel like it! You may be looking to have children in the near future, but, for now, you don’t have the added responsibilities of young people who rely on you for absolutely everything.
Make sure you don’t fill up all the spare hours you do have with chores or even seeing others, helping with church activities etc. These are all good things but it can be easy to overdo them and it is vitally important that you make time for you, to really invest in your marriage. If you don’t make this a regular practise early on in your marriage it will simply become harder to try and change habits and arrangements later on.
I would advise you to try make time to work at your relationship weekly – and not always at home – go out and have some fun! Take it in turns to organise special ‘dates’, or, on the nights you stay in, make sure you switch the TV off, enjoy a nice meal together and talk – really talk (and listen!). We have worked hard to ensure that this has continued now we have kids and we have a younger couple that our kids absolutely adore that we spend regular time with. The kids are so excited when they come over so that we can slip away for some quality time that they almost don’t even notice we are leaving!
2. Slow down and take the world in
Whenever I’m getting too caught up in rushing here and there I remember what it was like when both my children started walking so I want to share the illustration with you here. They wanted to walk everywhere, but didn’t really walk faster than a snail’s pace – much to my frustration and annoyance. I’m the sort of person who just wants to get to where I’m going and get on with what I have to do. But during this time I was really challenged to get down to my kid’s level.
When I allowed myself the time to look at things through their eyes it was like discovering the whole world afresh. A tiny insect on a path, a cat strolling past, a car window – all these things my children looked at wide-eyed with wonder. And when I shared it with them I could see the awe of creation afresh. The old adage “Take the time to smell the flowers” really does ring true. Why don’t you ask God to help you look at your surroundings with fresh eyes, and enjoy the little details you discover that are so often overlooked?
3. Exercise, eat, and sleep!
I know these are obvious – and that there are also times when doing these simple three things can seem totally beyond us as we are so fraught. However, whatever hours you are both working, try to make sure you get a balanced diet so that your body is getting the best fuel it possibly can. Eating fast food on the fly at work then standing at the fridge scoffing a chocolate bar and calling that dinner when you get home late is simply not good enough!
Don’t burn the midnight oil – even if it is doing things you enjoy doing rather than catching up on all those chores you just don’t seem to have time to do. Tomorrow will be a much harder day if you don’t give yourself a proper night’s rest.Exercise can actually seem like a total luxury – because it means you have the time to do it! And yet exercise has such an important impact on your body and soul that you should try and carve some time each week for it. It will help your body work to its best capacity.
I recently discovered Zumba – and love it! Every Wednesday I head off with a growing group of girlfriends and we jump about to some great music and have a thoroughly good workout. Of course there are weeks when I’ve got a church meeting (or my husband has) so can’t make it – and other weeks when I would far rather grab a drink, jump on the sofa, and slob in front of the TV but if I do make the effort I feel I am definitely rewarded for doing so.
4. Spend time with friends who will ‘do you good’
Just getting out and being with people who have a positive impact on you is important. It really is worth the effort – and believe me I know what an effort it can be, especially if you’ve been working all day, rushed to get home and get dinner sorted before gearing up to head back out the door! But once with friends you can offload and talk through any difficulties together – and I can assure you you won’t be alone in your experiences. Every time I am tearing my hair out, thinking I must be the world’s worst mum or wife, there is always a friend who has had a similar experience to me who can offer words of wisdom, encouragement, and help.
5. Find something that relaxes you and refuels your near empty tank
For some, hiding away in the bath reading a book is utter bliss and completely relaxes them. For others, throwing a big bash for family and friends to come and eat and chat is a necessary way to reconnect with people outside of work. Don’t feel you have to do one, other, or both of those – do what you know will work best for you. (And if you are the type of person who loves having lots of people round remember not to take on too much. Keep things simple. Your family and friends will love just seeing you – a gourmet meal is NOT necessary!)
For me, I love playing my keyboard and using it to worship God, who is such an important part of my life and helps me no end with my own personal juggling act. I am part of a band, head up the music groups in our church, and absolutely love both times of playing and singing on my own but also jamming with other musicians in practises. I can start a rehearsal just about on my knees with tiredness and come out three hours later totally buzzing!
Whatever ways you find help you with the juggling act of your life remember that being a wife or husband and a worker aren’t the only aspects of who you are. Let the other parts of you have a chance to breathe too by giving yourself space to connect with those most important to you – including God. He is the source of all rest, peace, wisdom, and balance and yet in our frantic lifestyles we can so often forget to look to Him for everything.
6. Don’t take on too much – learn to say no
This is a really tricky one as it is so easy to get it just slightly wrong, but then all the balls you are juggling fall down – not just the one that overloaded you! I guess there is something in all of us that still yearns for acceptance/validation etc, which is why it can be so hard to say no to things. If, like me, you are a more ‘doing’ person, getting your sense of purpose through the various things you achieve each day, it is even harder! Workwise, as I am a freelancer, it is incredibly hard to turn down work, as I know that that client, particularly if it is a new one, may not come back to me again.
It could be the same with you in an office – your boss wants you to take on extra responsibility but you have this sinking feeling it will affect your home life too much due to extra hours. And yet, if you don’t take it, you could be kissing your dreams of promotion goodbye. At this point you need to prayerfully consider your options, rather than jumping straight in to every opportunity. The same is true for openings in church. You may have a real heart to serve, which is fantastic, but you also have a responsibility to your wife or husband and, if you are both serving too much you will be neglecting the care you should be showing one another. I was someone who found it so hard to say no – and when my husband and I hit a rocky patch and pulled back from some of the things we had been doing, those around us didn’t understand. But we knew we were re-adjusting our priorities to be in line with what we needed them to be at the time.
It is so important to understand that saying yes to too much has even bigger pitfalls.You will become overstretched, overtired, and irritable – with both colleagues and your family – and every area of your life will suffer (it may even cause your boss/client to wish they hadn’t offered that extra responsibility in the first place!). Relationships and high standards of work need you at your best. So even if you miss out on a work or church opportunity, if you are doing it to ensure you can focus your attention on your spouse and the various things you are already committed to, know you have made the right decision.