Marriage: All Work, No Play
Q & A with Dr. Dave and Donalyn Currie
We’ve lost the fun in our marriage.
I feel like our relationship is all work and no fun. On the rare occasions that we actually get time together away from work and kids, it seems there’s nothing to talk about but our problems. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to enjoy each other. Is this how marriage is supposed to be?
Donalyn: No, this definitely is not how marriage is supposed to be. But oh, have we been there. When you have 4 children and a career that has you on notice to help every marriage and family hurting in your network, it can get crazy! We should know better and yet, too often this is how it ends up. You’re not alone in this frustration by any means. I think we all have times when marriage seems more like work than fun.
Dave: Certain phases of life can be like that, no doubt about it. Whether it’s a busy stage with the kids, heavy work pressures, volunteer commitments, and obligations to the extended family – all these can add to an already demanding schedule and crowd out any time together as husband and wife.
Donalyn: We often live our life according to what is urgent, instead of what we know is really important in the long run.
Dave: Never forget. Your marriage is your primary relationship! Keep it strong and you will have a platform to tackle all the other issues that come up in family.
Donalyn: I agree. There’s always so much to be done today that it becomes too easy to think, “We’ll deal with the our relationship stuff tomorrow.” You know, the squeaky wheels, our kids, often get the grease. And that tomorrow never seems to arrive for time alone just for the two of you. Before long we’ve forgotten what it’s like to make each other a priority. We’ve forgot how to have fun or we are just so exhausted that crashing seems pretty good.
Dave: The problem is, although we may say our marriage is important, but it is often the easiest thing to put on the backburner when the pressures are on. It’s easier to say no to our spouse than it is to say no to our boss and other people in our life. We make careless assumptions about how resilient our relationship can be. But the more our spouse begins to feel like they’re taking a back seat to everything else, the faster the pressure builds at home.
Donalyn: and the spouse with the higher relational needs starts to feel the gap first.
Dave: So, one of the first steps to putting the fun back into your marriage is to learn to say no. You may have to actually sit down and agree to cut out some activities to allow margin for time together. It might mean some tough choices, but ultimately we can find ways to make time for what’s most important to us.
Donalyn: It won’t happen without planning though. Our schedules have a way of filling themselves up, so we have to be intentional about carving out that time.
Dave: That’s right. During the busy seasons of life, either block out some time for the two of you or reward yourself with some time alone or away after a pressure month. Even when it’s the worst, agree to commit to some alone time together – 2 hours once a month at minimum in your craziest times. You can’t believe how many couples go months without doing something alone together, and then wonder why they don’t feel close.
Donalyn: I think you nailed it right on when you said that you’ve forgotten how to enjoy each other. If you haven’t spent much time together for an extended period of time, you probably have forgotten how. And it will take work to regain that…but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Just think back to when you were dating. It took work to have fun, to do special things for each other, and to plan things to do together, but it was fun work. It’s not a negative; it’s just a matter of relearning how to channel all that effort into making your relationship something that is exciting and satisfying for both of you.
Dave: When you do have that time together, be creative and be prepared. Spontaneity is great when it happens, but you can’t rely on it, especially when you’re just trying to reconnect after a time of growing distant because of relational vacancy. I’d suggest making a list of five things you’d each like to do when you have the opportunity. You can put them into categories based on how much time the activity takes, how expensive it is, and how much planning is required. This way when you do get some time alone, you will have some good ideas already sorted out.
Donalyn: And don’t forget to leave time for just talking. Don’t freak men. Respect each other’s needs of both activity and interaction. But for me, you can’t reconnect without talking.
Dave: It’s true. Every couple needs regular talking time. But we are not saying you need to be deep and serious all the time.
Donalyn: I want to say something there. Don’t try to have a “one night fits all.” What I mean is that it is important to not mix agendas. Go out to have fun – a date – and do it to reconnect. Don’t try to talk through disagreements or family issues too on the same night because chances are it won’t end up being very much fun. You can have those talks in the garage!
Dave: Ok, so creating times when it is solely about having fun together is the point but it’s also so important to have those times when we work through any issues that have come between us. Whether its in the garage or not doesn’t matter but work hard to keep short accounts with your mate on all matters. It’s too easy to blow off the little things and say, “It’s no big deal.” It will become a big deal over time. Many marriages unravel over a bunch of “little things” that has never been dealt with.
Donalyn: And you may want to consider praying for God’s protection over your marriage. We all face tough times in our relationships.
Dave: Working through the tough issues gives you greater freedom to have fun. God does keep our hearts soft toward each other.
Donalyn: Okay, let’s get practical, Dave. Where should a couple start when it’s all work and no play?
Dave: Carve out time for each other. Put your marriage back into a place of priority. Grab your calendars and find 3-4 times in the next 2 months to spend 2-3 hours alone doing something. Actually pick the nights and sign off on them!
Donalyn: Sometimes, if it’s been so long since you’ve gone on a date that you’ve forgotten how or what to talk about, start by asking yourself, how much do you really know about your spouse? Then, starting writing down all the questions that you could ask him or her to get to know one another better. Even after over 30 years of marriage, we still have fun with this.
Dave: On one vacation we had together, we each wrote down ten questions that we wanted to ask the other person. We put them in an envelope and then pulled them out throughout the day when we wanted to talk (during meal times, while sitting on the beach, driving, or laying in bed at the end of the day). It really kept our interest up because we knew that there would be good discussions coming because you wrote a bunch of the questions.
Donalyn: We ended up both answering all the questions – questions like, “What part of your job do you enjoy the most? The least? What would be your dream vacation? Who was your best friend growing up and why did you like him/her?” It’s easy once you get going…but ladies, be sure to ask questions that require more than a grunt or a one or two word answer.
Dave: Which reminds me of another critical element: kind treatment, Dear! Though time together may be thin during certain seasons, working to stay fresh with notes, humor, politeness, patience and affection can help fill in some of the gaps. It really does for me.
Donalyn: It simply says I love you and I am trying!
Dave: Commit to do at least one thing daily for the other person to show your love and care, and focus on building one another up with genuine compliments and encouragement.
Donalyn: We’ve always worked hard at having a fun, teasing, and affectionate attitude as much as possible on a daily basis. Not always easy but so good. That means lots of touching, holding hands, spontaneous shoulder rubs, hugs and “just because I like you” kisses.
Dave: Texting, e-mails, phone calls or messages left during the day – they can all set the tone as you work at remaining best friends. Keep connected.
Donalyn: And don’t forget about planning fun, creative times in the bedroom too for it will do wonders for warming up the atmosphere between you for days you are out on your dates…though that may be another topic for another time.
Dave: What??? Sounds like a great idea. Can I get an ‘amen’ to that?
© Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie, June 2005