How To Make Time For Quality Time

The Sweetness of Our Marriage

At the beginning of our relationship, Tim and I didn’t have trouble spending time together. It didn’t take long after we started dating to make it a priority to see each other every day. Sometimes that meant a little sacrifice and inconvenience: I dropped by his house for a few minutes after youth group or he would get up early to see me at work before heading to school. Aside from trips that took us out of town, we continued this trend of daily face time into our engagement and our marriage.

Time is an essential ingredient for building any relationship. It takes time to get to know someone. It takes time to invest in someone. It takes time to produce intimacy. It takes time to maintain what you have worked to build. Marriage is one of the most important relationships to preserve and keep healthy, which requires time.

It seems like being married would make spending time as a married couple easier, right? I haven’t found that to be the case…

Being married does mean you get to live with your love, but it also means that real life is now inseparable from your romantic relationship. You can’t really escape into the fairy tale of boy-meets-girl when you also have to make your marriage exist on a practical level.

For me, that reality looks like bills making going-out dates less frequent, a messy house distracting me from cuddling on the couch, and our daily routines taking the place of intentional time together. We may have more time in the same place (does sleeping count?), but it takes purposeful planning to make that time feel like quality time.

I travel for work. (You can find out more about my work in this post.) This is immensely fun for me, but has been an interesting dynamic to navigate as a newlywed. Not only are we adjusting to life as a married couple, but I am gone a third of each month. My time away has not been detrimental (though it has the potential) to our marriage, however, it makes me very aware of how we spend our time when I’m home.

Even if quality time isn’t your love language, it’s necessary to give it and receive it for a marriage to thrive. (<– Tweet this!) For Tim and I, the actual quality time isn’t difficult to generate, it’s finding the time for the quality time. We can’t just let quality time form itself or it won’t happen as often as it should.

How To Make Time For Quality Time

Here’s how we make quality time an intentional part of our marriage:

  • Communicate! I get a detailed calendar of Tim’s schedule for the week on a regular basis. This helps me not to build false expectations of the time we get to spend together when I’m home. (Amy Lynn Andrews has a great post on how to create a weekly schedule using Google Calendar.)
  • Plan – Using that calendar, plan the time that you will turn into quality time. You don’t necessarily have to plan what you’ll do, but if you don’t plan on it, it rarely happens.
  • Just Say No – Once you have a plan, stick to it. This may mean you have to turn down other offers. No is difficult to say, but quality time with your spouse is worth prioritizing.
  • Evaluate – Sit down with your spouse and evaluate all the activities and groups you are involved in. Are they all necessary? Do they add to your quality of life or do they take away your valuable quality time with each other? Make the necessary adjustments.
  • Get Away – Sometimes you just need to get away from your everyday environment to secure that quality time. Tim and I have made it a priority to get out of town every couple months. Even if it’s just in a neighboring city, not having the distractions of home is really positive.

Quality time is important in every season of marriage! Each stage of life will come with different distractions and obstacles. While I’m still a newlywed, I want to make quality time a habit.

How do you make time for quality time in your marriage?

 

{se} x marks the spot part II

sex marks the spot

After drafting much of this post, I thought it was really important to provide some context for my perspective on sex, which is why this is part II and not the original post for the How To Maintain Your High Maintenance Marriage series. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, I’d start there and come back over here when you’ve caught up on the nitty gritty (not super gritty…).

Sex: The Newlywed Perspective

Sex as a newlywed is much like being a newlywed – It requires adjustment and time to get acclimated. Physical and emotional desire definitely do a good job at propelling you into a natural display of your love, but I would absolutely argue with anyone who said sex was like riding a bike or tying a shoe (people say that, right?).

Those people are implying that sex is easy, that it’s innate. I guess that’s partly true, but what about the hours you spent with training wheels on before you graduated to a proper two-wheeler, or the countless rhymes you came up with to remember that the right string goes under the bridge when tying your shoes?

Yes, sex is an instinctive, organic response to physiological and psychological prompts, but it takes work. There is definitely a learning curve and, from what I hear, the learning doesn’t really stop. Or at least it shouldn’t.

I spent the first few months of marriage distracted by perfectionism. I wanted to do it right.

The temptation when you first enter the realm of sexual intimacy is to hurry past all the awkward newness and fumbling. But, the goal is not to hurry it or rush just so you feel comfortable or, at least, average. The goal is to learn right alongside your partner and have fun in the process.

I learned that this was more easily achieved when I checked my pride at the bedroom door. I so desperately wanted to live up to Tim’s expectations which were really my own expectations. It felt like a sure sign of womanhood failure that I wasn’t the perfect, as-seen-on-tv lover for my husband.

After a couple post-sex moping sessions, I had to explain to Tim why I wasn’t basking in the afterglow of love making. This meant I had to actually verbalize all my fears about not being good enough and my disappointment with not being perfect at the whole sex thing. It was a bit awkward and uncomfortable to say those things out loud, but the learning and having fun part of sexual intimacy can only happen if you are totally OPEN with your spouse. 

OPEN – that means talking about the physical, emotional, and spiritual (how you view this in light of God’s purpose and plan) aspects of your sexual relationship. A willingness to broach these potentially painful, embarrassing, confusing topics may not come easily – it certainly didn’t for me – but the more you push past any awkwardness, the better it gets (the conversation and the sex).

While you’re being open and honest, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help/advice. Mothers are a wonderful resource, but if you don’t feel comfortable talking with your parent about sex, find a trusted friend who will give you Christ-centered counsel. (If no one comes to mind, pray that God would show you the right person and right time to ask.)

I had several “Aha!” moments talking with my mom. She was the one that helped me see that it’s not going to be perfect. The less pressure I put on myself, the more enjoyable the experience will be. She was 100% right.

Books are also good resources. You don’t have to see someone face to face as they talk to you about sex. Admittedly, I was a know-the-basics type of gal. I didn’t take Sex Ed in high school (not for religious reasons, but because I already had enough credits and only wanted 5 periods), so my knowledge of specifics was based on educational videos I watched in fifth grade. Yeah, the kind where you were instructed to put your head between your knees if you felt embarrassed or laughter coming on.

I really appreciated these written resources that were recommended by friends and family:

  • Sheet Music by Kevin Leman – great for when you’re actually married
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat, MD – demystifies the whole process, perfect for the pre-married stage

I mentioned yesterday that I wondered if talking or reading about sex crossed the line of purity. No, I don’t believe it does. Having phone sex with your fiance would absolutely cross the line, but having an open and honest discussion about the past, future expectations, and any other concerns would be doing yourself a favor.

Two more thoughts about newlywed sex:

  1. Have a sense of humor! Sex doesn’t always go smoothly, which doesn’t always mean it goes awry, but it definitely means laughter is in order. That learning curve I mentioned earlier? It means that sex won’t always go how you planned and it’s best to just smile and embrace the imperfection.
  2. Sex is messy – physically and emotionally. Sex is so intimate, it can spark insecurities and past hurts as well as love and joy. I was rather shocked at the intensity of some of my feelings when sex became a part of our relationship. This is just another reason to have an open communication policy about sex.

Whether newlywed or 50 years down the road, sex binds two people together with an intimacy impossible to find elsewhere. It is a beautiful gift to enjoy with your spouse and everyone is different. Don’t judge your sex life on what you see in the media or hear from your friends.  Allow the uniqueness of your relationship to mold your physical intimacy as well.

{se} x marks the spot

sex marks the spot

Every Monday for the past four week I’ve been part of a collaborative series, “How To Maintain Your High Maintenance Marriage” {brain child of Kayse Pratt}. Some may say we’ve saved the best for last. Others may be appalled that we are broaching this subject on the interwebs at all. This topic may illicit blushing, unease, or a cold sweat – but please don’t click away!

You guessed, it. We’re talking about sex.

No worries, this post is far from x-rated, but I fully support having candid conversations about this often sensitive topic.

{It is taking a large degree of self-control not to attach the musical stylings of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass Band to this post and refer to “making whoopie” from here on out. Too much Newlywed Game. Back to the business at hand…}

A Little Background

I’ve been married for 10 months (rounding up a couple weeks here), so am quite the novice when it comes to physical intimacy. Tim was my first boyfriend so everything in the physical department was new to me as a 24 year old.

For everything, from kissing to sex, I had a fear of not being good enough. What if I was horrible at both things? It’s not like I could practice the sex aspect, since both Tim and I were committed to virginity until May 11th, 2012.

I also struggled with defining physical and conversational boundaries. I went into my relationship with Tim committed to not kiss until my wedding day. Whether I heard God’s voice correctly or manipulated His will for my own benefit, I eventually felt released from that commitment (which is a whole different post). So, that created new physical boundaries to establish. And with all of this, conversation was necessary, but I worried, like any good-girl, that discussing sex crossed the line of purity.

A note on virginity: Virginity doesn’t preclude you from having sexual sin enter your relationship. It’s easy to push physical boundaries. Realize that no one is immune to temptation and relying on your own self-control is not enough. God gives strength and grace. Lean on those.

{Now that I’ve launched in to this background, I realize the original content for this post will need it’s own separate day. My background, however, provides necessary context for my perspective on sex. So, definitely come back tomorrow for the The Newlywed Perspective on Sex.}

Another struggle I hadn’t anticipated was the ghosts of previous relationships. I may have never had a boyfriend, but Tim had been in a few relationships before me – a couple in high school that didn’t bother me and one serious girlfriend in college. Initially I wasn’t bothered by Jackie, Tim’s college girlfriend. Then, her history with Tim began to haunt me.

Jealousy, pride, and fear took hold. I hated to think of the physical and emotional intimacy they shared, even though I wasn’t in the picture back then. It felt unfair that I had to suffer Tim’s past relationship when I didn’t have one of my own. What if I was inferior in some way? Though I still wrestle with these feelings occasionally, I wrote Jackie a letter that gave me much freedom.

Pre-marital counseling also offered ample opportunities to revisit these issues. Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward to discuss sex, and a myriad of other things with the single, male pastor/professor who did our counseling. {Our pre-marital was good, but after experiencing a couple sessions with a married couple, I highly recommend your pastor/counselor is married. The real life experience is invaluable.}

So, that brings us back to May 11th, the day sexual intimacy became an active component in our relationship, and the past ten months of it being a part of our marriage. Thanks for bearing with my mid-post decision to make this two parts! Come back tomorrow for my newlywed perspective on sex.

{se} x marks the spot part II

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Don’t miss the much more experienced perspectives of Kayse, Kelly, Monica, and Jamie.

Check out the other posts in this series: CommunicationServiceLaughter.

6 Ways to Curb Your Competitiveness

Competitive ConflictThis week’s How To Maintain a High Maintenance Marriage post was about laughter and playing with your spouse. One of the specific ways Tim and I play together is by playing games. Whether it’s Monopoly Deal or a couple rounds of Bananagrams, we enjoy the camaraderie and engagement that games provide.

Games are also quite sentimental to us. Our first hangout (that our lovely friends kindly organized so we could meet beyond a handshake) ended in us conveniently being on the same team for Nerts. We lost but had some great laughs and a high five. Before we went on an actual date, TIm and I kept in touch by playing way to much Words With Friends. I learned how to play Up The River, Down The River while camping with his family and we spent countless nights playing Fill or Bust (one of my personal favorites) with my parents.

So, considering how much our relationship began with games, I find it ironic that games have also created a fair amount of conflict between Tim and I. Maybe it was my newly in-love state that suppressed my true nature, but games became less and less laughter producing the more we played.

The competitiveness I try to hide kept rearing its ugly, aggressive head the longer we were married. A fun game would go from a pleasant way to spend a half-hour to a ruined evening within minutes if I lost. Plus, I’m an English major which makes losing word games even more painful.

Winner WinnerDespite my best efforts to control my competitive urges, they were becoming a real problem. We had to stop playing a few games in particular because loosing put me in such a foul mood – silence and sulking. I would be even more upset if I thought he let me win on purpose. Several times I thought I could play again without being a competitive jerk, but one roll of the dice and I as the world’s worst loser.

Competitiveness isn’t always a bad thing, but when it pits one spouse against the other, it can foster unhealthy dynamics in a marriage. Especially in the first year together, activities, free time, schedules, and work should all be creating intimacy not distance.

I was trapped between the desire to enjoy a game or two together and the truth that playing a game may turn out positively unenjoyable because I have yet to master the art of controlling my competitive spirit.

In the meantime, I realized it would behove Tim and I to do things that played to our individual strengths but did’t pit us against each other.

Are you or your spouse competitive? How has that affected the way you interact with each other and the activities you do?

6 Ways To Curb Your CompetitivenessHere’s 6 ways to keep competitiveness at bay in your relationship:

  1. Pick games that rely on chance not strategy or skill. Losing is much better when you know there wasn’t much you could do to change the outcome. You can just relax and enjoy time with your spouse. Try Fill or Bust or Sequence.
  2. Play games in a group. I don’t mind losing when its to multiple people.
  3. Be on your spouse’s team. You can channel that competitiveness for the benefit of the both of you.
  4. In the same vein, join a community league or team. You’ll be playing together with multiple other people. Chances are, you won’t be the most competitive person on the team.
  5. Pick up an individual sport – rock climbing, cycling, solitaire – and encourage each other in that activity. Be your spouse’s cheerleader. It feels great to support and be supported.
  6. PUZZLES! 

Laughter Should Be Risky Business

Marriage Is Like Making FeltWhen two pieces of wool cloth are rubbed together, nothing really happens – maybe some heat from the friction develops or those annoying little pills pop up. But, when you’re done rubbing (and feeling kind of weird that you’re rubbing cloth together) you’re still left with two pieces of wool. Separate, individual pieces.

On the other hand, when you place that wool in hot water and apply friction, the fibers begin to activate and deactivate. Fibers are loosened, pulled, and built back together. When aggravated under moisture and heat, the fibers are easily bonded together. The new wool cloth is felted – stable and strong.

Marriage is like making felt.

Sometimes friction isn’t enough to bind two people together. It’s possible to do life together as two separate entities, two people coexisting, relying on their own strength and individual value.

But, the heart of marriage is unity.

Put two people in hot water, where they are stretched and loosened, and the core of who they are will start building together. Spaces will develop in their inner fiber creating room for other fibers. Bonds are formed and a strong, united relationship can develop.

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Isn’t this week’s topic laughter? Yup! Why have you gone on this tangent about marriage and making felt? Well…

I think having fun with your spouse should involve risk – an element of hot water.

Laughter is healing, “just because” is always a good reason, and playtime still applies to adults, but those things can be maximized when put under a little heat. When we get out of our comfort zone, especially in the way we have fun with our spouse, we create more space in our hearts for the relationship to grow. 

I’m not suggesting you involve yourself in a high-speed chase on your way to a romantic dinner or give yourself unnecessary stress in the effort to add a heating element to your relationship. What I am suggesting is a willingness to do something new, even in the way you have fun together.

Take a risk. Do something out of the ordinary. Laughter is sometimes sweeter when it’s the result of something new.

Tim wasn’t very familiar with Bed & Breakfasts, so we built in a stay at one on our honeymoon.  B&B styles vary and this was the type where all the guests eat a one big table – which can be semi-awkward for newlywed introverts. Conversation topics ranged from hiking to bar mitzvahs and everything in between. Had we not strayed from the Hilton path, we wouldn’t have had covert smirks over our bruleed grapefruit and “did he really say that?” moments to remember.

Getting out of your comfort zone in the fun department isn’t always a success, but the imperfect experiences couples share are part of the heat that builds strong bonds in marriage.

Try a new sport and laugh at your abismal tennis swing (that’s from personal experience). Try an ethnic cuisine and surpress giggles as your hubby chokes down a foreign food for the first time. Try homemade instead of store bought then smile together while you go to the store to buy what you just failed to make.

Laughter isn’t always about laughing, it’s about the experiences that precipitate the laughter. When those experiences are out of the ordinary – risky – you not only get laughter, but you also stretch and pull your relationship out of yourself and into one another. Strong, sturdy bonds are formed when you let your guard down and take risks – all in the name of fun.

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Enjoy the perspective on laughter of four other lovely ladies:

Check out the other posts in this series: Communication. ServiceSex 

{photo credit: shallowend via photopin cc}