Some marriages aren’t important enough to show up on their own calendars. Here couples fill their schedules with work and child activities until the husband and wife become relay runners passing the baton back and forth but never crossing the finishing line together. It’s a marriage by default in which everything else is certain to get scheduled except the time for the husband and wife to reconnect and renew their love and friendship. In the smart-phone age it’s a snap to book up our days and nights whether with teacher meetings, soccer, gymnastics, and swim meets; or with work conferencing, power lunches, business dinners, and exhausted evenings. The overbooking happens seamlessly, instantly, unconsciously. One moment we have blank space somewhere on the calendar 2 and 3 weeks out, next moment we stare at today clear through the weekend with no time for each other. Without realizing it, there’s no time in our schedules for our own marriage.
Even in marriages where the children are grown up and out of the house, or both husband and wife are retired, our calendars can still fill up fast… with separate activities. Marriage offers us our greatest potential for happiness, but only if we give it the time it merits. When a husband and wife make time together important, especially if they make it very important, their calendars reflect it. Show someone our calendar and we reveal whether or not we have a great marriage.
So if we want a great marriage, we need to put it on the calendar! Don’t let the outside world and its busyness take control of our calendars. Instead, follow the four “C’s” of calendaring: 1) Commit, 2) Communicate, 3) Coordinate, and 4) Connect.
Commit to Scheduling Time Together: Of course our work and professional lives are important. Of course our precious children matter so much to us. But without a great marriage, work and children will never fill the empty spot inside that only a great marriage can. Without a great marriage, even our work and our children will suffer. And the opposite is just as true. With a great marriage, our work will automatically improve and our children grow up happier. So we need to put first things first. If our marriage is second or third on the list, our marriage will deteriorate into mediocrity and even, eventually, divorce.
So commit to making your marriage great by getting it on the calendar. Commit to giving it the time all living things require to grow and be healthy. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we are adults and that we don’t have needs, that, of course, our partner knows that we love each other, that we should just “suck it up” and put work and kids first. But while that might be needed short term, long term it’s disastrous for marriage. Let us take our marriages off a starvation diet and onto one rich in attention, affection, and love. Let us commit to putting plenty of time on our calendar for our marriage. The center of the home isn’t work. Nor is it the children. It’s the marriage! A great marriage is like a fountain which flows, nurtures, and refreshes all downstream, be it work or our children. Where there’s a great marriage, there’ll be less work-stress. Where there’s a great marriage, there’ll be happy children, each growing into the personality and character God intends for them. To make your marriage great, commit to putting it on the calendar.
Communicate: It’s amazing that, in an age where communication is on the tip of both our tongue and finger, couples don’t talk about their schedules until the last minute when commitments are already locked in. Of course in a busy life communication becomes that extra step we sometimes feel too busy to take. But here its dividends make that extra step worth it. When you and I can talk about upcoming events in plenty of time, we buy flexibility to make our marriage a higher priority, sometimes the highest priority. When I’m asked to make an appointment outside work hours, it’s almost always tentative until I can communicate that particular request for my time and attention with my wife. Or when I can look at my partner’s calendar synced into the calendar in my smart phone, I can spot the logjams that will make being together impossible. And I can actively schedule time together BEFORE other activities become more important than our marriage.
Coordinate: Coordination is important for a happy marriage. Happy couples coordinate their lives to allow for the sharing that we need emotionally. Well, I know your schedule, and you know mine. Now what? If I make a tentative agreement for meeting with a friend on a Saturday, and you want to go to the movies with me that evening, coordination means that we talk over how we balance our need to have friendships with our need to spend time together. Perhaps I see how much you’ve been counting on going to movies with me and this causes me to change my plans with my friend to the next day. Or, vice versa. I meet with my friend as I had tentatively arranged, and you and I go to the movies the next day. But either way we’re coordinating.
There are usually different ways that a schedule conflict can be resolved. But what makes this much harder than it needs to be is the false belief that coordinating our lives means somehow giving up our independence. It’s sort of like I’m going to you for permission: “Mommy/Daddy may I go be with my friend next Friday evening.” Of course no adult wants to ask for permission from a spouse. But coordination is not control. It’s simply measuring out what you want and need next to what I want and need to find the best way we both can get what we want and need. If the activity and its day and time are the important factor, then we can always trade one day and time for another. Sometimes one of us is not that attached to the activity itself and so yields to other rather easily. Sometimes there’s a third alternative that neither of us would have thought about if we hadn’t talked. But no matter how we resolve the issue, it will take coordination rather than avoidance or control to find it. It’s not “do I have your permission.” It’s let’s coordinate for maximum happiness AND freedom.
Connect: Connection is the feeling we get when we know that someone really cares about us. The most natural way to show how much we care is by the gift of our time and attention. Whether we naturally fall into patterns of time for each other, or need to formally calendar it into our busy lives, time together reaffirming to each other that we are loved and valued makes our marriage stronger. It’s like making deposits into an account so that there’s always plenty of good will available for the times when our lives and marriages are stressed. In my own marriage, when my wife and I have a conflict, the one thing I’d bet my life on is that she would never deliberately hurt me, manipulate me, or otherwise have her way at my expense. But then, we’ve connected so often and so richly over things large and small that I don’t just have the promise that this is true. I have the proof that comes from day after day of connection.
If we follow the 4 C’s we’ll discover a happy surprise. The more we connect, the more we’ll want to commit to calendaring our marriage into our lives. And the more we commit, the more we connect, a virtuous cycle.
In my own marriage, my wife and I share breakfast together even if it means one of us gets up a little earlier. We also talk most every night in our garden if it’s summer, or by our fireplace if it’s winter. We may talk about the important events of our day, the large and small things that make up our lives, our gratitude for each other, the pleasure we take in our children and grandchildren, politics, art, and all around silliness that makes us laugh at what no one else would consider funny. But it’s a ritual that gives rhythm and meaning to our marriage. Another ritual we have is breakfast or dinner out on weekends. These are the rituals of togetherness that build for us expectation and fulfillment for our need to care and share our lives. Here we find a wonderful paradox: the more we share as a couple, the more individuality we have. It’s as if when we care and share our lives in a deeply personal manner, the more grows what is unique and personal to each of us as separate persons.
If you haven’t yet scheduled your time together, get it on the calendar, now!