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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

The Week I Forgot My Wife

Last week’s blog post from Kathleen Billings asked, “When is the last time you dated your spouse?” It’s a great reflection on how to keep the spirit of a marriage alive and new and fresh—worth a read.

The lesson is a familiar one: we need to wake up! It is easy to fall into a rhythm and take things for granted, and any relationship takes active, intentional work—whether it is family life, or spirituality, or a marriage.

Both Stacey and I work at a university, and with kids in school, our lives are very much oriented around the academic calendar. We’ve come to anticipate the start of each new semester as a “danger zone”—schedules are still in flux, responsibilities are changing, and often there is financial pressure with fees and bills. Looking back, we can see that the first few weeks of September and January are often full of conflict as these pressures exert themselves on our communication.

I fell into the same trap again this month. I became a master of efficiency (okay, I’ll never touch Stacey’s efficiency, but I was maxing out my capacity)—I was organizing supplies, schedules, and sign-ups; I was coordinating calendars; I was stocking our pantry for meals and lunches. But I forgot Stacey.

There is a nuance here that is new for me to articulate for myself: I didn’t forget her in the sense that I neglected her. I was thorough in my communication with her, and kept her abreast of all of the arrangements. I even thought of her when I came across articles at work that I thought she might find useful.

On the surface, the form of our communication was as good as ever. The substance of marital communication—personal identification with one another, empathy, compassion—had fallen away, though.

At the same time I was churning away at our evolving responsibilities, Stacey was immersed in a busy season at work. Our conversations were mostly functional and logistical, or reports on how work was going for each of us. We were not tapping into the source of life for our marriage, which is love for one another (duh!). We were beginning to look more like partners than spouses.

And it began to show—when conflict emerged, we had shallow reserves of patience and understanding to draw from. It is easy to see how we were at the edge of a vicious cycle here—lack of empathy leads to conflict, which leads to more defensiveness, which leads to more conflict…

What brought us out of that cycle? Honesty.

Stacey was in touch enough with her interior life to be able to share how she was feeling about our trajectory. Her honesty encouraged me to take a hard look at how things were going. When we stopped and looked at the patterns in our shared life together, it was not difficult to see what was missing.

Though we have a different spirit about us now—it manifests as a lightness and playfulness, which is always a sign that we’re on the right track—on the surface, we don’t look that much different. The form of our communication looks much the same, but I’m reaching out to Stacey through that communication now. And it has made a big difference.

Every marriage is cyclic—it is a process of renewal. Because we are fallen creatures, that renewal takes work and discipline—it takes effort. I’m grateful for Stacey’s honesty because it has flattened out some of the curves in that cycle. The truth always sets us free.