My mom used to describe my family as otters. Otters are known for their playful behavior. Mom would point out how my husband, daughters, and I would play but no one wanted to do any work. Yes, that was true. We would rather play a board game on a school night instead of doing the dishes or homework after dinner. We would also finally look at the clock and realize it was past the girls’ bedtime! Perfect parents we were (and are) not, regardless of how hard we tried! (And the reason homework had to be completed with a snack right after school! )
As the girls entered the teen years, we wanted them to cultivate strong connections with their friends, teachers, coaches, and others. We looked at life as a huge adventure to be shared with as many people as possible. Our otter family was usually on the go—playing wherever and whenever we could, excited about new opportunities and the people they included, and trying to experience the abundant life found in Christ (John 10:10).
In our family relationships, we learned that emotional intimacy is key, especially in our marriage. When emotional intimacy is lacking, the relationship often suffers. However, emotional connection requires work and attention. And if that emotional connection is lost, restoring it can be tougher than the work required to preserve it along the way.
Here are some tips for cultivating connection in your marriage through busy seasons and some Scripture to consider for encouragement.
- Make time with your spouse for longer conversations. Of course, talk about the things that happened in your workday, with the kids, home maintenance, friendships, or church commitments, but also have meaningful conversations about how those things impact your hopes, fears, goals, and feelings. Help one another to feel safe, valued, and validated. Ask questions and express interest and curiosity about each other’s experiences, feelings, and ideas. Empathize with one another and give emotional support by validating those feelings and ideas. (Read Rom. 12:9-21.)
- Pay attention. When there is a lot going on in your life, it is easy to push problems or conversations off for another day. When you are constantly coming and going from your home, office, or activities, you may overlook a problem. Eventually, the problems can get bigger and harder to ignore like a snowball. Emotional intimacy is closeness in which both partners feel secure, loved, and trusted. Communication abounds between the couple with words, body language, and attentiveness. If one spouse feels lonely, disconnected, rejected, or not supported, there may be more arguments and conflicts. Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal messages you are sending your spouse. Make sure you are communicating and sharing the most important things in life together. (Read Eph. 5:15-21.)
- Silence the electronics. Quality interactions between a couple require focus and validating one another as worthy of undivided attention. In a busy season, take time to turn off the computer, television, cell phone, video games, and tablets. At the very least turn these off during mealtimes or before bed. Allow some margin of time each day for meaningful conversations. Consider committing to thirty minutes or an hour of uninterrupted time with your spouse after kids are in bed. Take time to sit together and have a cup of coffee. Read a book together. Whatever you choose, increasing your time together as a couple will allow for quality conversations, laughter, and connection. However, if you are apart for work or busy for various reasons, electronics are great. Texting, emailing, or FaceTime are easy ways to stay in touch. (Read Gal. 6:1-10.)
- Demonstrations of mutual respect. Healthy marriages demonstrate mutual respect between the husband and wife. They do not demand their own way. They give one another space and freedom to be who God created each of them to be. They don’t try to monitor every move or control each other. They learn to collaborate on big decisions related to spending money, raising children, or choices that impact the family. They find a good balance between being a couple and maintaining self. Each one adds to the marriage relationship as they pursue hobbies, careers, social life, church involvement, and their personal relationship with Jesus. They trust one another and are an example of a couple who demonstrate mutual respect toward one another in front of others and at home with their family. (Read 1 Cor. 13.)
- Laugh. It sounds crazy but laughter seems to help any relationship. It is likely you have heard or read Proverbs 17:22: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Laughter really does decrease stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in our physical bodies. At the same time, sharing laughter adds joy and resilience in relationships. It often helps heal disagreements and hurt between people. It signals that you view the world in similar ways, and it boosts your sense of connection with one another. Laughter brings people together. When a couple can laugh together, they also enhance their communication with one another. When life is busy and stressful, what a great gift to be able to laugh about the struggles and challenges and know that you are in them together. Look for ways to share jokes, funny stories, positive experiences, and moments of absurdity! When you can laugh, share inside jokes, and silly incidents with your spouse, you strengthen your connectedness. Psalm 126 is about the return of the captives to Zion after years of exile. After so much difficulty, God’s people were laughing, joyful, and talking about how the Lord had done great things for them. Look for the good things God does in your marriage and family even in the busy or challenging times of life. (Read Psalm 126.)
Otters learn to slide, swim, splash, and wrestle. This type of playful behavior helps them to develop survival skills and connect them within their otter family and community. Cultivating connections in your marriage (or with your family) during busy seasons can be tough, but it is not impossible! Cultivating connections with others has a purpose and is worth the time and effort. Emotional intimacy and communication with another person demonstrate trust, respect, security, and love. Investing in connection with another person affirms that he or she is valuable and wanted in your life.
About Michelle Hicks
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with Lifeway Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to Lifeway. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.