Have you ever people-watched? You know – where you sit at a table in the mall food court or on a bench in the middle of Main Street and just see who passes you by. I don’t have much time for people watching, but I do take notice of who is sitting around me at restaurants.
Recently, I noticed an older couple – not elderly, but old enough that if they had children, the kiddos would be long grown. I don’t know their particular story, and I am certainly not saying this applies to them, but I couldn’t help but think that in the middle of a crowded restaurant sitting across from one another, they looked lonely. No meaningful conversation. No smiles. Nothing. And it got me thinking about the phase of life many couples arrive at – where they only have each other. Again.
My husband and I were married for over 13 years before our daughter joined the family whereas many couples who had children don’t have nearly that many years alone. But regardless of the number of years that passed before becoming parents, there will come a time for almost all couples with children when they will return to a state of calm and quiet in their home.
Yep, a day will come when there are no more clothes to buy, school projects to put together, or big dinners to prepare for growing appetites. No more bath times, play dates, or sports practices. And no more toys to step on or trip over (but that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?) Of course, life can still be full in this new phase of life, even busier in some ways. But in that restaurant over dinner or on that couch watching a movie, it’s just the two of you. Again. And the question becomes, did you take the time to cultivate your marriage while parenting?
That seemingly lonely couple I saw in the restaurant sparked an important reminder in my heart about the importance of spouses not neglecting one another. Because of the phase of life my husband and I are in, that went a step farther to become about not spending so much time focused on a child that the marriage relationship falls flat. Of course, we should invest time and energy into raising our children. That is the job of a parent! But, there are still things we can do in the midst of parenting to keep the marital bonds strong. Here are three:
Go on dates.
And while on said dates, don’t talk about the kids. I get it. It may be you need private, dedicated time to discuss a particular issue regarding a child. But you should also spend time together just enjoying each other. Do what you did before you started parenting. Go for a walk in the park, see a movie, eat ice cream without having to share. Date your spouse!
Be kind to one another.
Parenting can be draining, leaving little room for emotional investment in others. Yet, each parent needs kindness from the other in the midst of the chaos. Pay attention to when your partner is in particular need of rest and offer that. When out grocery shopping, pick up a treat for your spouse. Text or call just to say “hi” and “I love you.” There are many ways to be kind to one another. A little will go a long way.
Pray and study the Bible together.
In Mark 10, Jesus said that God created man and woman, and that they should be united as one. This unity is impossible without Christ as the center. But in order to have Christ in the midst of a relationship, time must be spent seeking Him through His word and through prayer. This involves studying the Bible together – read through the Bible as a couple, work on daily or weekly devotional studies together, attend and participate in Sunday School as a couple, go to a weekly Bible study together, etc. Having Jesus at the center of a marriage also includes praying together as a couple – which can be done in the morning, before meals, before bed, or at any other time of day. It’s critically important that you pray together for your marriage in every phase of life!
Back to the red-letter words in Mark 10, Jesus also said that we should not let man interfere with what God has joined together. We shouldn’t let our children interfere either. Don’t neglect your spouse for your child(ren)…one day, you and your spouse will be left with each other and that phase of life will be over. Just the two of you. Again. You can cultivate your marriage now and enjoy that time. Or you can grow distant and lonely. The choice is yours, but the time to make your decision is now.
This article originally appeared at Patheos.com, published with permission.