I think we're not the only ones who have experienced this, are we? You get busy, you get overwhelmed, you have babies interrupting your moments of time together, you live very different lives with your own sets of responsibilities, and before you know it, you feel disconnected from your husband. Your date nights, if they happen at all, are more like business meetings. You realize it's been a long time since you just enjoyed each other's company, laughed together about nothing, held hands and looked into each other's eyes.

I started to title this article "When Marriage is Hard". But I am not writing for those who have truly difficult marriages. Not because I don't feel for them, but because I don't have wisdom or experience to offer. This article is for the rest of us - we who really have good marriages, and yet there are times when things are hard. Seasons when we're not connecting, not romancing, maybe even not feeling in love.

There can be lots of reasons for this, but here are a few that we've found.

1) We're both sapped by other responsibilities and have no mental/emotional energy left for each other. This is especially applicable for introverts who need time alone to refuel.

2) We live in two different worlds, and have trouble connecting with each other's lives. Maybe because of lack of time, lack of interest, lack of knowledge & understanding, or all of the above.

3) One of us is sick and requiring care from the other - or if not requiring care, at least not able to give to the relationship.

4) Misunderstandings cause distance in the relationship, even if we're not "fighting" or "angry" with each other.

5) One (or both) of us are dealing with past hurts or current stresses which we take out on our spouse, even though the he/she is not responsible.

So when you find yourself in one of these situations, what do you DO? None of us want to be content with the status quo . . . we want to keep pressing on in our relationships, right? We want to keep that love alive and not grow distant from each other. How do we stay connected? How do we reconnect?

1) Remember that your marriage needs to be a priority. It just has to be! Yes, there are seasons when life is way too full, way too stressful, way too interrupted by little people, or whatever your "way too" is. But even in those seasons, we need to figure out how to squeeze in time (and energy) for our marriage. Is there something else that you can let slide a little, in order to make room for your partner? Identify what is causing you to drift apart right now, and see if it's something that can change.

2) Find out what your spouse needs most from you. Hopefully you can ask him. Talk about what is working and what isn't. Talk about what speaks love to him and what doesn't. Read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, together if you can. If you can't sit down and talk about it, then do your homework. Experiment with different ways of saying "I love you" (not just with words, but with actions) and take note of how he responds.

3) Let your husband know what you need from him. I don't mean that you should give him a big list of dos and don'ts, or demand your rights from him. But if there is something that just really isn't working for you, or something he's doing that is especially hard or hurtful for you, TELL HIM. Of course there are marriages and situations where you can't do that. But most men would be really glad to hear this from their wife. Usually, they don't have a clue that what they're doing is a problem for you. Talking about it is SO much more productive than trying to ignore or suppress it, and struggling with resentment or frustration. HOWEVER, make sure that you approach him in the right time and the right way. Throwing out hints as you storm around the kitchen isn't going to help anyone. Make sure you have his attention, he knows you want to talk about something that's important to you, and that you speak in a respectful, gracious way.

4) Realize that you have different ways of connecting, and by pushing your way you can cause hurts and resentment. This is tied in to the last two points, but it's important. You may be in a situation where one of you feels that your marriage is great, while the other one is feeling disconnected and unloved. Our personalities and cultural expectations determine how we express love and what we need out of relationships. But here's the good news - we can learn to adjust our expectations. If you are married to an introvert and you're always nagging him to spend more time together, you're hurting the relationship instead of helping! He needs quiet space to "decompress", and when you nag and make him feel guilty for not being with you, it makes him resent you. Ideally you can both learn to express your love in a way that helps the other, and both of your needs will be met. But if "ideal" isn't happening, at least make sure that you're not making the situation worse by rejecting the ways he is trying to love you, or demanding things that he can't give you.

5) Be interested in your husband's world. There are times I listen to "lectures" on topics I care nothing about, simply because it means a lot to my husband. He wants to share his interests with me - whether it's work or hobbies. If I think, "Why am I wasting my time listening to this?" I will be resentful. If I think, "This is a chance to connect more deeply to my husband's world" I will realize that it really is worth it! And most likely it will mean a LOT to your husband . . . unless he's in a situation where he doesn't want to talk about it. If he needs to leave the stress behind and forget about it when he walks in the door, respect that too!

6) If your husband is sick, make sure you take care of yourself. I'm not talking about a week of the flu or a bout of malaria. I'm talking about prolonged illness. It might be a physical illness and you are his primary caregiver. That can give you so many special bonding opportunities, but it can also exhaust you and put a strain on your relationship. Make sure you're getting the rest you need, and taking breaks to replenish. Maybe it's not a physical illness, but depression, anxiety, or a mental illness that's making him unable to hold up "his end of the deal." In this case, you may not actually be taking care of him, but may be shouldering some or all of his responsibility. In either case, it is easy for you to become exhausted. With exhaustion comes feelings of resentment, and then guilt that you're having those feelings. You HAVE to get the rest that you need and take care of yourself or your relationship will suffer.

7) If you're dealing with past hurts or major stresses, make sure you take care of yourself. Get help to work through your emotional issues so that they're not damaging your marriage. Implement whatever self-care routines need to happen so that you can manage your stress instead of taking it out on your partner. I know these things are easy to say and much harder to do. But consider our first point - your marriage needs to be a priority. Which means you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your marriage.

8) Don't overlook the everyday love. Of course the romance is wonderful, and we all want to have those heart-flutters and gushy feelings sometimes. But seriously, ladies, doesn't changing messy diapers and dealing with beggars at the door and taking out the trash and getting up with the baby SHOUT "I love you" louder than any chocolate or roses ever could? When a man sacrifices himself over and over and over for his family, that is true love. Look for the little everyday ways your husband is saying "I love you" by taking care of you.

9) Don't give up. Some seasons are just hard, and there's no way to change that. Keep trying anyway. Read an inspirational book about marriage. Search for free date ideas (although this might be depressing if you live overseas). Think of a new way to say "I love you" this week. Don't wait for the feelings, just keep on keeping on. Seasons will pass, and when they do, we want to make sure our relationship is stronger than ever.

When we were first married, I put together an album of our wedding pictures. I included a quote which I loved at the time, 'TRUE LOVE is when you can't sleep at night because reality is better than your dreams.'  So romantic . . . and true when you're on your honeymoon. But you can't live life that way. My favorite quote now? "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

 

What do you do to "keep the love alive"? What has brought you through a challenging time in your marriage? OR what do you do to prevent those hard times from bringing distance in your relationship?

Today's post is part of "The Grove" - a link-up over at Velvet Ashes, where the theme this week was "Marriage Abroad". Head over there to read some great articles on the challenges and blessings of being married overseas!

There are so many things about having children that seem to sabotage a romantic relationship. Starting with pregnancy that brings changes in your body and unpredictable mood swings . . . then through the experience of childbirth and the dawning of overwhelming responsibilities and emotions . . . then sleepless nights and brain-fog days which after a year or two blur into toddler tantrums and potty-training woes . . . many women wake up one day to find that being a mom has completely crowded out any romantic relationship in their life.

How much more so when you are a mom overseas? Everyday life just takes longer, and you are supposed to be doing ministry on top of all your responsibilities as a mom. It's so easy to let your marriage take a back burner . . . your husband doesn't need you the way the kids do. There's nothing romantic to do anyway, right? I mean, who feels like candlelight and cuddling when it's 105 degrees in the house?!

But it doesn't work that way, and one day we will find ourselves married to a stranger. Maybe our marriage will survive and maybe it won't. Let's not go there. Instead, let's talk about the key to staying in love even in the crazy, busy, messy days of motherhood on the field.

Be intentional.

No relationship just "happens". It takes work to keep romance alive. When we are dating, or as newly-weds, we are putting a lot into our relationship, but it doesn't feel like work. Spending time together and doing special things for each other comes naturally and easily. But as other responsibilities overtake your life, it is so easy for romance to be crowded out.

Don't. Let. It. Make a choice to keep your husband a top priority in your life. What are some ways you can do that?

1) Use the little moments you have. Long evenings curled up on the couch together, or leisurely Saturday mornings, are a thing of the past. I get that! So now you have to make the little moments count. Snatch kisses whenever you pass each other. Smile at him when he walks into the room. Sneak up behind him when he doesn't expect it and whisper sweet talk in his ear. Send him a text on his lunch break to say "I love you." None of these things take planning, but they keep the spark alive between you.

2) Have regular connection times. You can't have a relationship without communication, but communication doesn't happen naturally when you have a busy schedule and so many others vying for your attention. You have to be intentional about taking time to talk. Put it in your schedule and make it happen. That can mean finding a babysitter and taking a date night, or it can mean sitting down with a quart of ice cream after the baby is sleeping.

3) Don't just talk, listen. This goes along with #2. I don't know about you, but I tend to store up all my emotions and questions and problems, and then when I finally get a chance I DUMP them all in one huge pile and want my man to give me all the sympathy, understanding, answers and solutions that I need. If he manages to give me the right responses, I'm happy and our "communication" is over. Or NOT! I am finally realizing that even though he doesn't feel the need to dump on me (like I do!) and even though he doesn't love to talk (like I do!) it is just as important for my husband to have time and space to communicate his needs, dreams, problems, and emotions. Communication is a two-way street. Be intentional about listening to your man.

4) Make intimacy happen. This can be a big frustration for couples. As a mom, we are tired, our bodies are not our own, we may be interrupted by the baby crying, we don't feel desirable. Living overseas, we're stressed out, we're exhausted, it's too hot, there's not enough privacy. The reasons are endless, and valid, but the fact is - you both need intimacy. It's another way of intentionally connecting that will keep your relationship alive. Be creative, don't get stuck in a rut. Make sure intimacy happens, try to get in the mood, and even initiate it sometimes!

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So there's just a few of my ideas for being intentional in our marriages to keep the romance alive. What would you add to the list?

Holidays are one of my biggest challenges overseas. I missed out on the creative gene somehow, and I'm terrible at planning ahead, so it just makes special occasions a problem for me. Add to that the difficulty of romance in a third-world country - lack of good restaurants or date options, lack of babysitters, busy schedules, no florists or chocolatiers - and Valentine's Day can just be a pretty lame holiday.

But we all know how important it is to have times of focusing on our marriage - especially when it's so hard to do. So I've assembled a list of Valentine's ideas - some quite simple, some that will take a little more preparation - that hopefully most of you can do regardless of your location or situation. (And I have to admit most of these ideas are not original with me, but are adapted from a dozen other websites.)

Word Ideas:

1) Love Notes. So much can be done with these. Write a bunch of little love notes and leave them all over the house where your hubby will find them. Or bind them all together into a small book. Or roll them up and tie individually, then put in a basket or jar to give to your Valentine.

2) Give IOU's - for anything from kisses and backrubs, to taking out the trash or cleaning the car, to making his favorite meal!

3) Go to puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com and create your own crossword puzzle using words and clues from your relationship. Be sure to include things from your first dates and your wedding and honeymoon as well as your relationship now.

4) If you're going to be separated for most of the day, do a text-a-thon. Send your Valentine a sweet or steamy text every hour, on the hour. Build anticipation for your evening together.  It will be fun for both of you!

Food Ideas:

1) Make a meal with symbols of love. Make soft pretzels and form them into heart-shapes. Shape our favorite biscuit recipe into hearts. Bake a heart-shaped cake, or cut-out heart cookies. You can use anything from string beans or carrot sticks to ranch dressing or ketchup to write "I love you"  and other Valentine's messages. If you do this as a family, it will be a hit with the children as well!

2) Make a desert bar, if you have enough supplies available. Set out all kinds of sundae fixings, or supplies to build-your-own sandwich cookies, or decorate-your-own cupcakes. Or if you like a slightly healthier twist and have the ingredients, set out supplies for layered fruit and yogurt parfaits, including granola, nuts, or chocolate chips.

3) Do you have leftover candy-canes from Christmas? Put two together to make a pretty red-and-white candy heart. You can even soften them in the oven for a few minutes to melt the heart into one piece.

"Date" Ideas:

1) Watch the sunrise together sipping hot chocolate. This way you can have your date before your children wake up in the morning. :-)

2) Build a fort in the living room using couch cushions, sheets, blankets, and pillows. Build it with the kids and have a bedtime snack inside, then turn it into a love cave after the kids are in bed!

3) Sit down with your laptop and go through old pictures of your engagement, your wedding and/or your honeymoon. This is sure to stir up good memories and lots of romantic feelings!

4) On slips of paper, write down every kind of kiss you can think of. (This could be done with more steamy actions than just kissing, too!) Fold them and put in a jar, basket or envelope. Then take turns drawing a paper and doing what it says.

5) Have a picnic in your bedroom - spread a blanket on the bed and start your evening off with some goodies.

So are you inspired to make the day special for your Valentine? Maybe you already have plans that you can share with us in the comments below. Or tell us what you've done for a simple but romantic date in the past.