As Valentines Day and my wedding anniversary (13th February) are fast approaching this week,, I can’t help but think about my marriage.
Valentines Day is the busiest day of my husband’s business, therefore we never get to celebrate that or our anniversary on the day but we try to make a point to spend some quality time together later in weekend or after.
2019 marks a big year for us, we have been physically and emotionally challenged in so many ways and it certainly asks for a stronger and more supportive relationship. So, I thought to myself, what can I learn from all these valuable lessons and if anything that comes up useful, I’d share them on my podcast. So that’s what prompted me to talk about in this week’s podcast.
For me, the following 5 tips are what really helped me and my husband to get through insanely busy work schedule, long-distance travels and blindspots.
1. Embrace Vulnerability and Imperfection
I was reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, and one of the stories about a man who came up to her after a talk about how hard it is for men to share about shame and vulnerability deeply touched me. How he viewed his wife and daughter couldn’t bear the sight or the thoughts of him if he would crumbling down in tears right there. Another one talked about how he couldn’t tell his wife he was been lay off from work for quite some time, he just went to the cafe during work hours to find a new job. His Dad, brother and close male friends knew, he just couldn’t tell his wide. He said: “She didn’t sign up for this.”
I talked about the stories I read in the book with my husband and I said to him: “If work becomes too stressful, or you feel overwhelmed with too much weight on your shoulder or something “bad” happened, you got to talk to me. I didn’t just sign up for this, I signed up for more“. I don’t care if we need to sell the house or be creative with things, I don’t want to lose him on the inside.
I think it is important to know what you truly value in life, hence, fear to lose the most. It is confronting and uncomfortable to feel vulnerable, but that is also a way to live with love and courage.
It is one thing to tell our husband or boyfriend that we want them to open up and share more about their feelings and fears, but when it comes to the hard truth, many men believe we may not be able to bear it or even actually want to hear the hard truth. So we need to be honest with ourselves as well.
Are we willing to feel vulnerable, to face our own imperfection, character default, mistakes, fears and most importantly, are we there for THEM for the long run.
You don’t stumble into a warm and cozy relationship, you need to work on it. You may be lucky enough and stumble into a suitable candidate to commit to cultivate one.
If you want to feel more connected with your boyfriend/partner/husband, you got to be in the arena, whether it is about wrestling with your own vulnerability and share that with him or listen and respect his. You got to be there and let him know that too.
2. Be clear and committed with your work and personal boundaries
If you want a good work-life balance, personal & spiritual growth and massive success with your work, this is probably the number one commitment to nail.
For some, this may mean the number of days/weeks you are willing to travel away from home for work, or how many hours you spend in the office vs. home, whether or not you work in the weekend and if so, what are the rules or frequency that you allow it. What time at night you will stop taking work calls and telling your colleagues aware of that as well.
For others, it may mean no mobile device during dinner or “together” time, or arrange certain morning coffee time or a nightcap with your spouse if they work in shifts. It can be about scheduling in family vacation months in advance to ensure you get time off work.
You probably have very different boundaries you want to set, but the key is, how out what they are and stick to them.
For me, the top ones include our annual family vacation that we plan and book many months in advance. We agreed that we won’t work/live separate from each other more than 3 weeks apart. We find time to check-in and talk daily about our day. Also, I won’t commit to more than 2 nights a week working late with events or meetings. We discuss and agree on all our social or business events that will take up family time and make sure we are able to care for our children or arrange the support we need in advance.
We are very clear on who is “on-call” for our daughter each week depends on our schedules and events. If she gets sick and needs to be picked up from childcare or being looked after. There is no “assuming” what is going to do that or try to find a baby sitter at the last minute. This is not just being pragmatic, this is to avoid emotional resentment when things get really stressful, the first thing we don’t want to do is to blame the other person. It is easy way but not helpful for the marriage.
In terms of personal boundaries: I need my quiet time in the morning, so I get up early to make sure I get the time for that. I won’t look at my emails or social media first thing in the morning. It’s the most creative and productive time for me and I use it for my “big rocks”, even just a 20-minute writing session, it is way more effective for me to make progress on the big dream than let small tasks to take up my best mental focus. I won’t schedule any calls before 9 am or in-person meeting before 10 am. I also set an end time for work and I don’t let it bleed all over my evening and keep my head racing all night.
So these are my work and personal boundaries, and I have to say, they also help me with my relationship with my husband tremendously because I get to avoid unnecessary stress and keep my head above water.
Simply put, everyone has a different set of boundaries that is important for them, especially if you have children or a family member to look after. I’d suggest you have a candid talk with your partner once you know what are your needs and desires.
3. Small gestures can go a long way
My husband and I often send each other silly or funny SMS. Not a lot, maybe 1-2 a day when I think of him queuing in line, waiting for coffee, etc. If he is around his phone, we get to exchange a couple of messages, if not, he will usually reply later with an emoji or comment. These are just small gestures that should show I think of him.
When I say we try to find time to talk daily, don’t think we have a long sit down, a glass of wine by the fire with music. Not at all, often it is just a few minutes while I was cooking, or him watering the plants. But we made an effort to communicate and share our day.
Another habit or practice we do, is we keep our promises, no matter how small. Taking out the trash before bed, change the light bulb before dinner is ready, make that mango pudding for Saturday lunch. These are small things, but through time, it builds trust and reliability about counting on each other.
The same about those SMS and a few minutes of connection, they accumulate and I always feel I know what he is up to or what kind of mood he is in.
For me, these small moments and gestures help us to build a stronger and closer relationship. When times are tough, they become even more important as these small gestures simply say, I am here to listen, I hear you and I am here with you.
4. Calendar and weekly review
Now, we are going to switch gear to something very practical and what I find a great habit to have.
We use the iCal calendar. When we have late business meetings, calls, events or trips coming up, we share that calendar invite. We also have a family shared calendar for birthday parties or hospital visits, etc. You may prefer using Google Calendar or others, but I do recommend an online one so that you can instantly update or send an invite to each other when something comes up. This is especially important when we need extra support like a baby sitter to help out.
We also have a check-in/overview of the week say on a Sunday night or Monday morning, just in case we forget to say we are going away in the weekend and need to make some arrangement few days beforehand. We take a few minutes to highlight those big items or late night calls coming up so that we know if we need to cover for each other to pick up or bath the kids, etc.
5. Make time to connect
I mentioned above that it makes a big difference, especially in the long if we have a habit to connect with our partner/husband on a daily basis. I know many people advocate weekly or regular date nights, but I have never managed to reinforce the “regular” part, it really makes it hard for me. As our schedule can be unpredictable sometimes.
However, over Christmas, as we were moving and settling into our new home, we didn’t travel or went anywhere for holidays. Our daughter went to her childcare during the non-public holidays, so my husband and I actually manage to have a few days just doing things together without her. We didn’t go for fancy dinner or do anything extra special, as we were busy and exhausted from the move, but we went furniture shopping, had long lunches, and we spent hours chatting and unpacking. It was actually really nice. I told my mum that it felt like the days when we were dating, hanging out and spending time together. And as soon as I said it, I realised that perhaps we may not be able to make date night a weekly event, but we need to try to find more opportunities to just be alone as a couple.
We got to be more creative about this. Perhaps piggy bag on a late afternoon business meeting that is out of the office and then try a restaurant that we have never been for dinner. Or perhaps drop your children in an art and craft class for a couple of years and then check out the local artisan market or have a long lunch with a view.
I think by being more deliberate to make time to connect, it makes a statement to both myself and my husband that we are making an effort to nurture our relationship, and we are not taking each other for granted or just “working as a team” in terms of raising our children, we are also committed to keeping our relationship warm and cosy!
I share these 5 tips with you because they have helped me with my relationship and I hope they can do that for you too. What is your best-kept secret for your relationship? What has worked for you and what haven’t?
Comment on the blog post or send me an email, I love hearing from you.
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