“Grow old with me! the best is yet to be….” Robert Browning
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been married for over 30 years. Gratefully, it is true. But for many years before my wedding day, I studied relationships – how they evolved, what made them last, what made them happy. Some of the fundamentals are the same, such as spending time together. But through the decades, new challenges have arisen to keeping the flame alive. Let’s look together at the differences in the last 50 – 60 years.
- Kids played outside until it grew dark or until mom called them in for dinner.
- Most extra-curricular activities (esp sports) took place after school, at the school.
- Introduction to sports and other activities came when kids were older.
- Mom and Dad had more time to reconnect at the end of the day.
- Result? Emphasis was on Husband and Wife.
- Fewer parents in dual-income roles.
- The work-day was primarily 9:00-5:00 or some other 8-hour shift.
- Result? More time for Husband and Wife.
- Parents worked toward providing a home, a family car, food, and appropriate clothing. Everything else was a luxury.
- More kids had after-school jobs that paid for their “fun” activities and helped fund college.
- Result? Less pressure on Husband and Wife.
- Television was limited to certain programs at specific times of the day and existed on 3basic channels. News programs generally lasted 1 hour. Available television programming usually ended at 10:00.
- Personal music collections were limited to what one could afford to purchase on less portable devices.
- Telephones were stationed in 1 room in the house and lacked privacy. Only one call could be taken at a time with no voice messages or texts.
- Result? Fewer distractions from Husband and Wife’s relationship.
- Pressure to raise perfect kids.
- Micro-managing and hovering over our children.
- Enrolling kids in multiple activities while attending all events each weeknight and all day on the weekends.
- Emphasis is on the kids.
- Result? Less focus on Husband and Wife’s relationship.
- Cell phones and internet access have increased our expectations of being “on call.”
- We don’t get breaks from the office.
- Result? Higher stress levels and less time for Husband and Wife.
- Our consumer-driven culture has created a nagging sense of more, bigger, newer, trendier.
- Expensive vacations are expected.
- Large homes and a fleet of cars are the norms.
- Result? Higher stress levels for Husband and Wife.
- A 24-hour news cycle, smartphones, streaming capabilities, audiobooks, podcasts, and the internet vie for the attention we once devoted to relaxation and the enjoyment of our spouses.
- Result? Our marriages are losing the competition.
It seems our quest for better has come at the sacrifice of our relationships with the ones who matter most. For sure, technology has helped us in (once) unimaginable ways. And honestly, some of our parenting practices needed reevaluating. But must advances come at the expense of closeness with our beloved? And if not, how can we re-orient ourselves?
Reduce “other” oriented activities
Do the kids really need to have so many activities? Is travel ball mandatory? Do the math – how many kids actually receive. scholarships because they played ball year-round for their entire childhood? How many other experiences are they missing and how many are you missing? How many hours of work are required to pay for it all? Is adult or child peer pressure involved here? What would happen if you opened up space to talk, share, and “do life” together.
If you had more time and resources available for the two of you, how could you spend them to increase your intimacy as a couple? If your kids were outside using their imaginations or playing with the neighbors, could the two of you have some time to relax together before dinner? If the kids were at grandma’s for the weekend, could you and your love book a mini-vacation for just the two of you? What if you and your spouse took up a sport or hobby together?
We are beginning to see more advocacy for turning off our phones and computers
at the dinner table. We take it further by recommending families turn them off by a specified time each night (with adjustments for homework) and place boundaries around their use on the weekends. Can you imagine what it would be like if you reached for each other instead of the phone when you are bored? IF excuses and exceptions immediately pop up as you consider this change, explore what drives them.
Somewhere along the line, as media and work began to fill our lives, we stopped getting
to know each other. With each passing year, we grow and change. Do you know what’s going on in your spouse’s heart or mind? Does he/she understand what’s going on in yours? What is important to your honey right now? What are his/her hopes or fears? What does each of you appreciate from life at this moment? What do you appreciate about each other? Do you feel a sense of intimate connection, or do you seem more like roommates? Get to know each other again.
Nurture your own pursuits
If you find yourself with extra time on your hands (I’m looking at you, empty- nesters), let your differences work for you. By cultivating leisure activities that excite you, you then talk about or attend to them with your partner. The resulting conversations allow him to get to know you (and vice versa) through new eyes. It could even bring a bit of passion to the relationship when you experience a new spark in your spouse.
Progress and change are inevitable – and good! But as we make shifts in how we approach our lives, let’s make sure those shifts are profitable for us and the ones we love. Let’s not just grow old together, let’s grow old well.