GettyImages-117149310 (1)Mark: Last night we enjoyed the fine art of porching. You know, we sat out on the porch for hours just talking, laughing, telling stories, and enjoying the time with friends and family. Relationships take time. In order to tune in, connect with, and really have intimacy with another person we need to slow down enough to have deeper conversations.

Jill: The same thing needs to happen with our spouse. Marriage requires us to downshift more often than many of us realize.

Mark: When we’re spinning too many plates we touch each plate less often. Relationships that really matter, can’t be tossed, but instead must be held. This requires us to slow our pace and give relationships the space they need.

Jill: When life is moving faster than is healthy for our relationships, it’s easy to minimize and criticize. Internally we say to ourselves, “I don’t have the time or energy to deal with this,” or “She doesn’t have time for me,” or “He doesn’t care.” This kind of self-talk puts distance between us and our spouse. It erodes intimacy and pulls us apart when we need to be drawing closer.

Mark: So how do you tune out the world and tune in to your marriage? Here are five practical ways to increase margin and decrease minimizing and criticizing:

Eat dinner around the table. Drive-thru relationships are just as unhealthy as drive-through food. Make dinner prep something you do as a couple. Then linger at the table and talk. Make mealtime as much about relationship as it is about food.

Put away your screens. Determine where and when screens are fine and where they need to be tucked away or turned off. Mealtime. Conversations. Vacation. Date night. These are all places where our screens need to be put away. Will this take some self-control? Probably. Will doing so communicate value to your loved ones? Absolutely. It will also increase your patience and decrease your temptation to minimize.

Stop. Look. Listen. We use these three words to teach our kids how to cross the street. We also need to use them to teach ourselves how to cross into our spouse’s world. When your loved one enters into your space, stop what you’re doing. Close the computer. Pause the television or video game. Walk away from your task to warmly greet him or her. Look at him or her fully. Maintain eye contact. Then listen with your eyes and your ears. Listen to learn. To hear his question. To understand her feelings.

Connect and Catch Up. If you have little ones, take some time to talk after the kids are in bed. Are you empty nesters? You still have to be intentional about setting aside time to connect. In the summer, enjoy the porch together. In the winter, resist the urge to flip on the television or hop on the computer until you’ve taken some time to connect and catch up. Take a few minutes to ask questions like, “What was the best part of your day?” or “What was the hardest part of your day?” or “What’s bothering you the most and how can I help you?” or “What’s weighing heavy on you today?” or “How can I be praying for you?” These connecting questions help us maximize interest.

Date Your Mate. Life is busy, so you have to set aside space in your days, weeks, and months to nurture your marriage. Create a repeating schedule you both prioritize for time together. Sometimes that may be as simple as the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed. Ideally, it is once a week or once every other week or, at a minimum, once a month where you get a sitter/let the kids go to grandma’s/trade sitting with another couple and enjoy some focused time without interruptions. Even if you’re empty nesters, date night is important because you’re getting away from the everyday routine and focusing on each other. Slowing down and taking time to relate is essential in sustaining intimacy.

What about you? What have you done to downsize activities in order to upsize your relationships?

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