Marriage on Autopilot

12:55 PMHeather

Of all the love stories, mine is my favorite. 

If you're not up to speed, you can read all about it here.

Next Wednesday will mark 25 years since my first date with my husband. And when I take the time and energy to look back, I still think it's pretty awesome. It's still my favorite love story.

That the gregarious (cute) and charismatic guy who seemed to know everyone on our college campus would have bothered to give me the time of day. When basically, it was a season of my life that I was a complete train wreck. I mean, I'm normally at least a fender bender. But in 1990, my emotional state was not pretty at all. And at the time, I basically felt like friendships were dropping like flies because nobody wanted to help shoulder the burden that I myself didn't want to carry.

But Chris did. Even though it was complicated and hard and I was dealing with a lot of heavy stuff. He chose me. And it still baffles me when I stop to ponder it.

When I give it more than a passing glance, I am still in awe.

Yet I find that we are in an odd season of marriage. And I know we aren't alone. We have many friends who have been married about the same length of time. Who have been in the trenches for years raising kids. And we are all beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And we're tired. 

Y'all, we are just so tired.

We're all working toward success for careers and keeping the household going and trying to make finances work and ensuring that our kids are prepared for the futures that are flying at them. 

My mailbox has gone from being filled with Gymboree and KinderMusic flyers to college letters and postcards. 

I've gone from asking my kids to just give Mommy a minute alone to asking them to spend some time together. I'm reading through their phones and social media instead of reading them bedtime stories. I used to coo over their cute little shoes that they would pull off and now I trip over their big adult shoes that they forget to put away.

And while we have always TRIED to avoid being kid centric in our marriage, the truth of it is that parenting kids takes a lot of time and effort. So you do the best you can. 

When we were younger, we used to plot out date nights like we were planning for Armageddon. Circling the date and securing the babysitter and making the plan for the evening. 

But here we are. With no need for said babysitter. And while we know we need to spend some time as a couple, the reality is we are just tired. We speak of it all week long, and then comes Friday. And he looks at me and I look at him.

And we say--"You wanna just sit in our comfy clothes and watch a show?" Because getting ourselves together to go do something sounds like a lot of work. After all, we've just spent 5 days slaving away and going and doing. And we are homebodies so we are just easily convinced that staying in sounds like heaven.

We're perfectly content to just be in each other's company. Even if we aren't really engaged with each other. 

The truth is that it would be ideal if we took that time at home to catch up with each other and have long conversations and deep discussions. Because no one will interrupt us, after all. Our kids are all doing their thing these days. 

But, to be honest, our need for such conversation so easily disintegrates into one word hurried answers and grunts. 

And, when one of us is asked about being available for a date on the calendar, we do our customary, "Let me check with my spouse." Yet it may take days to remember to ask. Or else it's communicated in a short text thread for fear of forgetting it later. And then we've never really had any actual conversation about it. 

So, while we are still each other's best friend, and still in love and absolutely committed for life to each other... here's the summation of our current "marriage on autopilot" trend.

1. Life is demanding. And we are older than we used to be. And we tend to be homebodies.

2. So we are tired. And content with each other. And yes--that does translate between the lines of maybe being lazy about making efforts for each other. Because we know that while other demands can't wait, our dearly beloved will.

3. Disconnect can creep in. 

4. We see the need to connect and to make effort.

5. Then we revert to #2.

Listen, if you thought this was a how-to blog post with my step by step guide toward a solution, I apologize. I only have a step by step guide of the problem.

But I do see that it is a problem. I am not blind to my tendency to put my marriage on the back burner behind other demands in life. 

After texting this morning with a friend, I know she feels the same way.

I bet lots of us who are raising kids and teens and have been married long enough to be settled in and comfortable are facing the same challenge.

Or maybe everyone else has locked into finding some fountain of energy that has alluded us thus far? And you have regular date nights and make the efforts and have shared hobbies and interests. Maybe we're the anamaly and YOU need to write a step-by-step solution for me.

Just in case someone else feels like I do, here's what I'm landing.

I think Nike has it figured out.

Just do it. 

As I've thought on this and prayed about this and asked God to help me figure out how to refuse to revert to autopilot in my marriage, I know it truly comes down to not allowing excuses. 

It's a matter of intentionally making it a priority. 

I must see past any small daily habits and quit counting up all the other demands in this season. I must choose to see the importance of continually making efforts for the one who will let it slide if I don't.

Here's the thing. Just about when I start to justify and rationalize my habit of going with the ebb and flow of life's demands and letting my marriage go to autopilot, I'm challenged by the example of my friends Lauren and Chuck.

When I think about couples who have been married for a long time and who still date each other on a very regular and frequent basis, I think of them. They are always going out to dinner or the movies or such. Just the two of them. Carving out time.

It's cute really. They are like a little high school couple who are eager to spend time gazing into each other's eyes.

When I want to allow myself to settle for the, "Oh, when things settle down or we have more free time or become empty nesters, we will take more time together," then I should just think of them.

Their dating habits as a married couple are not because their kids are older or because it's easy. 

Actually, they've established and maintained these dating habits because it's hard.

That's right. 

Just recently, I was telling Lauren how encouraging and challenging it is to me to see their dating example, and she told me again what I already knew. But I needed to hear it again.

They never allow themselves to rest on their laurels about taking time as a couple because things are hard.  And they plan date nights despite the fact that things are hard. They are raising two girls. Their oldest has special needs. They will never NOT need a babysitter. And they know the high divorce rate for married couples with special needs kids.

So even though they rotate nights so that one of them is always with their daughter during her nighttime seizures... even though they have operated for years on interrupted sleep... even though they spend every day in constant supervision of their teenage daughter who still requires the care and attention you would give a preschooler. 

Even though it's not easy to make date nights happen. They don't allow any excuses.

For them, it's because they see that they cannot afford NOT to make the effort.

Which basically silences any of my defenses about why I allow my husband to slip to last on the list for my attention.

I truly have no excuses.

I see the empty nest flying at me. Time feels as though it's speeding up as my kids enjoy their middle school and teen years. And the other phenomenon that's happening for me right now is that I am enjoying the people they are becoming. I love to spend time with them, as I hear the constant tick of the clock beckoning their own grown-up adventures. 

Which means it's easy to be convinced that I must seize every moment with them because after all, my man will still be here when they are gone.

But I cannot allow myself to be lazy about laying a good foundation NOW for the years ahead. I cannot neglect to make deposits into my marriage and to create time alone with my guy. I must be constantly aware of the benefits of dating each other still. 

So that I can reap from those investments for years to come.

Basically, I'm writing this post to preach to myself and to be a constant reminder that I can reference about the importance of not allowing autopilot when it comes to my marriage.

I would do well to think back on our love story and to remember. 

To remember to be in awe of him choosing me rather than being all too familiar with his company. To recall the joys and fun of our dating days and to never settle for anything less no matter how long we've been married. To ensure that we are not complete strangers once the kids are gone.

I must tell myself continually to fight for my marriage and never let my defenses down. 

Because my guy has fought for me all these years. He has been my knight in shining armor during seasons of grief and career demands and mothering woes and health issues and parenting angst. 

He has seen me at my worse. He has endured things with me that I'd rather forget. Yet, he still laughs at my jokes.

None of us can ever afford to not continually give 100% to the one we said yes to, no matter how many years ago that was.

Date nights. Daily times of conversation. Pursuing joint endeavors. 

I must always make it a priority.
So on that note. I'm wondering. Does it count as a date night if we both fall asleep on adjoining couches while watching television?

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