We’re a high-maintenance couple. If my wife and I go a day without talking over a cup of coffee or taking a walk around the neighborhood, we feel it. Without spending intentional, quality time with each other, we quickly get out of sync. When we do, our patience wears thin, our tones get harsh, and bickering over small things increases. The speed at which disconnect can occur always shocks me.
We’re not alone. Every relationship experiences something similar.
The relational drift
The drift from order to chaos is the natural way of the universe. (Yes, the second law of thermodynamics applies to relationships, too). Over time, the chaos in your relationship will increase. You will grow apart from your spouse, you will lose the ability to talk to your children, your faith will fade, and the family harmony you once had will be lost. Unless you actively and intentionally fight against it.
You may be able to ignore the maintenance schedule on your car for years without a problem. But imagine a SpaceX rocket attempting a liftoff without the proper maintenance. The failure would be spectacular. The more complicated something is, the more maintenance it requires. And marriages are complicated!
Do you want a marriage only capable of short trips around the neighborhood? Or one that can soar out of this world?
Quality time: How to fight the drift
Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
The word translated as “hold fast” is “dabaq.“ It means to cleave, to cling to or adhere, to catch by pursuit, to follow hard after, be joined (together), overtake, to pursue hard. This word does not imply a one-time occurrence. It is active, and it is a warning.
We must pursue each other hard and “hold on tight,” because there will be forces trying to tear your marriage apart from the moment you say, “I do.”
Some forces will be big and obvious, like a storm: a sudden sickness, job loss, working 65+ hours a week, parenting small children, running a side business, moving, or going to night school. Other forces might be more subtle, like a slow ocean current: spending too much time scrolling on your phone, binge-watching shows, playing video games, or any number of things. They seem harmless, maybe even enjoyable, but over time, they have a similar effect. One day you notice you’ve drifted so far from your spouse you don’t know if you have the strength to make it back.
Whether the distance comes all at once or develops slowly over the years, our instinct is to do nothing. But we are called to “dabaq”—to hold on tight and not allow ourselves to drift apart. And when we notice there is distance, to pursue each other … hard.
What we need is a regular marriage maintenance schedule—a steady rhythm of intentional quality time designed to push against the drift.
So how can we inject intentional quality time into our marriage?
1. Start small.
Quality time is more than date nights and vacations. While they should be a regular part of your maintenance plan, an occasional fancy date or vacation is usually not enough to compensate for strong currents of drift. In fact, they can sometimes do more harm than good, especially if we expect too much from them.
What we need is consistency, and for that, we need to think small. A 1% change in direction might not seem like a big deal. After a foot, 1% translates into less than a quarter inch. But try and reach the moon and a 1% difference will translate into over 4,000 miles.
If you and your spouse feel thousands of miles apart, start with a 1% change.
2. Establish new daily rhythms.
Most of the things we do each day we do on autopilot. You probably didn’t put much thought into how you were going to brush your teeth, get dressed, get the kids to school, or make it to work. Activities like these are routine, and we accomplish them without much conscious thought.
But what if, built into the normal rhythms of your marriage, were things that naturally brought you closer together? What if activities that fight against drift became habits? It’s not that difficult.
Yesterday, as soon as dinner was over, I reached down and started lacing up my shoes in silence. A few moments later, my wife met me at the front door. We were halfway down the block before I realized we never made a conscious decision to go for a walk together. We simply did what we were used to doing. Before long, the conversation started to flow.
A 1% change to your daily routine might be something as simple as greeting your spouse with hug at the end of each workday or sharing a cup of chamomile tea after the kids have been put to bed. What you can do will look different depending on your season of life. But the most important thing is consistency.
Don’t let a day go by without connecting.
3. Understand quality vs. quantity.
Most of us lead busy lives. We’re expected to be all things to all people. We multitask and carry more responsibility than we were ever designed to bear.
We know we should do more to maintain our marriage but can’t figure out how. So we make excuses and rely on quality time over quantity. But this is a false dichotomy. Our marriages need both quantity and quality.
First, work toward establishing daily rhythms of connection. Then, go deeper with rhythms of regular sex, date nights, and romantic getaways. An established foundation of reliable connections takes the pressure off all these things. Instead of looking to them to fix problems, they can be what they were meant to be, dedicated times of celebrating each other.
4. Be ready to fight for it.
Before we had kids, we had plenty of time together and romantic getaways were easy to take. Once our life season changed, money and time got tight. We had to fight for every moment together.
Some years, we relied on credit card reward points for our hotel nights. Others, we creatively arranged for the kids to have sleepovers while we enjoyed a romantic kid-free night at home. Whether it was fighting to get off the on-call list at work, fighting for one more ounce of surplus breast milk for the sitter, fighting against the guilt of leaving our kids, or simply fighting to find something fun to do, making time for each other wasn’t always easy.
The moment you resolve to do it, an unforeseen obstacle will inevitably appear. But intentional quality time together matters, so fight for it.
Quality time builds resilience
Throughout our years of marriage, my wife and I haven’t always done this well. There have been times when we’ve let busyness and general complacency create distance. We’ve allowed ourselves to get caught up going through the motions of life, and we’ve neglected each other.
But thanks to the habits of connection we’ve developed over the years, it usually doesn’t take long before we notice the drift and start correcting our course back toward each other.
It’s not natural. It takes intentionality. But the prize is worth it: “and they shall become one flesh.”
Copyright © 2022 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site, YourEverAfter.org.