Today’s post comes from my good friend, Luke Baker. You can read more about Luke and his family at the end of this guest post.
10 years ago….
College. It’s 2 am. I have a midterm tomorrow, and I could use another hour to study or sleep. But I’m on the phone with my future wife and wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, I’m going to figure out how we can go on a date tomorrow night and I’m going to plan something fun to impress her.
10 days ago…
Life. It’s 10 pm. I’m in bed as Ashley gets in and asks how my day went. I think she wants some pillow talk. I have a big presentation at work tomorrow. Maybe I should pretend I’m already asleep.
I love this story because it invokes (at least) two responses. First, I’m pathetic. But second, the story is almost cliché. The ending didn’t really surprise you because these types of situations are so commonly joked about in our culture.
The subtler truth is that I made a quick assessment of the situation—the investment needed and the return offered. Pillow talk offers little gratification, but sleeping well and seeing the fruit of my presentation at work tomorrow is a reward for a job well done.
Here’s the principle behind this example: Doing a job with diligence and excellence is good, but the pursuit of this good can be counterproductive to our values and goals when it supersedes a more important good, such as having a healthy relationship with your spouse.
Here’s a business analogy to illustrate what I mean: business school teaches students that companies have limited capital to allocate and they make investments based on expected return. That’s a fancy way of saying “there’s only so much money, so spend your money in the best way possible.”
Now put on your CEO hat. As CEO you quickly realize you need to show results and keep investors’ confidence that you run your business well. You look at the possible investments and invest in the ones that provide the surest, most immediate, and most tangible benefits. From this, the important people cheer, bonuses flow, and life is good. And no one notices that foundational, long-term investments are getting starved. As Clayton Christensen put it in How Will You Measure Your Life, “If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification.”
Bringing it back to marriage and our families, Christensen goes on to write, “If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.”
What causes us to allocate fewer resources to what we say matters the most?
1. Investing in Immediate and Tangible Things
We feel accomplished when we write a paper, get a raise, finish the laundry, or organize the kids’ closet. We see the results immediately and experience the reward. By that measure, spending time with your spouse is one of the most unproductive things you can do. You are already married, you are decently happy. Spending more time together might be pleasant, but day by day it accomplishes nothing since you usually can’t see any achievement or improvement. Twenty years later, however, there is almost no greater joy than the joy of spouses who have spent those years investing in each other.
2. Living with Two Lists
The second problem is that we make hundreds of decisions a day, and too many of us aren’t making choices based on what we value (because we haven’t stopped to identify and affirm what we value).
As a very quick exercise, order these five categories in aspirational order for how you want to make decisions: Fitness, Family, Faith, Finances, Friends. Given who you want to be and what you want to be said at your funeral (‘she was so rich!’ vs. ‘we could always count on him to be there for us’), you might have put your aspirational order as follows:
- Faith (is this consistent with my faith)
- Family (will this strengthen my family)
- Friends (will this further a high-quality relationship)
- Fitness (is this good for my physical health), and lastly
- Finances (will this improve my financial well-being).
Now ask yourself – or ask your spouse – what is your actual ‘how you are living’ priority list. It might look more like how my list still looks many days: Finances, Faith, Fitness, Family, Friends.
You may be living with two lists. An aspirational list of what you value and a list of how you are actually living. This is not only exhausting but leads to immediate gratification decision-making when it comes to allocating your time. In the long run, and in those moments of quiet and stillness that we all avoid, it leaves you with regret and dissatisfaction with the way you are living your life.
How to Improve Your Spouse-Life Balance
1. Understand the Tyranny of the Urgent
If you want to take steps to improve your spouse-life balance, the brief article Tyranny of the Urgent is one of those works to which I attribute some of the most impactful and lasting change in my life, especially as relates to relationships. The article, in summary, goes as follows:
- Having 30 hours in a day won’t fix your time problem. It’s not a time problem; it’s a priority problem.
- The “winds of people’s demands have driven us to a reef of frustration” as we let the urgent things crowd out the important.
- Consider Jesus’ life: exhausted but never rushed; not driven by the whim of the people, but always doing the will of the Father; never feverish, having time for relationships; accomplishing the work God gave him (John 17:4).
2. Understand 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: the Four Quadrants
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits (from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) makes the same point about the important, non-urgent items. Many of you may be familiar with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix urgent/important quadrants (made popular in Covey’s book). You can find the quadrants and an explanation in this article from The Art of Manliness.
Your purpose should be to operate as much as you can in Quadrant 1 (Urgent & Important) and 2 (Not Urgent & Important). If you’re like me, Quadrant 2 gets neglected (e.g., calling your grandmother, writing a letter to your spouse). As you think about your spouse-life balance, you’ll notice that investing in your spouse falls in quadrant 2.
Few people lay on their death beds wishing they had spent more time at work or running errands. A much larger number wish they had spent more time with their spouse. Intentionally spending time on important but non-urgent activities will help us effectively invest in our marriage.
If you agree that you want to allocate time to your spouse as one of the highest-priority, long-term investments you can make, here are three practical steps you can take to kick-start your re-investment in your spouse.
1. Put date nights on the calendar. Right now my wife and I have a once per month date locked on the calendar. Infrequent, yes, but also purposeful and a solid foundation on which to build.
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2. Designate one night per week as something special. One friend, for instance, has instituted “Media-free Mondays” with his family and “Special Saturdays” with his spouse (this one requires some forethought and planning each time).
3. Pursue your spouse. Do you remember how you acted when you were dating? You couldn’t stop thinking about the other person, trying to find ways to surprise them, be interested in their interests, serve them, and romance them. Love is an action. Choose to do these things, even when you don’t feel like it (you won’t always feel like it) and your heart will follow.
About the Author:
Luke and Ashley Baker have led in both the Merge premarital and Foundation Group newly married ministries at Watermark. They have three boys and a baby girl, and have been married for nine years. They enjoy coming up with kitschy interests for their bio: we read aloud to each other in bed (Ashley only wishes), our children never shout “POOP” in public, and we think we would enjoy long walks around White Rock Lake.
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