Practical Lessons in Marriage and Leadership (Part 2)
My wife and I wanted to share some more thoughts about what we’ve learned in our past 10 years of marriage (and leadership) about keeping our relationship strong. This time, we sat down to talk about some practical ideas and tips. In case you missed part one of our conversation, you can read it here.
What are some practical tips about keeping our relationship & leadership strong?
Jenny: One of the most practical things that’s helped me is making the time to connect in our relationship — whether through date nights, or just clearing my evenings to watch TV or talk with you. But also, it helps that we check in with each other multiple times during the day, like when you come back from being out all day. Often I’ve been busy with the kids and housework and other work responsibilities, and you’ve been busy serving in other ways. It’s easy for us to become disconnected with each others’ realities and feel like the other person doesn’t understand all we’ve been doing. So just spending five minutes asking each other, “What are some realities you’ve been dealing with today?” and listening to one another goes a long way.
Adrian: Yes, for me it’s helpful to have short, consistent, and timely check-ins like that. It helps me feel like we’re in touch with each other. I feel like over our ten years, I’ve developed a kind of “radar” for how disconnected or connected we are in our relationship. And anytime it feels like we start becoming disconnected, I try to make it my number one priority to address that and do whatever it takes to become connected again. It seems like everything else in our lives seems to flow from that, whether things are going well or not between us. Obviously sometimes I don’t know what’s happening and why… but it helps if we just say, “I feel there’s some kind of a disconnect right now between us, and it’s important to me to be connected to you… how can we get there together?”
Jenny: You and I have talked about this a lot, but there’s also the reminder that we don’t have to be “all together” in order to connect with each other. We can both be in rough shape, and that can be some of the most intimate connections in our relationship — where we are weak but “in it” together. We don’t have to solve problems, but sharing the moments of pain can bring strength.
Adrian: I think having fun is also a huge part of staying connected. I really like that we make the time to do things like watch TV and play games and have conversations about ridiculous topics. And be silly, like when you tried to move the candy on the table with your hand as if you could use “the force.” And then I joined in.
Planning and Collaboration
Jenny: Spontaneous things are fun. But scheduling regular times to connect allows us the space for those fun things to happen, too.
Adrian: Yes, that’s where our weekly planning times are practical too. Each weekend we set aside an hour to plan together, but we don’t just cover logistics. We learn from the previous week, and we discuss priorities and concerns that we need to address — including relationships and upcoming events. It really helps me that we collaborate this much. It is a little more work up front, but saves a ton of time down the road because we know we’re on the same page about things.
Jenny: Another practical thing I think about is figuring out roles in our marriage. It really took us a couple of years to figure some of that out, and even then it changes depending on work and school schedules, and so on.
Adrian: Yes, the thing that struck me early on was just how much “extra” work there is, after you get married. You’d think it’d be twice as much responsibility, but it often feels like more, especially if you own a house or have kids of course. You have new responsibilities that you didn’t have before when you were single. So it’s actually quite possible that we might both be doing a lot, and a lot more than we used to do, and we might still miss things or feel “behind.”
Jenny: And sometimes we think, “Who’s doing more?” or “Don’t you see how much I’m doing?”
Adrian: Right, and it can become this negative cycle. So I’m learning to shift from thinking “I’m doing a lot too, don’t you see that?” to “We’re both doing a lot, and we need to see and appreciate each other.” And sometimes when you do extra, instead of saying “You didn’t have to do that,” I’m learning to say, “Thank you for going the extra mile.”
Jenny: I think you’re talking also about the importance of appreciation. One thing that’s helped me is making it “normal” in our household to not only appreciate you, but to ask for the affirmation that I need. Sometimes I hear the societal message to “praise your husband” and there’s this notion of the silent wife who just serves and gives, and doesn’t need the praise. But I think it’s healthy to make my needs known to you. It might feel weird at first, but then it becomes part of our family culture.
Adrian: I couldn’t agree more, and actually I think that takes the most courage, to put yourself vulnerably out there to me like that. And I want to give you that affirmation, because you matter to me, and I want us to communicate value to each other. When you ask me for what you need, it also gives me permission to ask for the same thing for myself… and not in a demanding or entitled way, but with vulnerability.
Jenny: And it’s not like we’re doing this in a public setting where it’s some kind of shameless need for attention. It’s just the two of us, working to build each other up in our relationship. It can be as simple as, “I’ve had a hard day and I just need you to hold me and tell me something nice.” Or: “This work project has been hard, and I could really use some encouragement.”
Adrian: Yeah, and I’ve actually started making my needs for encouragement known to my friends and coworkers too! It really helps to be that clear with people.
“I Don’t Know How to Do the Laundry!”
Jenny: Another thing related to roles is not just relying on each other to do certain things all the time. Like, let’s say a wife does all the cleaning, and a husband does all the finances. It’s easy for the wife to just defer everything “finance-related” to her husband, and the husband to just order out whenever his wife can’t cook dinner. But one thing that’s helped us is that we have tried to step up and learn to do each others’ responsibilities when we have to. So that one time that I did most of the negotiation for the car. Or when you cleaned the entire bathroom when the toilet was leaking.
Adrian: I think maybe you’re saying that we’re trying to take responsibility, and that helps our relationship. Is that right?
Jenny: Yes, it’s like if I asked you to do something. And then you took forever to do it, because I normally do it. And then I got impatient and finally said, “Forget it, I’ll just do it.” Or if I let you try, and then stepped in and took over because it wasn’t up to my standard. It might work in the short-term, but it wouldn’t encourage you to grow and become a more complete person. And the more complete we both are, the better our relationship will be, I think.
Adrian: I honestly didn’t really think about that. But yes, it’s like not letting each other “get away” from maturity or taking responsibility — but encouraging each other to grow with us.
Jenny: And when I know I can do something that you normally do, it feels good. It’s empowering.
Adrian: One last thought I had. When we have conflict, it’s helped us to not stop until both of us feel heard by the other person.
Jenny: Yes, usually in a conflict one side is ready to move on more quickly than the other. Like yesterday in the situation with the e-mail, you were still frustrated when I was ready to move on. I had to hang in there long enough to hear you out more, and that was hard.
Adrian: I think it takes humility. It’s hard to sit in the discomfort of feeling the impact we’ve had on someone else. But because you did that, it made me feel valued, and it ultimately drew us closer together.
Jenny: I think of a few more practical things. If we can’t resolve everything, we can ask for a time to follow-up and continue. Something like: “I want to respect your space and I’m not trying to force you to talk, but can we agree on a time to follow up on this because it’s important to me?” And then if we’re just getting stuck consistently, we may need to ask for help outside of the two of us.
Adrian: Yes. Another thing is being okay revisiting things a second and third time. Some topics we haven’t been able to address completely because things get busy and we can’t just put everything aside in the moment to talk things through. So it’s helped us to do 15 minutes now, 30 minutes later that night, and sometimes another 20 minutes on the weekend to finish it off.
Battle of Wills (and Prayer)
Jenny: And one last thing is mutual submission. We can get caught up in a battle of wills, thinking that one person gets what they want, or more of what they want. But when we pray together and sincerely submit to God, it changes things.
Adrian: Yes, I’ve literally felt the atmosphere of the room change when we decide that we need to pray. Of course, there are different ways to pray and sometimes we can even try to manipulate other people with our prayers. But because you and I both do believe that there is higher wisdom outside of ourselves, prayer is able to break through our fixation on “who’s controlling the situation.” When we get into that mode, I don’t even think about “who suggested that we pray” or who is saying more or less. It’s just about opening our hearts and wills up, and allowing for wisdom and peace to come to us that neither of us can see.
Jenny: I agree. It’s much different than one person saying to the other, “Hey, calm down and let’s just relax.” That’s my will imposing on your will. It changes everything when we allow a third party (outside of “my will and your will”) to enter the picture.
Thank you for reading some of our lessons in our relationship and leadership!