My dad used to have a shirt that displayed a list of ten ways to keep your homeschool strong. I can’t remember all the ways anymore, but the first item on the list has always stuck with me. It was: “Love your spouse.”
We may not think about the marital relationship as being an important part of homeschooling, but I believe keeping marriages strong is crucial. First of all, (as I have written before) homeschooling is a big job, for which we need a support system. If you are married, your spouse is (or ought to be) your first line of support. It is also important for the well-being of our children: a solid marital relationship gives children more security, providing an environment in which they can flourish, as well as an example to follow for their own marriages in the future.
Furthermore, though it may seem difficult to believe in the midst of the daily grind of caring and providing for our children, one day they will be grown and gone. If we have not cultivated a relationship with our spouse in the meantime, we may find ourselves married to a stranger. Our husband or wife is the one person with whom we hope to spend the rest of our lives, so we must be careful not to shortchange that relationship.
Yet it is natural once we become parents to put our marriages on the back burner. Babies require a lot of time and energy…Toddlers are not much better. By the time the child has reached school age, our routines may have already become centered around the children, with marriage investment only sneaked in when there is time (like… never). No doubt, children do need plenty of attention, love, and affection, but I don’t think it’s healthy for them to think their parents’ world revolves around them. A healthy balance is necessary between marriage and parenting; we must be careful not to sacrifice either one for the other.
So how do we work to keep our marriage strong? One key is to make a conscious effort to demonstrate our love for one another. As Gary Chapman says in his popular book The Five Love Languages, “At the heart of mankind’s existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another.” All people, adults and children alike, have not only physical needs but also emotional needs. An adult may be able to cope without them temporarily better than a child, but anyone can fail to thrive when these needs consistently go unmet.
Many of us are probably familiar with Chapman’s “love languages,” but if you’re like me, you may have just taken a quiz online or thumbed through the book a bit to get an overview. This week, though, I finally read the whole book (it’s a pretty quick read), and I found the complete picture to be helpful. Another resource my husband and I have read is Willard F. Harley’s His Needs, Her Needs. While each of these authors have their own categorizations, both books address emotional needs that can exist in marriage and helpful tips on how to meet them.
My overall takeaway from these books is this: find out what is most important to your spouse—whether it makes sense to you or not—and (within reason) try to do it. What are their priorities? What makes them feel special? Forget your preconceived notions of how a husband/wife is “supposed” to be. Learn who they actually are and meet them there. My husband and I have mostly learned this the hard way, unfortunately…wasting precious energy over the years by assuming, then wishing, that the other naturally shared our priorities and methods of communicating love. We still need a lot of improvement with accepting our differences and learning to “speak” one another’s “language,” but I think we’re slowly getting somewhere!
This Valentine’s Day, I think the best gift we can give each other is a recommitment to cherish our marriage relationship and a dedication to finding the best ways to love our spouse in everyday ways. For this special day, though, here are a few budget-friendly, no-babysitter-necessary ideas for those who already know their spouse’s love language. (Special thanks to some friends for their input on these ideas!)
“Words of Affirmation”
- Cut a bunch of hearts out of colored paper. (You can get the kids involved in this one!) Write something different you love about your husband/wife on each one and tape the hearts (with masking or painter’s tape!) in various places around the house.
- Get (or make) an inexpensive greeting card, but don’t just sign your name: write a love letter telling him/her all the reasons you’re glad you two are married.
- Pull out a game that you know he/she enjoys and play it together. Try to have fun with it even if it’s not really your thing—you are blessing your spouse!
- If a babysitter isn’t in the budget, put on a movie for the kids or put them to bed early. Google “date night questions for married couples” and spend some time just talking, getting to know each other better.
- Run by the coffee shop and get them their favorite drink, try the grocery store for a treat they don’t normally get, or make their favorite meal at home!
- Does he/she have an Amazon account you can access? See if there is anything in the “saved for later” section of their cart that you can find at a store instead (it may even be cheaper!).
“Acts of Service”
- Y’know that chore they’ve been meaning to do forever but can’t seem to find the time to get it done? Do it for them.
- Give them “gift certificates” for services they’ll appreciate: a back massage (also good for “Physical Touch”), a home spa treatment, a household chore you don’t normally do, etc. If you are not the primary cook of the family, be sure to include one for “make dinner”!
- Get the kids out of the way (see under “Quality Time”) and snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie together.
- Initiate physical intimacy. ‘Nuff said.
Hope you all have a very special day with the one you love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Photo Credit: All images courtesy of Jessica Cole.