Marriage panel members share their ideas of low energy ways to connect with your spouse at the end of the day without watching TV.
The theme for this month is rituals and routines, and today we’re using our marriage panel to discuss night-time routines specifically. Our ASK THE PANEL series involves readers submitting questions and our marriage panel answering them. As explained here.
I got this email about a month ago,
” . . . . So my marriage isn’t in any mortal danger or anything, but I feel like we’re in a bit of a slump for us anyway. I was wondering what the marriage panel’s night-times with their spouses are like?
Every night my husband and I are so tired, him from work, me from kids that all we do together is watch TV together. I like doing it, and usually thats all I feel like doing, but I feel like since thats all we ever do, its adding to the slump. I would love to break the habit but I’m struggling to think of a good alternative.”
If you are anything like us, this email is sounding very familiar. First off, I just want to say to this dear reader that the LAST thing you need at the end of a long day when all you want to do is veg is to feel guilty about vegging! We could all do with less guilt in our lives, so this post is NOT meant to add any!
That said, as much as we LOVE to do it, sitting like vegetables together doesn’t add much by way of bonding as a couple (a real shame), but we can totally relate to the bonding needing to be low-energy. In fact, in the very early days of this blog, we visited this question of night-time bonding here and Rich and I were challenged to spend one week playing games together every night with no TV allowed.
We love games. But boy if that week didn’t feel like the longest week ever! I was shocked at our metamorphosis into whiny toddler-adults every night as we searched for ANY excuse for that night to be the exception (but its the weekend! but we’re SO tired!). Even though every time we got the game started it was great! We laughed, we talked, we connected much more than we would have had we watched a show. It just . . . felt like homework.
This is all to say, this is something we struggle with, so THANK goodness I have such a helpful marriage panel who came up with some GREAT ideas for bonding at night without watching TV. Take it away panel.
Some background on us to give perspective: just passing 10 years of marriage, with 5 kids from ages 9 to 4, including two sets of twins. Some days we’re so tired after finally putting the kids to bed that we can’t even muster up the energy to watch a show, and we just sit there vegetatively scrolling on our phones in silence. Yes, it’s sad to say. That’s like worse than a slump. From this I suppose you can conclude you’re not alone in your sometimes-slumpiness.
If I were to say what defines whether we have achieved a successful evening is whether we have connected in some meaningful way. This means we have actually had a decent conversation. You know, we talked beyond “How was your day? Fine, how was yours?”
This has happened in any number of ways. It has happened after we have put the kids to bed, and knowing they are asleep, we will do laps walking around our block (we use a connected call between a cell phone in the house and a cell phone in my hand as our “kid monitor” while we walk; of course our block isn’t that big so we’re never far away; in graduate school our walk was around our apartment building. Is someone going to call DCF on us now?!?).
It has happened as one of us makes a Culver’s run and brings home our favorite concrete mixers (frozen custard desserts for the non-Culver’s-initiated). It has happened recently as we’ve played ping pong on the makeshift ping pong table I made from our old kitchen island counter top, two sawhorses, and this awesome “Anywhere Net” I got from Walmart for $15. This has been surprisingly fun. And Astyn is surprisingly good at ping pong for having never played.
It has happened as we work together on household projects like installing a new kitchen back splash or planting a garden or dare I even say cleaning out our storage room. The feeling of talking and accomplishing some project together? That’s a bonus. And of course, getting a sitter, planning a date, and going and doing something fun. One of our favorite recent dates was going on a bike ride together.
As you can see, a lot of these ideas are pretty low energy – walking, ping pong, eating ice cream (ha ha ha). The kitchen backsplash was not low energy. Don’t plan to do that unless you’re willing to stay up a few nights until midnight… I’m sure you can imagine how I know this.
Hope that helps.
I am excited to see what other people have to say about this one. We all get into those binge watching slumps occasionally (Blacklist anyone?). Here are some things that my husband and I try to do at the end of the day to stay connected:
- Five good things. Each of us have to tell the other five good things that happened that day, and we write them down in those five year journal things. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Ours are often food related. I love it when one of my husband’s good things of the day is related to me or something I did.
- Praying together. Even if we are watching television we can still pray together before we fall asleep.
- Reading out loud. My husband and I love to read books out loud. Princess Bride is our all time favorite read-aloud book. Choose something funny and do different voices.
- Work out. This isn’t exactly low energy, but we like it. We love to do yoga together or P90x. I have yet to convince him to try Zumba with me but someday… 😉
- Play a board game. There are tons of good two player games that aren’t Monopoly. Don’t do this if you are super competitive and it will end in a fight.
- Invite someone over. Spending time with other couples can really re-energize your relationship.
- Do service together. My husband and I donate to Kiva on a regular basis. We have an evening each month picking out someone to loan to. It helps us feel united in a common goal.
- Eat food. We recently discovered take-out. Oh my gosh. Anything we eat that we don’t share with our children feels conspiratorial and fun. Use sparingly.
- Go outside. Last week the sunset was so pretty we grabbed some popsicles and sat outside to watch it. Another night we pulled chairs up to our sliding glass door and watched a storm. Put the kids in the stroller and go for a walk after dinner. I suppose that’s what people did before there was TV.
- Touch each other and put down the phones. There’s a difference between watching TV next to each other and watching it with each other. You know what I mean.
I think it’s really important to save some energy for our spouses at the end of the day. It’s a way of showing them that they are a priority in our lives. Sometimes in the late afternoon when I’m starting to get tired, I sit down and watch some Cupcake Wars or something with my kids. That way I know I’ll have something left in the evening.
A lot of times my husband and I will just lie in bed and talk at the end of the day. He tells me about the crazy stuff people at work do and I tell him about the crazy stuff the kids do and we laugh. We dream about the future or reminisce about the past. I tell him my worries and he laughs at me. It’s a hard habit to get into but it’s an easy one to keep up. Just pay attention. Watch one episode instead of three. Keep an eye on the time. Start with fifteen minutes where you just talk.
I want to start off by saying there’s nothing wrong with vegging out in front of the TV at the end of the day. The time of life you’re in is exhausting and TV requires low emotional and physical input, which makes it great for decompressing after a day with kids- especially if you’re watching non-kid-friendly programming with an expanded vocabulary and adult interaction. It can be helpful for making you feel like a grown-up again.
I would also recommend picking a book you can take turns reading out loud to each other. It feels a little silly at first but reading out loud (or listening while your partner reads) is similarly relaxing but with the added bonus of creating intimacy. You can choose something fluffy or intellectually stimulating or a long-time favorite you’ve always wanted to share with your spouse, they all work!
If you’re a fan of board games, pre-bed is a great time for some Scrabble or chess or whatever your current favorite is. It’s a great way to use your brain without expending a ton of energy.
One of our favorite things to do at night when the weather is nice is just sit outside together after the kids go down. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we just sit and enjoy the quiet. This is a great one if you have trouble falling asleep at night- being outside in the quiet and away from the artificial lights of phones and TVs is great at triggering your body’s natural sleep processes.
I’d like to add that TV can be a sex-life killer. When you have the choice between one more episode before bed or turning it off and heading upstairs for a little sexy time then we naturally gravitate toward the option that requires less effort (Netflix is heavily complicit in this. Darn them and their auto playing of the next episode). I know scheduling sex is the opposite of sexy and it’s also maybe not the most attractive option for unwinding when you’ve been wiping noses all day but there’s something to be said for it. It requires a bit more effort up front but sex is the ultimate stress reliever and intimacy builder. Maybe you can watch TV or play checkers to unwind during the rest of the week but on Tuesday nights you put the kids down, clean the kitchen together then head straight upstairs.
So, about a year ago my husband and I decided we had gotten into a bit of a rut for our evenings. And, ironically, because our children are all still quite young, we usually have the whole evening (8:30 and later) for just the two of us. So after some discussion, we decided to appoint days certain themes. With Monday as family home evening and Friday as movie night, our middle days became the following:
Tuesday became culture night. Something as simple as reading a library art book together, watching a YouTube video about an interesting concept (Japanese heart-shaped watermelons, anyone?), or trying out a new skill together (one night we attempted canning a disastrous green pepper jelly that will surely never get eaten). This night has been really a fun one.
Wednesday became intimacy night. The idea was to be proactive in dedicating the entire evening to some fun and flirty romance. Costumes or showering together or whatever. It’s an adults-only party. Scheduling is also especially helpful when one partner needs to be more emotionally prepared for sex.
Thursday is companionship inventory. This concept, adopted from that of missionaries serving for the church of LDS (and explained and recommended by Celeste here), is to check in with how you, as a partner in a relationship are doing. We both start of by giving positive feedback to each other. And then we ask what is one thing that we could be working on to do better for the next week. It can be a little painful sometimes. But we try and accompany with lots of love and/or ice cream. Somewhere in there we’re supposed to take budget inventory as well. Yeah…
In full disclosure, I have to confess that we don’t stick to this schedule rigidly anymore. But we do reference it from time to time as we try and pick up the slack on our lame evenings.
Excellent options right there- thanks panel!! For some closing advice, I’d like to echo Kate- maybe just try to watch one episode instead of three and only after chatting together. Rich and I have been trying to chat for at least 10 minutes every night (post on specific questions to ask each other each day coming later this month) and it’s been so helpful to make that a priority. Particularly for me since quality time is my love language. It fills me up.
As always, if you have any tips or tidbits to share- add them in the comments!
And if you have a marriage question you’d like to ask our panel, fill out the form below (email and real name not required).[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]