By RUSS AND RACHEL SCHULTE
QUESTION: I’m about to head back into the workforce after 10 years of marriage. How can my spouse and I stay connected through this transition?
We have been married for 23 years and recently underwent a similar change when Rachel went back to school to become a nurse. Our advice would be the importance of prioritizing time together. With the pull of a new job and all that it demands, new time restraints, and helping children (if there are any) adjust, there is a potential to prioritize these things and take for granted that the relationship needs a priority as well.
Internationally known marriage and couple researchers John and Julie Gottman would refer to this prioritizing of time together as rituals of connection. For us personally, we found that the rhythm of our relationship before Rachel entered the workforce was pretty well established with family mealtimes, weekends spent doing yard work together and evenings left open for conversation. Once those things were no longer available, we had to create a new rhythm.
For us, that new rhythm included a set date night, planning family mealtime together, and building in set times for conversation and connection that didn’t involve planning or discussing details. We recently planned a trip away to do something we both love: watching the Cardinals play baseball! Creating new rhythms can be hard and requires intentionality and purposeful planning.
Here are five rituals recommended by the Gottmans to create purposeful time together:
1. Eat meals together without screens.
2. Have a stress-reducing conversation.
3. Exercise together.
4. Share a six-second kiss.
5. Keep dating.
Additionally, there is a unique challenge for both individuals to recognize and be aware of for themselves and each other. For the one starting to work, there is the energy spent learning new things, a new environment, and new relationships. The other spouse has to adjust to suddenly having a void from their spouse’s absence, possibly adding more responsibility in the home and less time together.
With this comes the reality that there may be changes that bring about grief. Acknowledge that. Even if the change is for good, it can still bring about grief. Allow yourself the ability to feel the loss of what was, or whatever may be associated with the change. It will be important for you both to be able to talk about your feelings without accusing or blaming one another, getting defensive, or feeling guilty for maybe not being in the same place emotionally. This, alongside identifying and prioritizing time together, is key for continuing in a healthy relationship where both spouses feel heard, seen, and connected.
Russ and Rachel have been married 23 years. He is a native of St. Louis, and she of Yazoo City. They are the proud parents to four amazing daughters. Russ is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and co-owner of Watershed Counseling Associates. He received his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. Rachel recently fulfilled her desire to become a nurse and is currently working at UMMC in the Batson Children’s Hospital.