A few years ago, a woman in my discipleship group at church pulled me aside after our time together and shared some wisdom I’ll never forget.

She had two teenagers and was on the brink of a divorce. Her family was falling apart and she blamed the dissolved relationship on her own choices. In our group time I told how my husband and I were getting away for the weekend to focus on our marriage, but I was nervous about leaving the kids behind. She encouraged me not to worry about it.

“Samantha, get away with him. Don’t put the kids’ schedules first,” she said. “I did that all our marriage with sports and all they had going on. I kept myself busy at the cost of my marriage. I wish we’d taken time for each other, but we didn’t. I eventually had an affair. I regret all of it.”

My eyes grew wide thinking about my kids still in diapers. Tears welled up in her eyes as she brushed her strawberry blonde hair away from her face.

I could sense the ache and pain in her heart. I prayed for her, that God would restore their family.

What’s really at stake

Years have passed since that evening, and I still ponder her words. I’ve felt the pressure and pull of life—with four kids under age 9—upon my marriage to Jeremiah. Some days you could call it the family circus. The noise and commotion are so loud I can’t hear myself talk, and my mind is never focused on one thing. Some days are so exhausting and overwhelming that I want to quit.

It’s crazy how my husband and I can go days with only talking “business”—who’s going where, who’s doing what at what time, who’s picking up who, what’s in the bank account, who paid what bill and when.

I’ve seen how easy it is to be distracted from what’s most important. We need to understand what is really at stake when we’re running full speed ahead, making no time for the person we love most and to whom we have pledged our life.

We don’t have to live in a constant state of not-together-ness with our spouse. Instead, we can choose oneness, unity, and satisfaction. It all begins with our choices. Here are four ways to begin loving your spouse above your schedule:

1. Find a time to connect each day with your spouse.

Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening, designate undivided time with your spouse. Unplug from distractions and be fully engaged. Ask questions like: How are you doing? What can I do to serve you more? What was your greatest encouragement/discouragement from today?

Connecting with your spouse requires intentionality in the midst of life’s demands. It won’t magically happen—you have to carve out the time. In our marriage, our best connecting is when the kids are in bed and the house is quiet in the evening. Whatever time is best for you, protect and guard it like your precious newborn baby.

2. Say “no” often.

There are a lot of good things in our lives to commit to, but not all are the best things. Practicing the art of saying no could be one of the best things for your relationship.

You may need to say no to the things you love like Facebook, ESPN, Netflix, late nights at work when the work can be done the next day, an unhealthy habit, or other distractions keeping you from intimacy. When you instead say yes to the best things, it gets easier to distinguish between good and best and eventually you won’t be satisfied with good.

Connect with your spouse on a soul-level. More Info.

3. Abandon annually.

I learned this phrase from one of my pastors who practiced what he preached with his wife. Find a time once a year to get away—just you and your spouse. It doesn’t have to break the bank, but get creative and make it fun.

Book the plane tickets, mark it on your calendar, and commit to it like it’s your wedding day. Arrange childcare in advance so it’s not a huge stressor the week before. Sometimes just getting away from the familiar does wonders in reconnecting and remembering why you really do love each other.

4. Pursue your passions together.

It’s not always easy to get excited about your spouse’s passions. I don’t understand my husband’s enthusiastic drive for camping in the wild, but I’m learning to appreciate our differences.

Seek ways to be involved simply because your spouse loves it. You may not prefer sleeping with him in a tent, but you could go with him to the Bass Pro store to shop for supplies and watch him try on his gear (you may have some good laughs, too). Watch a football game together, tackle a DIY project, explore in nature, read books and hang out at a coffee shop, and more. Allow your passions to bring you closer, not apart.

An overloaded, overwhelmed schedule will always cost you something in the end. Don’t let it be your marriage. None of us are beyond temptation. Evaluate where you need to make changes and adjustments.

Remember, we all have to make U-turns along the way, and we all go through challenging seasons. Your spouse will appreciate that you made time to do all that you could to make your marriage thrive as you ultimately lean on God’s grace and strength, side by side on your journey.

Copyright © 2017 by Samantha Krieger. Used with permission.