Sharing the Load

husband and wife hanging a plant together

"It takes two flints to make a fire.”—Louisa May Alcott

We often hear about marriage being an exercise in teamwork—but what does that mean, exactly? One of the keys to this question lies in how the responsibilities are shared. Who cooks the meals? Who balances the checkbook? Who cleans the bathrooms? Who gets the kids ready for bed? Are these activities strictly assigned to one partner, or are they shared depending on circumstances, stage of life, and so on?

Couples with thriving relationships have learned to pay little attention to shifting cultural “norms” or to the expectations of family members and friends. Instead, they make it their goal to function as a team, because the most important thing is how they work together, not what other people think.

To maximize this way of thinking, husbands and wives need to talk openly about their expectations and personal preferences. If they can be flexible in order to work out a division of labor that places more emphasis on giftedness rather than gender, they’ll likely experience a greater degree of peace and harmony.

Date Night

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Playing to your strengths.

Find a fun activity that you’re both “good” at that you enjoy doing together. Maybe it’s playing tennis or miniature golf. Maybe it’s photography or painting. Maybe it’s something as simple as playing Mario Kart on your game system at home. Instead of treating that activity as a competition between the two of you, treat it as a team activity. For example, if you’re playing mini golf, add up the “par” score for each hole, double it, and then see if, by working together, you can come in under that number by the end of the game.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

  • What was your favorite part of the evening?
  • What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
  • Talk about your spousal “roles” and responsibilities. Do you feel like these roles play to your individual strengths in marriage? Are some of these roles based on your families of origin, the expectations of others, or cultural baggage rather than on your unique gifts and God’s leading? Are there some areas where you might try reversing those roles for the sake of your spouse? Does one of you currently take primary responsibility for an activity that might be shared with the other? Remember, this isn’t a time to vent and complain about things that aren’t working as well as you might like. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight each of your gifts and talents and explore how those God-given abilities might be used even more effectively to both bless your spouse and help strengthen your marriage.
  • What are some other ways we can work as a team and share responsibilities in the days and weeks ahead?

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can work as a team—remember that teams win together, not as individuals. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

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Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.

© 2012 Focus on the Family.

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