10 Ways We Make Time for Our Marriage (Amidst the Chaos of Large Family Life)

It can be difficult for parents in any season of life— with a newborn, with two or three little ones, with the time commitments of little league, with teens, or (as in our case) with a large family that bridges many of these “seasons”– to prioritize marriage amidst all the “busyness.”

10 Ways We Make Time for Our Marriage (amidst the chaos of large family life) // jessconnell.com

Here are 10 ways Doug and I purposefully work to make time for each other, in the midst of raising a large family:

  1. Kids have a bedtime. Yes, even the 12-year-old. Except for church functions, our littles (8 & under) are in bed by 8:30 every night. Our 10- and 12- year old sometimes go to bed with the littles, and occasionally stay up until 9 or 10 (total: 2-3 times/week). Data bears out that very few kids get adequate sleep, and we believe bedtimes (even for older kids) are a good thing. This gives us time to zone out quietly, side-by-side… talk together… watch a movie or TV show occasionally… and make love regularly. We’ve often shared that, even though we lived overseas for 5+ years without regular baby-sitters or relatives at the ready to relieve us, we kind of have a built-in “mini-date-night” every night in the quiet hours that happen after 8/9pm.
  2. *Our* conversation is the main event at dinner. Kids can talk, visit, interact with us, giggle together, etc., but Doug & I’s conversation is the main thing during dinner. So if two of kids are talking quietly to one another, that’s fine. But if they get loud, interrupt, or make it so that he & I can’t visit, they have to sit silently. This can be difficult, and obviously, sometimes training the toddler not to throw food from the highchair takes the stage for a week or so. And sometimes the kids’ funny stories, a Bible passage, “what we did today,” or “what I learned recently” is what we all are talking about together. But over the long haul, he and I are the hub of the wheel that keeps this family spinning… so our conversations take priority.
  3. He gets the best. The best cut of meat. The best portion of dinner. The best smiles. The best of my attention (above Facebook, above our children, above my friends). The best of me. Obviously, this is difficult in certain seasons (postpartum life, anyone?), but I still strive to give him the best.
  4. We talk. LOTS. While I stir the pasta and chop onions before dinner. While we get dressed before he heads out the door. As we go to bed. When we wake up together. Over meals. In between meetings.
  5. We text. I send encouraging texts, sex-implying texts, thankful texts, just-filling-in-about-my-day texts. This is a simple way we can stay connected through the day.
  6. We make sex a major priorityA long time ago, I made the commitment to “just say yes,” anytime he asks or implies, even when I’m tired. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. And I pursue him sometimes too. I only get one crack at this life, and I don’t want to look back with regret that we didn’t mutually enjoy this amazing part of married life God has given us.
  7. We aren’t the only ones doing chores. Our kids pitch in and do their part… dishes, laundry, cleaning tasks. These don’t only fall on Doug & I’s shoulders. About keeping the house clean as the mom of a large family, I heard it put this way: “I couldn’t do it without them, but without them, I wouldn’t need to.” In our family, we all work together and get things done, and then we all get to enjoy the good things too. But because our kids aren’t sitting around while we’re bogged down by non-stop cooking, cleaning, and chores, we have more time for one another.
  8. We sit close, and touch each other, whenever we can. If we pass each other in the kitchen, we’ll reach out and touch hands. If we’re sitting quietly in the evenings, we’ll scoot to where our legs can touch. God has given us a one-flesh relationship, and though not commanded or “necessary,” we’ve found that doing these little things keeps the physical connection solid between us. We don’t want disconnectedness to feel normal.
  9. More often than not, we purposefully stop what we’re doing to say an affectionate goodbye/hello. Yes, this happens at least twice a day, and we don’t do it religiously, but generally, we kiss, smile, and look each other in the eyes before we leave and when we arrive home.
  10. Whenever possible, we do things together. Gotta make a Costco run on his day off? We do it together. Not because either of us particularly enjoy Costco runs, but because we enjoy being together. If he needs to make a hospital visit to someone in the church, we drive the 45-minute drive to Portland and back together. Most of the time, children can’t go into hospital rooms in serious situations that call for a visit, so I find ways to “kill time” with them. This isn’t because Portland parks are so endearing (although we’ve found some we enjoy), but because Doug is the love of my life, and we want to spend time together whenever we can. The drive down and back gives us a chance to talk, laugh, and catch up about life together.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but meant to give you a flavor of the sort of marriage we work to develop and maintain.

Life is busy.

But marriage a gift.

And we want to make the most of it. So we continually work at it, together.

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  • What do you do to stay connected with your husband or wife?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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29 Responses

  1. Stephanie says:

    We’ve found that playing games in the evening is a great way to spend the time after the kids go to bed. If we watch TV I usually fall asleep and we don’t interact much so for us playing games gives us a chance to spend time together. We also put kids to bed at 8 pm to allow us time together.

  2. Laura says:

    How do you get your kids to stay in their beds? Mine are continuously coming out until 10:00 some (a lot of) nights. So the time between 8:30 (when they go to bed) and 10:00 (when they finally fall asleep) is spent herding them back to bed, getting them drinks, laying down with them, etc.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Laura,
      Do whatever you do for any other disobedience. If they normally would lose a privilege, then do that. “If you come out, you will not be able to ______ tomorrow.” And then remind them… “if you come out, what will happen?” (they should say the consequence) “What about if it’s for water?” (they should repeat the consequence) “What about if it’s to go potty?” (they should repeat the consequence) etc.

      Or if you spank, or if you have them lose a toy, or whatever… whatever you do for normal disobedience, you should do here. This is teaching your children that you mean what you say. Right now, (and I don’t mean this harshly; it’s just the truth) you have trained them that you don’t mean for them to stay in bed. You say “go to bed” and they think that means, “go get in bed until you think of something that mom and dad will let you get away with getting up for.”

      You need to retrain them, and yourselves, by saying what you mean and then seeing to it that they obey. :)

      Hope this helps.

      • Jess Connell says:

        By the way, probably once every 2-3 weeks or month or so, our 4 year old still tests us on this. He gets his normal consequence, and he stays in bed.

        I’m not saying we don’t ever have this come up… quite the opposite; it’s something we’re perpetually training them to do, and about the time we get one trained, the next one is just about ready to move to a big-boy bed and it’s time to start the training all over again. This is an ongoing training process, but it makes for peace and quiet and restful times together as a couple in the evenings.

      • Laura says:

        It helps. I guess I already knew this… It’s just that by the end of the day I’m beyond done and do not feel like enforcing any more discipline. Then there’s my husband who is a complete softy and all, ‘well my dad always slept with me and told me stories’ so that’s what he wants to do with our kids… Oh well there’s always something to think about and work on, isn’t there?

  3. Erin says:

    All great ideas Jess! I don’t have any to add as what you have listed is what we do as well! I will say one thing. I do have grandparents close and my husband and I get a date night at least once a month. However, it is the time we spend together cuddling on the couch, talking or watching a favorite show (Downton anyone?), that really keeps us connected and in love. Date nights are usually just for a nice dinner out where we only have to pay for two people instead of six! 😉

    • Jess Connell says:

      Great, Erin! Thanks! We’ve only lived close to my parents for a few years here or there, and lived abroad for about 5 years.

      Plus we haven’t always had the money for dates. :)

      So for us, date nights have been a much-desired but irregularly-carried-out part of our married life. But for those who can work it, definitely that’s a great way to stay connected and make togetherness a priority.

  4. Jenn says:

    I need to put more of these into practice! Definitely struggling to make my husband a priority with 2 littles and a rough pregnancy.

    One practical question: how do you train you toddlers to be quiet. Our almost 3 year old NEVER STOPS TALKING. What are some proactive ways that we can teach her (and her 1 year old sister) that there are times to be quiet and that she needs to not interrupt when others are having a conversation?

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s a work in progress, Jenn. Especially when she’s the first one… that “first” child often feels more like he/she belongs with mom and dad rather than with the kids. So over time, work with her.

      “Right now, daddy is talking. Did you hear him talking?” (yes) “That means you don’t interrupt or start talking. Mommy wants to listen to him. Yes ma’am?” (yes ma’am)

      (Or whatever mom-affirming comment you use… “ok, mom”… “yes, mom”… etc)

      Sometimes with particularly talkative kids, I’ve put my finger up gently to their mouth to remind them to be quiet and not start talking while mommy/daddy are talking.

      This isn’t rude, and you shouldn’t see it or feel it as rude. It’s teaching your child manners, that they need to listen, not interrupt, that they ear not the center of the world, that other people who are already talking do not mean to have their conversation interrupted by a little person, etc. These are all good lessons for ANY human being.

      And then… keep going. All of these things are ongoing training opportunities. It is not going to be one-and-done. This is not something you’ll teach once and then they’ll “get it” and have it down. We still have to remind our 10 & 12 year olds from time to time. Our 6 (nearly 7 year old) needs to be reminded often. Our 4 year old is almost constantly being reminded.

      So this is not a “yay, we taught them once and now we’re done teaching this” sort of lesson. This is an ongoing life lesson of thinking of others, noticing that they are already in conversation, choosing to be patient and wait for others to be done before plunging ahead with your ideas, etc. Hope this helps!

      (And give yourself grace; you are in a hard season, Jenn– 2 littles + pregnancy… it’s a LOT. Keep pressing on and do not grow weary in well doing — Galatians 6:9.)

  5. Kondwani says:

    We do put the children to bed early (ours are younger, so more like 18:30!).

    I find #2 interesting. We struggle to have any kind of conversation when the children are around, and I have felt very selfish for even trying. But you are right – and they do need to learn to eat more quietly (and also that will make them faster because sometimes meals take just too long). It is helpful to realise this is not a selfish goal. Often we are not together at mealtimes, but the few times that we are, it would be so wonderful to be able to talk!

    We work together a lot. In one way, this is great as I can be a ‘helpmeet’ in different ways – proofreading assignments, discussing difficult cases, brainstorming on research ideas, designing projects, planning interactive teaching methods etc. I like that even with a heavy workload we can be working together in many ways (we even did a job-share once in a mission hospital, where basically one of us would be in the clinic and the other of us at home, which was only 50 yards away, so we could switch whenever the other person’s expertise was needed). Overall, I do see this as a plus

    HOWEVER – between our slightly unusual work patterns, and home educating the children – we need to take care to make sure we don’t just talk about these things, but actually spend time just enjoying one another’s company.

    My favourite (I think the family favourite!) is to go hiking. If ever we are both not working, the boys immediately ask if we are going hiking. Now they are a bit older (5, 5 and nearly 3) they sometimes run a bit ahead and we can talk to one another. That is probably the best way we get quality time, and the children enjoy the day tremendously too.

    You inspire me Jess. (Almost) seven children, and full of practical and godly solutions for real life challenges. God bless.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the tips, Jess. My husband generally goes to work about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We talk while I am preparing food to eat and food for him to take with him. The kids (two are grown with a couple teenagers and a 10 year old still at home)have been taught that when Dad and I are talking across the room or at the table, they are to defer to our conversation. Sometimes, we all visit about our day, etc. My kids are very loud and talkative by nature, but it’s so important to teach them to honor their parents in this way.
    I also love the giving your love the biggest and best piece for meat, etc. I do, too. I want to give my husband my best. It makes for a more joyful family!

  7. Evie says:

    Good ideas. I want to add that at times my husband & I will work together on a project, or I will ask his advice about something he knows more about and that gets us talking. Or maybe it’s not even advice I really need but just “what would you have done in this situation?” .. like a different perspective. My husband isn’t a big talker so sometimes I have to ask probing questions like that to pick his brain. Maybe a TMI, but we shower together at times — it’s actually really good for conversation!! There isn’t a TV or kids or anything to distract. Doesn’t -have- to be a sexual thing (although my husband thinks it is, 100% of the time, lol) Also when I’m out grocery shopping I like to pick out a small treat for him, just something like his favorite candy bar.

    But today reading this is a gut-punch for me, not just a refresher — because I wouldn’t even say my husband & I are simply “disconencted” lately.. we are living like roommates. Roommates where one of them (me) is irritable all the time!! Ive noticed this happening post-partum after both of our babies. Like a really bad slump in our relationship. Usually for as long as I am being woken up at night by the baby and am breastfeeding. (Breastfeeding makes me feel “touched out” by the end of the day, even though I’m a big proponent!). I am not sure if it’s something about the hormones that puts my desire for closeness into the negative range.

    I get into a mood where I want to be the “mommy martyr” (as in — I want you to know just how rough I have it during the day w/ the kids), and to my shame I intentionally am cold or distant to make a point. I don’t even know what the point is! We go days without touching or connecting hardly at all, even though my patient husband kisses his frazzled, exhuasted wife goodbye every morning. I just don’t know how to snap myself out of these moods where I just want to be alone and stew. Most of it is exhaustion (emotionally & physically at the end of the day), but I know it’s sinful. I’m only running on 4-5 hours of sleep per night and then trying to train & discipline a toddler and care for a fussy baby. I’ve started yelling more and then it just has gone downhill from there, so not a joy-filled home currently! Between the toddler waking on occasion and the baby waking 2-3x per night and up at 5:30 am, I think this adds to my generally-cranky disposition. I think this is the point where you would recommend Baby Wise. :) I read your post about how important SLEEP Is, and how symptoms of depression can actually be from sleep-deprivation (I totally believe it). I just dread having more children knowing how our marriage & my mood really tanks during those post-partum months….! I really need to swallow my pride & initiate some of these suggestions even when I’m tired. Because I know I can’t wait until I “feel like it” to get our relationship back on track! I would love our children to grow up seeing a connected mommy & daddy.

    • Evie says:

      Just re-read what I wrote.. “I’m exhausted!” says the mom of 2 kids to the mom of 6 going on 7 😉

      • Jess Connell says:

        Interestingly, though, Evie… I think that is a harder stage than the one I’m in. I’m tired, yes. I’m older, yes. Perhaps I’ve even got more on my plate in some ways, but I’ve also got built-in-helpers. I’ve got experience that helps things not feel so stressful.

        Don’t discount the difficulty of the little years. I think there’s a reason Isaiah 40:11 singles out “those who are with young” as special recipients of the shepherd’s gentleness. There really IS a unique difficulty that comes with ALL your kids being little (which I define as 6 & under).

        Hang in there and do not grow weary!

      • Steph says:

        Hi Evie, I’m a mom of 7 as well (ages 12 and under), and I agree that it was with my 3 eldest especially that I was so stressed. With only a couple years of mommy experience, and no one to Really help. Try to give yourself some grace in that aspect, while not giving yourself permission to sin on the other hand.
        I have most definitely struggled in many of the same ways you have, and could almost have written what you wrote! Postpartum was my most difficult wife and mommy time. Some things that have helped me progress in this area are 1. realizing there is something wrong and that my reaction (in certain cases) was sin; 2. making the effort of stopping myself from continuing – even to the point of saying out loud, “He loves you! Remember just today when he did…for you!?! Stop this right now!”; 3. confess sin to the Lord and pray for specific help in that specific area; 4. confess your struggle with your husband so he can see a little of what’s going on inside of you- you’ll feel like you’re “on the same team” again. I find when I say the words of my struggle out loud, it motivates me more to do something about it.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thank you for sharing with such vulnerable honesty, Evie! God is so good to open our eyes to areas where we are slacking and help us take steps to obey. Remember, too, that you ARE in a stressful season. He doesn’t expect you to behave perfectly, but He does call us to progressive sanctification– that over time, you are choosing obedience more & looking more and more like Christ as the months and years progress.

      Hang in there! I see evidence of God’s grace in the things you’re expressing.

    • Michelle says:

      I have three littles (5, 3, and 9 months) and recently was really struggling with this, just feeling “touched out” and “needed” all day long and when they went to bed all I wanted was for someone to NOT NEED ME. Especially my husband. I wanted time ALONE. When I didn’t have time to do my homework (I’m studying another language overseas) I talked to my teacher about it and she said to me, “Michelle, when I was married I would have given anything for my husband to want to spend time with me. Ditch the homework and spend time with your husband!” It just made me think about how blessed I am to have a husband who WANTS to spend time with me, because there are SO MANY women in the world who don’t. So I’ve tried to change my attitude to one of gratefulness that I have a husband who desires to spend his down time with me instead of annoyance that I can’t be alone. What a blessing!

      And when I do spend time with him 4-5 nights a week relaxing (watching a show, playing a game, or, ahem, other things), he’s much more cool with me just saying, “I need some time alone, I want to read a book, I have things I need to do, etc.” than if I never do.

      And be encouraged, it does get easier. I “only” have three littles but am much less stressed and tired with three than I was with a 2-year old and a baby, or a preschooler and a toddler. It gets easier. Hang in there. =)

  8. Steph says:

    Great article – thanks for sharing!!

  9. Jennifer S. says:

    This is so well said. My husband and I do most of these things. Now that are two oldest are 14 and 16 it is easy for us to go out for a date, but even before that happened we always made time together a priority. The children know that night time after they go to bed is for Dad and Mom. The little ones are to go to sleep, and the older ones need to be quiet. Our relationship is so important. Our children will only be in our home for a short time, but we will have each other for the rest of our lives.

  10. Jamie Butts says:

    Hi Jess!
    Love this – love the “he gets the best” and the dinner ideas, too. Good tips in comment section too! I have a random question I should have put on the survey… maybe you could address this in the future or send me a link or your thoughts if you have already jotted them out. I do try not to talk on the phone too much when kids are around, but even with discipline, I feel my boys don’t seem to notice/care/obey very well when I am needed to be on the phone. How do you do this, even with the very littlest ones. I know some ideas are do some practice times, act it out, discipline more, be on the phone less, throw a little video in if super important … any other ideas?!

    • Jamie Butts says:

      P.S. Think calling to talk to a nurse at the doctor’s office, returning a quick call from my dad, chatting through a ministry situation with a friend, taking a call from someone who is having a horrible day and needing some quick counsel or prayer, etc.
      P.P.S. Along these lines, do you have any personal rules with homeschool/limiting your phone time… like do you “never talk on the phone” every morning until after lunch, or something like that?

      • Jess Connell says:

        Jamie, I’m just now going back and answering some of these questions asked in that so-soon-after-delivery time (when I’d pre-scheduled posts but didn’t have time to interact in the comments section)…

        No I don’t have any hard and fast rules about phone time other than that I basically don’t talk on the phone much at all. I call for quick information-only calls with one friend (what time is that thing? Have you seen the email about…? etc.), and occasional quick convos with Doug. When I’m in the car (and thus, all the kids are strapped in and I have a few spare minutes where I know I won’t be interrupted/distracted), I’ll sometimes call my mom or a friend to chat for a few free minutes. Aside from that, I’m just honestly not on the phone much at all.

        When I do HAVE to be on the phone (or when we’re in the car and I’m on the phone) I am VERY fierce about their obedience and quietness. It seems that this is one of those things (like obeying even when you’re not in the room with them) that carries over from other training, and from them knowing that you mean business. Like anything else, giving CLEAR instructions before you do it (and having them repeat it back) and then, if they’re still having trouble, correction and practice @ home can help.

        Sorry I’m only now responding.

        • Jamie Butts says:

          Thanks, Jess! Just saw this answer as I’m cleaning up my e-mail. It’s not anything new, but I really, really needed to hear it. Less phone talk, mean what I say when it is necessary… great wisdom! Muchas!

  11. shannon bradbury says:

    Love these ideas..especially # 2 @ training our kids not to interrupt..very important in life lesson. My husband is home more in this season..buts it’s so important we still stay connected.

  12. Erin Faith says:

    Thanks for this, we just got married so we just have each other just now, but it’s good to put in habits now to keep our relationship priority.

  13. Katie Hughes says:

    Jess, what about when my husband is glued to his phone/laptop/ research for work constantly? Even when we eat meals together his smartphone is nearby in case any notifications pop up. He keeps music/talk shows playing in his headphones continually and actually does close to nothing around the house (with the exception of yard work- again with headphones ever present). He’s simply not available for lots of conversation, not present when I’m cooking, and except for when he wants sex, not at all attentive after our four young children (age 4 and under) are in bed at 7:30. It’s Avery lonely, disconnected marriage for me, and I’m not sure how I can affect it when he isn’t willing to be present in our daily life. Any suggestions?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Katie,
      Wow.
      Well, I certainly have some thoughts. I’ll put them together, hopefully, soon. But I wanted to write you back now, while it’s fresh, and say– thank you for sharing. Unfortunately I don’t think what you’re experiencing is rare in this current age of constant-screens, constant-distractedness. I’m going to talk with my husband and pray through it and put together an answer for you that I pray will be biblically faithful and personally helpful to you.

      Grace & Peace,
      Jess

      • Katie Hughes says:

        Thank you. He loves the Lord and our family, but honestly he was raised in a home with an unbelieving father whose gaze was constantly fixed on the television or computer (and still is when we visit). He sees it as inconsiderate in his own father but doesn’t recognize the same distractedness in our family. So I think, at least in his case, we’re not only dealing with his distractions, but also with his perception that mom assuming all child and household care is the norm while dad is buried in his 21st century “newspaper.” He works very hard to provide for us and I’m not angry or bitter toward him, but I see all he and our family are missing out on and I ache for what we could be experiencing together.

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