Closing Relationship Gaps - 8 Practical Tips
Gaps are cute in a kid's smile, but when you've moved past the playground stage of life, tooth-sized space indicate serious dental issues. In a similar way, when relationship are young you can expect to have gaps in what you know about each other. Understanding comes naturally as you invest time in a relationship. However, in a mature relationship, gaps are usually not a sign of a lack of knowledge, but more fundamental problems. Finding those gaps means digging through disagreements, tensions, disengagements, or fatigue that cause the problems.
The word picture I used last week compared these gaps to a fraying rug. If you're interested in keeping your relationship healthy, you have to see the signs of growing distance in a relationship and close these "gaps" as soon as possible.
However if, as the proverb says, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," then what practical ways keep holes from starting?
I kicked the idea around with Billy, and we came up with our favorite eight:
1. Keep dating each other
The only consistent "hobby" Billy and I have together is eating out. This isn't simply because we like great food, which we do, but a consistent date night is how we make sure that we connect and spend time together. We make this a priority in our budget and on our calendar, and it's worth every effort and dime.
2. Sit in a circle
We aren't designed to do life by ourselves; we are built for community.
For the past 15 years, we have been in a small group with other couples from our church. We are in these groups so we can intentionally invest in our marriage, our friends, and our relationship with God. I can't overstate how incredible it is to work through the stages of life with a small group of people who know us well.
3. Fight the urge to divide and conquer
When it comes to getting tasks done around the house, I LOVE efficiency which means maximizing manpower...which often means dividing and conquering different tasks. However, Billy consistently sells me on the value of tackling errands and projects together. There's something in me that bristles at the idea of both of us going shopping (fyi, I HATE shopping) when one of us could be reading a book (me) or taking a nap (him). If the backyard needs attention, why should we both be outside?
The answer isn't complex; we do it to be together.
After years of fighting the together approach in the name of "efficiency," I now see its value. If we're doing things together, there's greater opportunity to connect and little room for a job to become a burden for the other person. Plus, in this side-by-side time, we share thoughts, laughs, and sweat together. Ending up next to one another is never a bad thing...especially when it kills the gaps. This idea also ensures that we spend our precious weekend time together.
4. Do the most tedious chores together
Similar to #3, this tip applies to the routine tasks around the house. For us, the most consistent example of a chore we do together is unloading the dishwasher. Whenever one of us starts to pull out the dishes, the other person drops whatever they're doing and helps. The same thing happens when it comes to making our bed, folding laundry, or getting the kids ready for the bus in the morning. We approach the task side by side and knock it out. This isn't a "fun" approach because NONE of these tasks are appealing or particularly enjoyable, but it's how we roll; shoulder to shoulder - no gaps.
5. Ask good questions
Imagine judging the status of your relationship simply on the quality of the questions you ask your spouse. How would you grade yourself?
Did you ask about that meeting/trip/conversation with work? Do you have any idea what's keeping your husband awake at night? How was your wife's presentation at the office? Are you interested in asking? Are you interested in sharing?
Remember, your spouse is much more interesting if you are INTERESTED. Ask great questions...and be sure to build in specific time each day to ask them.
6. Ask tough questions
A couple of times a year Billy and I schedule an "Awkward Date Night" which is all about asking tough questions. In the dating world, these would qualify as "DTR" chats (Define The Relationship). However, it's also helpful in a marriage to have periodic check-ins to see if any gaps have developed.
Some of our questions might be:
If you could change one thing about me, what would it be? Have I done anything to hurt you recently? What is one thing that I do that annoys you that are reluctant to tell me? How can I help you with _____ (home, work, friends)? Is there anything that you're nervous to talk about?
Be sure to pick a time and place where you can really dig into a couple of questions. Of course, you need to observe the 10-to-10 rule! Remember, when your spouse answers these questions, accept their words and keep your guard down. You've asked for this feedback, right? In fact, the next tip will help...
7. Listen before you speak
If you're at all like I am, walking into every conversation with an agenda is tempting. However, your spouse isn't a client who needs to be won over, coerced, or manipulated into seeing your perspective. They are in the relationship for the long haul, so let them speak!
In fact, if you want to keep a big gap from forming, let them speak first and be quick to listen. Watch and see what happens!
8. Keep a short account
Finally, one of the best ways to prevent gaps from forming is to keep a short account. Don't keep a running list of ways you've been slighted or ignored.
Scoreboards are for little league.
If you are starting to dwell on something negative between you and your spouse, find a time to address it when you're calm and open to listening. Remember, people don't really change, but they do grow. The goal is to grow one another. You wouldn't want your spouse to hold a silent grudge against you, so resist the temptation to nurture a grudge against them.
Work it out.
There are plenty of additional ways to close gaps. I'd love to hear your approach.