I have to travel abroad a lot with my work and my wife runs everything for the family when I am away. When I return, I am tired but have lots of romantic fantasies about seeing her again, most of which go unfulfilled. I sometimes feel like I am an intrusion on the way they are all working together as a family and that if I get involved it undermines my wife. I want to sweep her off her feet when I get home, but instead she is busy ferrying the kids around and tired out from running things single-handed. We hardly ever end up getting any quality time together, let alone time for romance. I increasingly feel like she resents my presence when I am there and we seem to snap at each other more and more. Can you help?
These are difficult dynamics to navigate as every family is a living system with a pecking order. They get into a pattern while you are away that takes time to shift once you are back.
I assume you have talked through with your wife how you find it when you get home and have drawn out from her how it makes her feel? You will both need to extend empathy to the other and in practice show some patience and self-control as you rebuild your intimacy. It would be good to plan the first few hours of homecoming so that at least you have matched expectations. Sometimes this will involve you putting up with no red carpet treatment; maybe other times she could arrange some child care and meet you at the airport, going out for a meal together on your way home so that you can get some exclusive catch-up time before getting immersed back into the mayhem of home.
I would also encourage you to think through an ongoing rhythm of getting quality marriage time that will give you a full tank to draw on when times are more love-sparse. I think every couple should have a weekly plan for focused time together. We book one evening a week and agree that if something else comes up that night, we can swap onto another evening but we cannot cancel if there are no other free spaces. The idea is to put effort into making it romantic. When the kids were younger we made sure they were in bed and, as they grew older, trained them that short of the house burning down we did not want to be interrupted. If one of us was really tired after their day, they would try and finish work early so as to get a rest before our date night. We both got ready for the evening, showering and dressing nicely as we would if we were going out for a date. Just because we see each other at our worst, it doesn’t mean we should be lazy in giving each other our best.
When you’re proposing the idea of date night, make sure it doesn’t come across as pressure for sex but rather as a time to spoil and be spoiled. I’m sure your wife does want to be swept off her feet, it’s just about timing. Many of us find it very difficult to relax and be romantic when there’s a huge list of jobs to get through, so start by doing some of those and then go in with the romance. A recent survey showed marriages that have sex most frequently are the ones where the husband does more domestic chores.
I would also recommend every relationship thinks through a termly and annual rhythm of bigger hits: this might involve things like a romantic weekend away or a special concert. Draft in the grandparents or pay someone to babysit, save up your Nectar points, house swap with some friends in a different town if you can’t afford a hotel…whatever it takes, just don’t accept that your marriage has to exist for 20 years without much investment. Proverbs 13:12 resonates with wisdom in regard to our heart’s longings for romance, as much as any other area, when it says: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’ In the demands of real life, let’s work through with our partners how we can practically respond to each other’s longings and hopes so that our love can be all we first vowed it would be.