If you think you're the only woman who has ever let burnout take a toll on her marriage, I'm here to tell you this: There's no way that's the case. The decline in marital happiness can creep up on you so slowly that you almost don’t see it...until you do.
It begins when you start to focus more on your kids than your spouse. You start to forget to say goodbye in the morning when you leave the house, or hello when you return at the end of the day—though you’ve always got a hug and a kiss for the children. Your arguments become focused entirely on the kids—either your husband isn’t doing enough in caring for them or what he tries is always wrong.
And then there's the fact that you haven’t had sex in weeks (OK, months) because you don’t have time or the desire for sex. You are exhausted, and this exhaustion is one that comes from trying to be the best, to be perfect, to be "super mom" in a world that demands it. The exhaustion leaks into almost every aspect of your marriage to the point where emotional and sexual intimacy is something of the past.
When I see couples in my private practice, all types of parents report this. They say that they are also tired and feel unappreciated and often criticized. The men will usually tell their stories this way; "I used to try all the time, but nothing seemed to make her happy, so I started giving up. The only thing she seems to care about is the kids, so I figure this is our new normal."
It is no secret that both men and women are experiencing stress at very high rates, with women reporting slightly higher levels of stress than men. Consistently over time, we see gender differences in not only what stresses us out but what helps relieve that stress. Here is a quick reference guide to stress management techniques that work for women and men.
Women do well when they move. This means brisk, regular activity that you find joyful. This can be a walk in the park, a dance class, or kickboxing. Whatever it is, it should make you smile, not fill you with dread. What is most important is that you do it consistently, because just 20 minutes a day has real stress-relieving health benefits.
Reach out to a friend.
What women tend to do in their marriages is rely on their husbands to be their best (girl) friend. And while certainly he may be your best friend, he isn’t your best female friend. His attention span may be shorter, his empathy lower, and his tendency to want to solve your every perceived problem annoys you. So be sure you lean on your female friends for the emotional support that only your best friend can give you.
Nourish yourself with healthy foods.
You know you don’t feel great when you're picking off your kids' plates or eating the leftovers from breakfast or lunch. When you are stressed out, you tend to eat on the go, which only makes you feel physically and emotionally sluggish. So when you are feeling too tense, take that extra minute to eat a whole meal or grab something nutritious for your busy day. Your ability to handle stress when well-fed and hydrated is far better, just like your kids do better when they are well-fed and hydrated.
Do something productive.
While women like to talk things out, men generally like to do something productive while under stress. Men, consider this your permission slip to take on a project, work out, or fix a few things around the house. This is a great way to channel stress energy.
Focus on your friendships.
Men have fewer friends in married adulthood than their wives, and they are getting increasingly lonelier. Men let friendships go when they partner, reporting feeling "fulfilled enough" by their wives. However, just as a husband can't fill the same void as a female friend, you aren’t his buddy either. Men need friendships outside their marriage.
Get enough sleep.
Studies suggest that men experience less deep, slow waves of sleep than women do and that they generally function worse than women when sleep-deprived. In order to deal with the multiple stresses of the day, men need to protect those valuable hours, even minutes of sleep. Men tend to go to bed later and function by day on coffee, which sets up a smaller reserve of patience and less fuel for creative problem solving when confronted with stress.
Last but not least, together as a couple, you have to find ways to focus on your marriage in order to preserve it. Make sure your bedroom is a sacred space, which means no eating meals there, no working there, no having the whole family sleeping there. Set time aside to speak every day, alone. And talk about something besides the children. Ask each other questions about your feelings, thoughts about your work, or simply how your day went.
Get back to showing basic affection; don’t multitask for just a few minutes while together. Make date nights a regular occurrence as much as you can, and make that time about the two of you. Find something you used to love doing together, even if it is something simple, and go do it again—alone, without your kids. To push the burnout away, you have to reestablish yourselves as a unit, not just in service of the children but as two adults who came together because you loved each other and enjoyed being together enough to create a family.
Want more ideas for preventing burnout? Here are five easy ways to do it—and get inspired along the way.
And are you and your partner looking to get healthier, together? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.