The other day, I was talking to a young colleague of mine – freshly minted with a marriage and a thriving clinical practice. Life was busy and good … and all laid out. A new house and kids were next on the agenda. “Yep, and then” I thought, “life gets nutso!!”
Listening to her was like listening to a former version of myself exactly 30 years ago, before our oldest son was born. Just like her, I was, and still probably am, “too big for my britches”. I have more passion then I know what to do with. If there is something that is important to me, then ‘I am all in’. She is that way too. So, as I listened to her, I knew, that when kids come, she will want to figure out how to be a great mom, have her thriving practice, and keep growing whatever passions emerge. And like me, probably have her hands in too many pots. She will also have high expectations for her husband. And like me, will be naive to all it takes to make a marriage really work. High expectations, a driven woman, raised in America where we do not get enough emotional, relational, sexual intelligence and coaching … and, you often become a bit of a driver, which means, he will know, in no uncertain terms, whether he is meeting her expectations or not.
I asked how she was doing making space for herself and George, and as soon as I asked the question, I heard an earful of everything but. Out of her mouth spilled all the details of all the things coming up for them this year. Details that I know for her, felt important. But details, that as someone on the other side of diapers, parenting, and many years of marriage, I knew did not matter more than her or her marriage. In fact, it was in those details I could see the future of their marriage. I could see where her marriage would be on the priority list when other key decisions would be made. As much as she will want it to, her marriage will likely struggle to rank above kids, career and extended family. She will struggle with what I call ‘the tyranny of the urgent’. The tyranny of the urgent is the inability to differentiate what is really important from all the everyday demands that are screaming at you all the time. When the tyranny of the urgent runs your life, your real priorities fall to the bottom. In a career and child focused culture like ours, a marriage has no voice. You only hear it scream when it is in trouble – thus it is always at the bottom of the tyranny list. She will be caught up in the tyranny of the urgent … but he likely won’t. The problem will be as they drift apart she won’t be the first one to feel it … even as I don’t think she can see it now … he will. He will begin to miss her.
Men often know intuitively when they are losing connection with their partners … they just often don’t know what that ache exactly is. They think it is sex they’re missing … but it is intimacy. They walk in at night weary, feeling burdened by the world, wanting nothing more than to be taken in by her healing arms. But her heart and arms are not “there” …
The cycle for women begins like this: Rather than notice her man’s weariness and desire for her, her head will be in all the details of what is not yet done on her list. She will think things are hard between them because life is crazy and he is not being helpful enough. This is how the Tyranny of the Urgent tricks women in particular. “Can’t he see how much I am doing?” However, he will be working very hard at his job too, and working at home, and at trying to make her happy. He will become exasperated and frustrated by her correction and stress level. She will likely have withdrawn affection because she is always busy and preoccupied. Sex will have become a transaction – something ‘on her list’. He won’t feel needed or wanted. In time, neither does she. Their connection will grow icy – as does their attachment. Pretty soon, they are on each other’s nerves all the time. If they let this go … their marriage will soon become fragile.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I am ragging on the female here. I was exactly like her. We raise women this way. To feel a particular kind of responsible for everyone and everything. We also tell her she can “do it all”. Which she then tries to do – because she thinks she should. We raise girls in a way that makes it difficult to slow down and really examine. To say ‘yes’ to pleasure – hers and her husbands – while also letting others down feels untenable. She is called selfish, irresponsible and so much more. It is often unthinkable and unfathomable … until you become an old crone with a wide horizon.
If I were to estimate, I’d say over 80% of the marriages I see have been tricked by the lies of the Tyranny of the Urgent. And as a result, they have ignored themselves and their marriages for years by the time they come in to see me or one of the people on my team. Sometimes it is an affair, or a sexual dysfunction, or constant fighting, or acting out kids that brings them in … but the bottom line is an ignored marriage and exhausted and burned out people. Their suffering is so palpable and the whole thing is so avoidable. It always makes me so sad.
The 30 day challenge – Take Your Marriage Back from the Tyranny of the Urgent
If putting ourselves and our marriages first could pretty much guarantee we could be healthier, our marriages could be stronger, and our kids could be happier, what would it take to give this a real effort for 30 days?
I challenged a client to do this last year. An exec who owned his own business. He was so stressed out and not spending much time with his family. His wife was complaining all the time, and he felt guilty for not spending time with his seven year old son. So I challenged him. I said for 30 days, I want you to put yourself and your marriage first. He was actually desperate enough to try it.
We put together a plan for what that meant in actionable steps. He decided to get up 30 minutes earlier each morning and go for a walk or run just to begin his day outside. Then his plan was to hug his wife 2x a day for 2 minutes attending to being fully present to her with an open and loving heart. He was to hold her tight and wait to feel her let go and relax into him. I told him it would take a while the first couple of times – maybe even 3 minutes. He was also going to turn off all electronics at 9pm each week night and sit on the couch with her. This was something she’d been asking for forever. On the business side, he was going to keep track of the amount of new business that came in that month, and actually how much focused time he had to work. What he found astonished him. Because his wife felt so much more connected to him she became an ally in his work more than she had in years. Her support ended up actually amounting to him having more, not less time to work. His son’s behavior actually settled watching his parents flirt, laugh and hug more. This led to more spontaneous short times of play between the dad and the son and resulted in dad developing some bedtime rituals with the son that would have never happened before.
This little experiment, which I pulled out of my intuitive hat, showed me once again how the foundation upon which our happiness rests is first our own stability and then the stability of our primary intimate relationship. Take care of those two relationships first, and then kids, career, etc take care of themselves fairly easily from there. Ignore those two and all can go to …. The Tyranny of the Urgent.
If you decide to do your own version of the 30-Day Challenge, write me and let me know what you did and how it went. People are constantly surprised what one month of focused intention and attention on themselves and their marriage can do!! You are worth it!!
We have a Couples Intimacy Retreat coming up in September. Sign up soon – there are a few spots left! This retreat is perfect for those of you wanting to chase the Tyranny of the Urgent away!!