Leisure–what’s that? Hobbies–who has time? Fun–maybe we can plan a week for it this summer?

As a functioning member of the world’s population in 2017, there is an extremely high percentage that you feel overwhelmed and under fulfilled with your life. When that happens, it has a huge effect on your marriage and you are very likely to attribute the flaws in your life to your marriage.

Take Deanna and Greg, for example.

After work, Deanna picks the kids up from the sitter. She takes one to piano lessons and the other to soccer practice. When both activities are over she hurries home and throws supper together. Greg finally arrives home from work. They both help the kids with their homework hustle them through their nighttime routine, and then collapse exhausted on the couch. Laundry, errands, housework? Maybe they can catch up with those things on the weekend–after the soccer game, grocery shopping, and school fundraiser they are helping with, that is.

Greg and Deanna feel like they are just surviving day to day. They don’t feel extremely happy or fulfilled in their lives or marriage. They never imagined not having time to talk to each other, not having the energy for sex, and not being able to see a different life for themselves in the future.

Do you have a routine similar to this every night of the week? Many couples do. Most of them think that it’s just the way things are. It’s just part of life.

Yet, it’s not how any couple ever wished their lives to be. When they were dating, they envisioned time for dating and just hanging out. They believed they would talk about things and always feel close to each other. They are saddened that their relationship has become distant.

They wish they could date more often. They miss cuddling on the couch with popcorn and a movie in the evenings. They begin to feel disconnected and unimportant to the spouse that is always scurrying past them to get to the next activity. They realize that they have begun to live parallel lives in the same house, but they don’t necessarily feel like they live joined lives. If they’re honest, they will tell you that they feel lonely.

How does that happen? Neither of you ever meant to be in a lonely marriage.

You love your spouse. You wish you had more time for him or her. But how does a rat on a spinning wheel safely get off? How can you find a saner pace of life? How can you reconnect and feel important to your partner again? How can you begin to repair the damage that you’ve done to each other by blaming the other in subtle or not so subtle ways for the loneliness you feel in your life?

No one reconnects with their partner by accident. You won’t both just wake up one day and not be so busy. Random people aren’t going to magically show up and take a few responsibilities off your plate. You must make it possible for the reconnecting to happen. You must design a life that allows for quality time and interaction with your spouse.

Try this. Both of you write down what your ideal life and marriage would look like. Don’t hold anything back. No dream is silly or too far-fetched. Give yourselves about a week to think and revise your papers.

Then take at least an hour to read each other’s words. Are there similar ideals in both of your writings? Are there activities and things that are noticeably absent from both of your writings? (Isn’t it interesting to see what your spouse has written? Aren’t you enjoying sitting down for a few minutes with your partner and talking about these things?) This is such a positive and enlightening activity to do with your spouse. I imagine that you both feel a little closer to each other just by dreaming together and sharing those dreams a little bit.

The next thing you can do is take two or three items from your papers. Decide what you can change in your life immediately to make these things possible and what you can work towards changing in the future so that the life you are living is more aligned with the life you desire to live.

This is not a one and done activity. Look at what you’ve written daily. Look at what your spouse has written daily. Keep these ideals in the forefront of your mind and you will begin to find ways to make them happen.

You will begin to say no to things that really don’t matter to you. You will begin to make time for the things that do.

What do you think happens to two people who plan their lives together? Do you think they are happy to have someone else on their side? Do you think they feel good to know that their partner wants them to have what they want? Do you think they begin to feel reconnected?

Inevitably the two of you will see that you are currently participating in activities (or your kids are) that do not align with what you truly want from life. These are activities that you can either end immediately or do not have to sign up for in the future.

A word or two to parents: Aren’t you a terrible parent if you don’t sign your kids up for everything under the sun? No. No, you aren’t a bad parent for not having your kids in every possible activity. Their personal development will not be thwarted. They will not feel underprivileged.

However, if your child’s parents are so disconnected and misaligned and unhappy with the state of their lives that they are stressed out, stretched thin, exhausted, irritable, unavailable, overspent, and never have quality time with them, then yes. Yes, your kids will be harmed and underprivileged in less obvious ways at first, but then in more obvious behavioral and emotional ways. Furthermore, they will not have learned the skills of planning and living an intentional life and are likely to repeat the cycle when they are adults. So don’t worry about the kids. Kids thrive most when parents are in a loving relationship. Their love spills over to the children and the children thrive in that security.

Now for couples, the two of you will begin to feel more connected when you plan more congruent lives. You will thrive like never before when you live in a way that complement each other, not competes with each other. There may be some give and take in the beginning, but don’t give up. Adopting a new behavior and practicing a new way of living takes time. It is almost certain that the two of you formed an unhelpful habit or two in your relationship during the time that you were just drifting through your marriage and life.

When you were dating and falling in love, you had time to just sit and be together. You talked. You ate together. You held each other. You made each other feel special. You showed with words and actions that the other was important to you.

There is no secret formula to establishing a meaningful connection to your spouse and rekindling what you once had. It is simply a matter of making it happen. Writing it down and showing each other what you’ve written is a clear and simple way to show your spouse that he or she is important to you.

No one plans to be estranged or distant or emotionally absent from their partner. The distance comes from drifting through life without a plan.