School's out, and my kids are excited about a fun-filled summer. Mom and Dad? Not as much. Don't get me wrong; I love summertime. But summer schedules can be hectic when you're juggling different camps, vacations and activities. Sure, the school year is crazy busy, but at least it's consistent. Summer schedules are a little more challenging. Are any other parents feeling the crunch?
Summertime can add more stress to your marriage as well. Focusing on our relationship can get lost in the frenzy if we aren't careful. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can keep your marriage strong over the summer, too. Here are a few ways to get you started.
> Date each other. A regular date night is crucial to the health of your relationship. It can be so easy to fall into a routine in your relationship, especially when kids are in the picture. This is where date night comes in. Dating your mate takes a little more coordination if you have young children. If you don't currently have a regular date night, now's the time to start. Create a shared calendar on your phone (if you don't already use one), and schedule one date night this month. Then flip to next month and plan another one. Keep it going. I mean it! Stop reading right now, and get those date nights on the calendar. I'll wait.
OK, now that you have dates scheduled — they are scheduled, right? — here are a few more ways to keep your marriage strong.
> Make time for intimacy. Before you put the calendars away, go ahead and schedule some time to get intimate. Wait a minute! Isn't sex supposed to be spontaneous? Sure, but if you have little kids, you know the reality. Spontaneity is hard to come by. If you're not intentional, it's easy to let your sex life fall into the background. But your marriage needs sexual and physical intimacy. And what gets put on the calendar often gets done, am I right? So decide how often and when, and schedule it. Just to clarify, this is a conversation for the two of you. And don't worry, just because it's scheduled doesn't make it boring.
> Share a hobby or activity. Identify at least one common hobby or activity, and make time to do that together. You may need to break out the calendar and schedule it depending on the activity. But there may be hobbies you can do at home while the kids play. This doesn't have to be a family activity, but it can be if you both agree that you'll enjoy it just as much.
> Daily check-ins. As you're going in different directions, getting the kids places and working, it can be easy to spend less time talking as a couple. Carve out some time each day to check in with each other. Maybe it's over coffee in the morning. Perhaps it's 30 minutes outside together at the end of each workday.
When you check in on each other, give your spouse space to vent. If one of you is working from home while the kids are out of school, you may need an avenue to let go of stress. Give each other space to really share what's going on.
> Show appreciation daily. Nothing says love like appreciation, so don't forget to show your appreciation to the one you share a life and home with. Here are some easy ways to show how much you appreciate your spouse:
Send a text telling them how much they mean to you. (Bonus points if you're specific about why you appreciate them.)
Leave Post-it notes for them. If they leave for work, leave them in their bag or lunch. If your spouse stays home, hide notes somewhere they will find them throughout the day.
Say it out loud and often. And say it in front of others, especially your kids.
Give them a break (or at least a few hours) to do whatever they enjoy most.
> Invest in your marriage. Take an online course together. There are loads of resources to help strengthen your marriage. You can focus on intimacy, communication, parenting or other topics. Investing in your marriage now strengthens it for the future.
> Speak your spouse's love language. If the two of you have never taken Gary Chapman's Love Languages assessment, now is the time. We all have a primary love language, and when it is spoken to us, we feel loved and appreciated. We also usually express love using our primary language, so learning your spouse's love language is crucial to helping them feel loved.
> Hold hands. An easy way to keep your marriage strong is to simply hold hands. Holding hands releases endorphins, a mood-boosting chemical. It also releases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to your spouse. And it's a stress reliever.
Make this summer a great one for your marriage. Not because of a big trip, but because you both chose to be intentional and turn toward each other.
Mitchell Qualls is vice president of operations at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.