The hardest part of my job is leaving my family. Playing 15 years in the NFL has been a tremendous blessing, but leaving my wife and kids for extended periods is challenging. Training camp is always the worst because I live away from my family for a month and work long days. My absence affects our children and can cause marriage problems. This year will present its own challenges. Our family has moved to Boston because I signed with the New England Patriots this past offseason. We have 7 kids, 2 babies, and are yet again in a new place with boxes still to be unpacked.
When life gets stressful for a family, everyone goes into survival mode. Too often, survival mode involves everyone focusing on oneself and achieving his or her own agendas. We end up disconnected and hurt. I can become calloused and cold, especially when I see problems I can’t fix for my family, like lost relationships or new schools, which, in some ways, are caused by my occupation. In these moments, your love and leadership are so important—not just for your kids, but for your wife. I am walking into this season with 15 years of “leaving” experience. I want to do this as well as I can for my wife. So I’ll use these 5 best practices, which I have learned through trial and error and in all honesty still struggle with from time to time.
1. Know your trouble spots.
Know them individually and collectively. What situations and circumstances put stress on your relationship? For us, it has been moves, new babies, and the weeks leading up to training camp every year. Like a good coach, it’s important to be proactive, to defend your team when entering what you know will be a difficult time.
2. Win the game early and often.
Kirsten’s deepest needs when I’m away are affection and words of affirmation. For our relationship, physical (not sexual) touch is important. My biggest downfall is my tendency to shut down during times of stress. I get silent and cold. Without intention and obedience, I will not be the husband and father I am called to be. So when we are entering times I know are going to be difficult, I need to intentionally hug my wife a lot or simply touch her hand. It lets her know we are still connected. Then, when I’m away, I’ll make it a habit to call and text whenever I get a chance. What does your wife need?
3. Break out of the cycle.
It’s important to say what needs to be said, even when you don’t want to say it.There are times when we are simply not connecting even though we knew things would be tough. That lack of connection can cause hurt and confusion, over and over. Someone has to break the cycle, as uncomfortable as intervening may be. Communicating our feelings to one another sometimes will take an intentional sit-down, face to face conversation. It’s important to say what needs to be said, even when you don’t want to say it. Pray that God gives you the courage to do the right thing, even if it’s uncomfortable.
4. Don’t be too proud to seek professional help.
Sometimes couples can get into unhealthy cycles they are unable to break. Maybe you are in one right now. Don’t give up. You just may need professional help. Throughout our relationship, we have engaged in counseling from a trusted couple who has sound biblical advice. When times are good and especially when they are bad, counseling is important. Don’t be too proud to get help. Your marriage may depend on it.
5. Run from temptation.
Finally, when we are at our most stressed and tired, we are most vulnerable to giving in to temptation. These are the times you need to be sharp and guarded. One of the biggest temptations these days for everyone, but especially for men, is pornography or physically and emotionally inappropriate relationships with other women. It can feel like a quick way to relieve stress, fill a void, and forget all your worries, but it is a terrible trap. There are times when I know I can’t get on my phone because there will be temptation. Do what you need to shut down temptation and run far from it. Giving in to it only will make a tough situation worse.
Sound off: What are some other things you can do to help your marriage in these situations?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your wife and ask, “What situations do you think cause the biggest stress in our relationship?”