I anticipated that this season would be busy for me– both due to personal pursuits and the rhythms of our culture– but I must admit I’ve been feeling unprepared. It’s only early October and I’ve already felt the pressure of a tight schedule, too many items on my to-do list, and the lack of a real break in the near future.

I’ve been a huge proponent of unstructured free time on this blog, and I still am– even as I see that time dwindling away from my calendar. As Aaron and I both settle into our second year here in Pasadena and into this season of our lives, we are both becoming more involved, more ambitious, and more in demand.

6 ways to stay connected when life gets busy

In general, our busy-ness is good. It’s intentional. Everything that is on our schedules has a purpose, just as everything we’ve spent money on has a purpose. That doesn’t mean, however, that balancing it all is easy. I still need to schedule the most vital items into my weekly calendar so not as to compromise my life for my living.

Related: 10 Simple Ways to Prioritize What You Love

The relational cost of busy-ness

Being busy is not just a threat to our physical and mental health, however. It can put our relationships in a tricky place. And when both people in a relationship are busy, it can feel even more alienating. 

I still remember the way that my college room mates and I would make time to be together. It can sound a bit ridiculous, but the students at my university were busy— not just a little or occasionally, but all the time. The only way that I could stay connected with my best friends was if we all chose to stay connected. We did, and our friendship thrived. 

Intentionality fights disconnection

One of the challenges of busy-ness– and resulting relational distance– is that it creeps in without us realizing. Its insidiousness is invisible to us until we already feel estranged from each other. Usually at this point, there’s a conflict to deal with, a misunderstanding to unravel, a relationship to reconcile.

Aaron and I have few hours of leisure together now. His program is demanding and so is my work, and we sometimes only share one meal together per day. Staying connected is more difficult when we’re chasing deadlines, making important decisions, or simply not around each other.

If we’re going to not only survive this season, but see our relationship thrive, we have to become intentional about it. Even though I miss the luxury of being able to talk for hours after dinner, or take leisurely coffee breaks together in the morning, I know that these scaffolds can help us stay involved in each other’s lives even if we can’t be as present as we would like. 

Whether you live with your spouse or just some friends that you love, intentionality can help cultivate that relationship even when life is busy and schedules are full. Here are the ways we are staying connected through this tough season.

6 Ways to Stay Connected When Life Gets Busy

1) Keep similar waking hours.

Daily rhythms make more a difference than we might realize. Making our waking and sleeping schedules align has helped us feel that we are still walking through the same day together. Even if we’re apart for most of it, we know we will spend those morning and evening moments together. It’s a huge stress reliever too!

2) Choose interactive past times.

If our time together is limited, we’ll spend it talking, taking a walk, baking cookies, or even playing a game. While I myself might just want to watch TV, it’s not the kind of activity that helps us converse and interact. When our time is too precious to be spent in front of a screen, we’ll choose an activity that we wouldn’t necessarily do on our own.

3) Do chores together.

If time is really, really tight– and no shared free time is available– I’ll suggest that we do a chore or even run an errand together. Aaron and I like to cook breakfast together, partly because it means we’re in the same space, and can eat together right after.

When I was in college, my room mates and I would sometimes do laundry together; it worked in the same way– we weren’t necessarily having fun, but we could enjoy those moments of interaction.

4) Ask intentional questions.

There comes a point in a relationship when we feel that we know each other so well, perhaps questions aren’t necessary. I’ve been wrong about this in the past (both in friendships and relationships), where I’ve simply assumed that I knew everything that was going on in someone’s life.

The truth is, no matter how intimate a friendship, we still need to ask questions. This is when I see Aaron’s therapy training come in handy. He asks good questions that make me say more; he doesn’t assume he knows exactly what I think or how I feel. I seek to offer him, and my friends, the same opportunity.

5) Evaluate time alone versus time with friends.

As individuals, Aaron and I are ambiverts. We lean strongly toward neither introversion nor extraversion. However, as a couple, we’re definitely extraverts. We love to host, are naturally hospitable together, and will quickly fill up all our weekend meals hosting friends.

Protecting our time together, alone, is proving to be more important as we become busy. We need that time to invest in each other— and not constantly be looking outward as a team to invest in other people. Building each other up is the foundation of our friendships with others, so the balance is key to both our hospitality and the health of our marriage.

6) Offer your best self.

If there has ever been a strong motivation for me to be my best self around Aaron, it’s the realization that our time together is limited. I know that I can choose to spend our precious hours being petty and passive-aggressive, or I can spend that time being honest and encouraging. 

Occasionally that honesty means that I burst into emotion about how I’ve been feeling. Other times it means that I share funny stories from my work so we can both laugh. Either way, I desire to give nothing less than my best; there’s no time like the present to be our best selves.

The Engagment Session of Daisy Shih and Aaron Rosales in the Marin Headlands, Calif., Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Photos by Alison Yin/Alison Yin Photography

How do you stay relationally connected when life is busy?