How Being Too Busy Affects You, Your Family, And Your Marriage

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    If you’ve ever found yourself in a room surrounded by clutter, you probably know how uncomfortable it can be. Piles of things, too many knick-knacks, stacks of papers, etc. all contribute to clutter, which is a known cause of anxiety. But does the same hold true when it’s your schedule that’s cluttered? And can being too busy affect your marriage?

    Clutter in a home or workspace can make us feel claustrophobic and disorganized. It pulls focus from what we are supposed to be doing and causes our brains to shuffle, unable to settle on one thing for any length of time. So, almost uniformly, psychological experts will tell you that decluttering your environment is paramount to mental health and happiness. As it turns out, the same premise holds true for your relationships and family when your schedule is too busy.

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    You may have Marie Kondo-ed your entire home, but your schedule is a whole different story, and there are likely to be some clearly detrimental ways in which your busy schedule is negatively affecting you, your family, and the health of each.

    Defining "Too Busy"

    Recently, a friend of mine showed me a list his wife left him for handling the kids while she was out of town for a night. Without exaggeration it looked like this:

    Pick-up kids from school at 3:20. Drop Jenny off at soccer at 4:00. Lisa needs to be back at school at 5:00 for volleyball practice - it’s over at 6:00pm but she can wait for 15 minutes until you’ve dropped off Jenny. Jenny needs to be picked to at 5:30 from soccer and dropped off at 6:00 for tutoring. Both have to be at the school by 7:45 for the choir concert. Make sure to find them a snack after school and dinner. Try to have them in bed by 10pm. Don’t forget to check homework."

    My brain hurt just reading it, and I had to read it a few times just to make sense of it. According to my friend this is a fairly typical schedule for their family. Also, according to my friend, his wife is always tired and cranky, and the kids seem to be developing negative attitudes toward everything.

    Hmm … wonder why.

    But wait you say, this isn’t clutter, this is just what families do now. Kids are busy, parents work – you just have to make time to live with it so that everyone gets what they need.

    Maybe.

    Or maybe it’s become more difficult to discern the difference between a schedule that’s too busy and a reasonable schedule as we continue to redefine what normal looks like.

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    A schedule that’s too busy, after all, is one that keeps us from making time for what we value and living the life we find most meaningful. Which begs the question, is my friend’s family making time for the most meaningful things in life?

    The answer to that will vary depending upon perspective. What’s fairly consistent, however, are the psychological and emotional effects of schedules like theirs on each member of the family – even the kids whom parents say are the reason for it.

    The Impact A Schedule That’s Too Busy Has On Your Family

    People may describe it as a feeling of always running, being out of control, flying by the seat of their pants, or that their life is leading them rather than them leading their life.

    However you talk about it, these overly busy schedules leave individuals and families feeling out of breath and less connected to one another. And that’s the least of it. Overscheduling is one of the leading causes of stress and anxiety within families.

    Children who go from one activity to the next, then have the pressure of homework or other commitments, lose the opportunity to decompress and experience the mental growth and development that can come from their daily events. They are also less likely to connect with their parents, confide their fears or concerns, ask questions, or share their thoughts. This directly impedes the deepening development of the parent/child relationship and building of trust that is so crucial as they grow.

    What Being Too Busy Is Doing To Your Marriage

    Children aren’t the only ones who suffer when schedules are too busy. Adults are equally as affected by these overly cluttered schedules.

    This state of being overscheduled and overly busy leaves very little room for self-care or thinking about your spouse. When your thoughts are a running list of what needs to be done next and where the next drop-off is, you begin to shove thoughts of your own happiness and how to connect to your partner way down the priority list.

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    I know one woman who, as she categorizes her to-do’s, puts “time with husband” in the column labeled “tomorrow’s problems.” Sadly, but not surprisingly, tomorrow never seems to come for this particular task.

    This same woman can point only to sleep and showering as “self-care,” and when asked about her hobbies offers no response other than a blank stare.

    Seem healthy to you? No? Okay, but does it sound a little familiar? I’ll bet that answer for most reading this is, yes.

    If this pattern is allowed to continue it can, unfortunately, lead to many complicated problems. Feeling stretched so thin that you can’t take time for yourself can make the idea of devoting time to yet another person/relationship (like your spouse and marriage) feel like you’re going to break.

    Everyone has a limit and the increasingly common state of being overly busy is pushing more and more people toward theirs.

    It’s very easy to assume that the relationship you built before everything got so complicated is frozen in time and can just jump back to life whenever you’re ready. That’s simply not the case, however, and too many couples learn this the hard way.

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    These over-scheduled, too busy to talk, success = no time for me, lives that many of us lead are one of the most common contributors to a complete breakdown in communication in marriages. This can then lead to the instigation of affairs, and even divorce in married couples.

    After all, having “no time” for each other doesn’t mean that you don’t crave love, attention, and the emotional connection a relationship brings, but being too busy can mean that you no longer believe (often mistakenly) that your spouse is the one that can or will give you those things.

    In fact, Dr. Kurt routinely sees couples in counseling who have allowed their busy schedules to overwhelm their lives to the point that they don’t feel they really know each other anymore. Their relationship has become a matter of checking boxes – work, handling kids, managing the household, and sleep. None of which are being done as effectively as possible, and all of which are eroding the relationship that is supposed to be the foundation for their family and future.

    Dr. Kurt said this issue came up just the other day in a session. Here is how he described it,

    I'm counseling a couple right now who recognize they're drifting further and further apart. Being too busy is a big reason why. Unfortunately, this part they don't recognize so well. And their overcommitment to other things is even making counseling difficult. The wife has only come twice. Our last session was supposed to be solely for her and she cancelled the day before because an opportunity came up to volunteer in her daughter's class. Like many people this couple too easily let's their lives (and future) be driven by the immediate rather than the long-term. I can easily see a divorce in their future if they don't change. Does their daughter really need her mom in her classroom more than her mom fixing her relationship with her dad?"

    Recognizing An Overly Cluttered Schedule

    Okay, so this all makes sense, but you don’t think it pertains to you or your family, right? If that’s the case, consider some of the following signs of a schedule that’s become too busy to allow for happiness.

    • You or your family are tired. All.The.Time. Don’t be fooled. Just because you’re making a point of getting yourself or kids to bed at a reasonable time doesn’t mean you’re getting enough rest. One of the side effects of a cluttered schedule is a racing mind and the inability to sleep well.
    • Your family members seem to anger easily. Too much going on means little time to process conflicts or frustrations and respond appropriately. As a result, you may find that you or other members of your family have short fuses and are quick to snap.
    • No one actually seems happy. Busy, yes. Happy, no. Good grades, sports, successful parents – everything should be great, right? Not necessarily. More doesn’t mean better and busy generally doesn’t mean happy.
    • Your family members always seem worried or anxious. This can be especially true for kids who haven’t developed the skills for coping with stress. Cluttered schedules can mean that they never feel fully certain of what’s next and consistently feel like they need to be preparing for something.
    • You feel guilty about taking time for yourself. And if all this is still leaving a question mark in your mind, consider yourself. Do you feel okay about taking some personal time for something fun that is only for you? Or do you feel guilty that you’re not working on something or helping someone? Too much overscheduling means that we lose the ability to relax and enjoy things easily.

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    There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for fixing a schedule that’s cluttered and too busy. It requires family input and a reassessment of priorities.

    Ultimately, however, this is when parents need to lead and make decisions that may not be popular (even with themselves). Someone needs to say 'enough' and turn the family focus to what's really important. That's their job as adults and how children learn how to prioritize.

    So, if you’re dealing with a schedule that’s just gotten too busy for real happiness, step back and take a closer look at it. And like Marie Kondo advises, if it doesn’t bring you joy perhaps it doesn’t belong on your calendar (or closet).

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