What You Must Know About Margin

Long ago, I poured over Richard Swenson’s books Margin and The Overload Syndrome, highlighting each profusely.

(Paul Byerly recently mentioned the book Margin as well, as Paul has been doing many great posts on margin).

Swenson digs deep into showing the need for margin, as well as the reality that margin always costs something. I think I knew that in theory, back when I was reading his books and had about 1/8 the responsibilities I have now.

It’s no wonder we have to peel all the layers back about margin.  Our love affair with “convenience” combined with our insatiable appetite for electronic gadgetry has undone us more than rescue us.

Many (not all, but many) of the things that we thought would artificially give us more margin actually did the exact opposite.  They instead gave us an unrealistic barometer of what we could actually accomplish in any given amount of time.


We have been masters of killing margin, not creating it.

Not intentional, sure.  Even so, it can be painful to face the realization that you and your spouse haven’t had sex in weeks or months… or that your most treasured relationships barely could be characterized by the word “treasured.”  Or that your health has tanked and getting it back feels insurmountable.

The tagline of the Overload Syndrome is “Learning to Live Within Your Limits” — which, in my most overloaded moments, sounds more like a cruel taunt than a realistic destination.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what you already likely know — creating margin takes an incredible amount of internal resolve, which if we are being brutally honest, is hard.

And it has more to do with our willingness to stay the course of margin than it does with the latest and greatest app. There really isn’t an app for everything, desipte what the mantra would tell us.

While establishing margin is painful, it’s the keeping it established that is brutal.

This all hits close to home for me.

I’ve come face-to-face with the reality that margin always costs something.

Don’t get me wrong, margin is totally worth it.   Nurturing relationships. Nurturing sex. Getting more sleep. Eating more leisurely meals.  Turning off the computer. Shutting down the phone.

All totally worth it. I am so grateful for walking in the direction of margin.

For me, though, it also means I have humbly had to grieve the fact that I can’t accomplish or enjoy all that I would prefer. (Shocker, I know.  Still leaves me a little sad at times, though).

I can’t visit with friends as much as I would like.

I can’t write on my own blog as much as I would like, let alone read the number of phenomenal posts by my fellow marriage bloggers.

My email in-box regularly hovers at 300.  I become numb to what it would take to read them all, let alone respond.

I’m not whining.  Far from it.

I’m just saying that if you want a strong healthy marriage — not to mention some resemblance of physical and mental health in general — there are going to be many other things that aren’t just on the back burner, they must be removed from the menu.

Sure, seasons of life dictate a lot of how our time gets allocated.  I hear that empty nesters and retired folk have more time to read because their calendars and nerves aren’t frazzled from the throes of heavy-duty parenting, but let’s face it — every season has its challenges.

(That’s the other lie we have believed… that we will have more time “when…”    When the kids are grown.  When money isn’t as tight.  When we get a different job).

Life in the present gets shortchanged as we gaze at “life just around the bend.”

We would help ourselves greatly if we would let go of the romanticized version of margin — the one that says just because we have invested in a stronger marriage we won’t still occasionally feel a twinge of regret that other relationships and activities — even ones we adore — inevitably drift further from our fingertips.

I hate the reality of this, if I can be bluntly honest.

I’m not quite at the place of embracing my limitations, but I’m getting there.  God is patient with me on this.  Lord knows I have given Him plenty of opportunity.

I am growing.  Even though I still rail against my limitations at times, I simultaneously revel in the vitality of my marriage and the beauty and wonder of my children — moments I would be missing if I didn’t appreciate what margin has to offer.

I took a nap with the 7-year-old the other day and it was relaxed bliss.

I soaked in the enthusiasm of the 14-year-old expounding about his first day of school.

And just the other night, when my logical side said I should be digging into that email in-box, I instead made love to my husband.  I slept better for a variety of reasons, obviously.  Who says a great orgasm can’t put everything into perspective?

Finding margin for your marriage — and for sex — and for the other things that are important…  It is possible.

But it will cost you something.  Maybe a lot of “somethings.”

Don’t be afraid to look at those emotions and grief for what they are.  Don’t tell yourself that finding margin should always feel liberating and exciting, because sometimes it feels painful and constraining.

But do keep reminding yourself that it is worth it.  Totally worth it.  In the short run and the long run.

Copyright 2012, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog.

10 thoughts on “What You Must Know About Margin

  1. tammy says:

    “I slept better for a variety of reasons, obviously. Who says a great orgasm can’t put everything into perspective?”

    Love it! and so very true! Thank you for your words 🙂

  2. Gaye says:

    This is excellent. I have been thinking a lot about margin lately and am planning to write about it in a week or so. Our youngest son is going to college this week, so this is a time for a lot of reflection for all of us. Believe me, you do not want to get to this point in your children’s lives and have to say, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time with him/her” or anything even remotely related to that thought! My husband is naturally good about maintaining margins, so I have to give him credit for keeping us on track with focusing on the family, not getting caught up in too much extra “stuff,” not spreading ourselves too thin *most of the time!), etc.

  3. Greg says:

    Julie, good for you for slowing down and prioritizing things to strengthen your marriage and family! Your posts are appreciated, but they’ll be even better as you concentrate on things that are key for you and your family.

  4. Joy says:

    Thank you for the reminder. I grew up with the book Margin on my parents bookshelves but never read it. Right now is the best time for it as well. We find ourselves scrambling for time with each other in the midst of all the chaos in our schedules.
    Added bonus is that I grew up in the same church that Dr. Swenson and his family attended so I get the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing he really lives what he says.

  5. Scott says:

    This is a constant struggle for my wife and I. It does take deliberate attention and some amount of sacrifice to plan margin into your life, but it makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Glenn says:

    I heard Dr. Swenson on the radio this summer. He is right on. I think his perspective is key for every couple. I wish my wife and I had this book when we were engaged and before kids.

    Like Scott, it is a constant struggle for us. Our youngest is 20, we have been given another opportunity to evaluate this issue.

    I believe what Dr. Swenson is saying allows couples and individuals to ask ” What are my priorities?” “Where do I want to invest my time”. I would encourage a look at Dr. Swenson’s website. Look at the areas he is involved in.

    I like the variety of his interests. I highly recommend his books.

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