Not spending enough time as a couple can lead to a relationship crisis. Couples often come to my office and say they have hardly seen each other since the last session. One has been on the road and the other has been pulling off a community project and they have scarcely had time to say “Hello” or “Goodbye.”
You live in a world with the realities of 12-hour jobs, children, commutes and dealing with your parent’s illness. When you do find time to be together, you often bicker or arguments start as soon as one person walks in the door.
On the one hand, your partner may seem surprisingly and even uncharacteristically distant. Or you may find yourself bombarded with accusations with the main theme being: “You never make enough time for me.” As a marriage counselor, let me suggest that you make certain rituals sacred for maintaining the health of your marriage. Believe me, divorce is much more time consuming.
Now you may want to quote chapter and verse to me about how you don’t have a second to catch up with your partner. I do understand. The pressure in our culture just to keep up is so intense that it’s hard to believe we aren’t all dying from high blood pressure.
Let me make some simple suggestions that might not take as much time as you expect. When you take the time to honor these habits of connection, you insure your “couple hood” is not lost in the shuffle.
- Begin by checking in on your partner’s agenda for the day. Look for anything that will be challenging, dreadful, exciting or meaningful. Take on the role of a good coach: use encouraging words, express concern and inspire confidence. Saying, “I’lI bet that will be tough but I know that you can do it,” will be a positive voice that will echo in your partner’s head all day.
- Say goodbye with a genuine hug and kiss. You may not have to mess up your makeup, but it helps to enjoy a real moment of bodily contact before you leave. Looking into each other’s eyes will lead to some word of affirmation and the hug will lead to both of you feeling that someone is behind you as you take on the challenges of the day.
- In the evening as you walk into the house, look for your partner and exchange another hello and kiss. You may know you need 15 or 20 minutes to decompress but do check in as a way of saying, “I want to be sure you are all right.” Later when you have decompressed, catch up with the highs and lows of the day. If you don’t know what’s happened in your partner’s life, you may not understand the tension in your partner’s eyes. You might assume that he or she is mad at you. Sometimes sharing on a scale of 1 to 10 about how you feel about your day can lead to a quick sense of what mood your partner is in.
Marriage is like group therapy. The quiet participant often becomes a lightning rod for everyone’s projections. They begin to assume that the silent one is angry, feels superior or does not care. Similarly, when you and your partner are disconnected, one of you will likely begin to imagine that the other is irritated or detached.
When you and your partner do compare notes for just a few minutes even, you can quickly reassure the other with, “It’s not you, but I just feel like I will never get on top of all the things on my agenda today.” Then you both can relax and go about finishing your to-do list while knowing that your partner is behind you.
If either or both of you keep expressing how tired you are, you will need to stop and do a reality check. Have you named tiredness when you are suffering from some depression? You might look for the same concern if one of you seems angry all of the time. Depression often hides beyond exhaustion or reactive attacks.
Beyond the hellos, goodbyes and catch-ups about the day, make sure you have clearly made four separate commitments of time to each other. Here are some ways to do that:
- Synchronize each other’s schedule. Nothing becomes more exasperating to busy couples than to realize that they have created schedules that won’t work where they will miss each other completely. It happens, but less so, when you do review what each of you has ahead.
- Couples need time to plan for resolving conflicts. You will find a strong commitment to win-win solutions becomes rewarding. Of course this can only happen when you are not totally stressed out. Scheduling a time for conflict resolution and honoring the time will keep you optimistic about the relationship. Obviously you will not find all conflicts resolvable. But you can set the goal for each of you to feel that the other hears what it’s like to be you. When you do that, you will at least feel like you’re not alone with your feelings.
- You will want to schedule a weekly time for just playing together, not with the children, not in front of the TV, but just time to get down with each other in a pleasurable way. Do not discount the immeasurable value of a Saturday night out. You may spend part of the time at a movie, but share your thoughts with each other over coffee. Make this time sacred. Perhaps some couples will need to make it a movable feast, but if it can’t be on a regular night for some reason, be sure that the time gets rescheduled for that week. When you find yourself missing this time together a couple of times, consider that you need to change something about the system. Try when you can to turn off the lights and go to sleep at the same time. This may be impossible much of the time, but set the goal to retire on each other’s schedule. This helps you feel that you are more in sync.
- Finally let’s hope that this time leads to the closeness of intimacy and sexual pleasure. Couples need to schedule times for cuddling and just being close, which can lead to erotic pleasure but can be fun in and of itself. By the way, you may need to look at your calendars to schedule your intimate times. If you don’t feel energetic enough to take a vigorous walk, you may be too tired to play. When you meet each other in bed only at the end of long exhausting days, your sex life will suffer.
- Several times a year, set aside time to share your goals and dreams with each other. Keep a couple journal for just this purpose. Find time to go over this with a glass of wine or in a beautiful natural setting. Let one of you write while the other talks out loud about what an ideal future would look like. Share your goals and dreams and aspirations. Drawing up a mission statement can serve as a backdrop for your brainstorms. You may even decide to make concrete plans “to do what by when.” This business practice can increase your satisfaction with your identity as a couple. Next time, you will enjoy reading back to see what you wrote and laugh about what’s changed in your thinking and celebrate your accomplishments.