You have a demanding career that requires a lot of your time and energy. So does your spouse. Maybe one of you—or both—travels for work. Maybe you’re also parents, and you also like to golf, practice yoga, take painting classes or play soccer, which you do separately.
It’s cliché, but true: Many days you’re two ships passing in the night.
But that doesn’t mean that your relationship has to suffer. You can find ways to reconnect and even strengthen your bond. Here’s how other individuals, who too live busy lives, do just that.
They have date nights and days. “I believe that the best way to stay connected in your marriage is through consistent and intentional action, and you should never underestimate the power of planned spontaneity,” said Anna Osborn, LMFT, a psychotherapist who owns a group private practice in Sacramento. She has a recurring monthly reminder in her calendar to have date nights with her husband. As parents to 6-year-old boy/girl twins, she and her husband, the branch manager of a security company, have their hands full.
Date nights also are crucial for Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, and her husband. Hanks owns a therapy practice with two locations in Utah. Her husband is a CFO for a real estate company, and has a volunteer job at their church, which takes about 10 hours each week. Together they have four children, ages 11 to 27, three of whom live at home and take music lessons and play sports.
“We go out one or both of the weekend nights to dinner and a movie, a play, or concert and have fun together. Sometimes we go out alone, and sometimes we go out with friends,” Hanks said.
Healthcare attorney Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, and her husband Jason Levin, a career coach, also have morning and middle-of-the-day dates. For instance, one year, while their now 5- and 7-year-old sons were at daycare, they celebrated Valentine’s Day with breakfast at a French restaurant. This year they savored a romantic lunch at a local seafood spot.
They are strategic about the day to day. Mihalich-Levin and her husband have a weekly meeting every Saturday night “to consolidate the chaos in our lives and take care of the administrative stuff all at once.” During the week, they put anything important into a “Saturday basket,” such as bills, forms, field trip permission slips. Then they address anything that’s inside the basket during their meeting.
They also talk about who will step in each day if the kids get sick. They map out their schedule for the rest of the week and month. And they share their favorite “mindful moments,” which inspires them to focus on the good in life.
They delve deeper. Every other Friday night psychotherapist Chris Kingman and his wife, a social worker, get a sitter for their 5- and 2-year-old daughters. This is their time to “work on the relationship, to discuss hard stuff, to review family finances, to process complex challenges, to check in, to give and get support, etc.,” said Kingman, LCSW, who specializes in individual, couples and group therapy.
They take each other’s needs seriously. One way Kingman and his wife care for each other’s emotional needs is by giving sincere compliments about specific behaviors. Which he noted is “very good for the soul of the relationship as we all have the (emotional) need to be ‘seen’ for the ways in which we are good, kind, productive, helpful, etc.”
Also, when one of them is upset, the other provides support by listening and comforting. Plus, they both regularly acknowledge how exhausting family life can be, and check in to make sure each partner has had enough alone time—and help out if they haven’t.
They have small, sweet rituals. Every morning, Osborn and her husband talk about one challenge that each of them will face during that day. Then when they see each other in the evening, they make sure to discuss how they’re doing and how it went.
Hanks and her husband always hug and kiss each other when one of them is leaving and when they see each other again.
Mihalich-Levin and Levin eat breakfast and dinner with their boys almost every day, “something we’ve really prioritized.” Mihalich-Levin’s husband also picks her up at the metro after work, which gives them some time together before picking up the kids.
They prioritize compassion. Kingman and his wife have a key mantra in their relationship: “compassion and boundaries.” That is, they practice compassion with their own flaws and with each other’s flaws, while also remaining accountable. For instance, Kingman tends to act like an absent-minded professor. “It can be quite annoying for [my wife], but rather than be critical, she accepts that it’s an involuntary response of mine to the overwhelm of everyday life…So she will point it out and let me know it doesn’t feel good to her when I’m ‘checking out,’ but without attacking or shaming my bad habits.”
They plan for the future (in a fun way). Twice a year Mihalich-Levin and her husband have annual planning and retreat days. We “map out longer-term goals and plans, and take a little time for ourselves—massages, anyone?” she said.
For instance, they mark off the days school will be closed and figure out who will stay home and what their backup childcare will be. They outline family visits and a big vacation. They also explore three powerful questions: one thing they’re proud of; a mistake they made and what they learned; and one story they’re relinquishing before the new year.
(You can learn more on Mihalich-Levin‘s excellent website Mindful Return, which helps moms and dads traverse the uncertain terrain of working parenthood.)
Having a healthy, close relationship amid a hectic, responsibility-filled life is absolutely possible. The key is to be thoughtful about it. Plan for it, and get creative. Think of your time together as vital and precious. Because it is.