It has become too common a refrain: There isn’t enough time. This is the excuse put forth by so many couples that I speak to in workshops and in my office.
Wives and husbands are pleading that they are so overwhelmed with the demands of work and children that they simply can’t create any space to share intimate moments with their partner. The result is often an increasing sense of disconnection that gets expressed as problems with communication, disagreements over finances, parenting conflicts, or insufficient sex.
But the latter are typically symptoms, not causes.
By improving the sense of connection, feelings of trust and mutual respect typically increase. Once those cornerstones are in place, it’s remarkable how much easier it becomes to resolve conflicts of any nature. In Wallerstein and Blakeslee’s wonderful book, “The Good Marriage” (1995), they note “For everyone [in their research group], happiness in a marriage meant feeling respected and cherished.” Gets right to the heart of the matter (pun intended)!
In trying to help couples reverse this downward spiral, I start by reminding them that if they constantly put their marriage at the end of their “To Do” lists, assuming that there will always be another day to attend to their spouses’ needs, one day they will be shocked to discover that there are no more days.
One of them will be saying “I don’t love you anymore and I want out.” This means that couples must truly make their marriage a priority, not simply in words or feelings, but in deeds. In today’s world of PDAs, Blackberrys, and other forms of keeping schedules, this means actually scheduling time for the marriage rather than expecting time shared will just happen.
My second key point, for couples who have children, is that the most important gift they can give their children is a healthy marriage. When marriages are working well, families function better. Children will not only find that their lives run more smoothly because their parents are in sync but research shows they will have fewer medical problems, presumably because there is less chronic stress in the home. An added benefit is that a good marriage models for children what they need to learn for the day when they are married.
Since a healthy marriage is such an important gift for your children, parents need to feel comfortable with the idea of taking some of the excess time currently devoted to parenting and investing it in the marriage. (“Excess time” is the fallout from parents trying too hard to create “perfect children” when children really need only “good enough” parenting, an issue covered in many of my previous articles.)
With these key points in mind, let us look at some strategies to create a more intimate and rewarding marriage:
Try to follow this prescription:
- Schedule 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted conversation each day
- Schedule at least one long conversation (1 to 1 1/2 hrs.) each week
- Schedule at least one overnight just for yourselves every 2 months
- Schedule at least two weekends just for yourselves each year
This may take some creativity. It also takes a mutual commitment. But the payoff is enormous.
To make the daily/weekly conversations happen requires some joint planning time. Get out your calendars, look at the week ahead and figure out when you can make time for each other. Don’t limit yourselves to evenings (usually the worst times for parents to try and talk without interruption or, worse, just when you are starting to crash). Depending upon ages of children and job demands, some couples are able to arrange breakfast alone for daily conversations or a lunch as a chance for a long conversation.