Phone conversations, texts or emails can fill some of the daily conversation needs. Taking a short evening walk or a long weekend one is good for your physical health as well as the health of your marriage. Putting a treadmill and a stationary bike side-by-side in your basement can also provide a chance to talk while getting some much needed workout time (and reduce conflicts about someone spending too much time at the gym).
Conversations should involve sharing information about work and family and other commitments or interests so you are able to nourish the sense of being best friends. Men need to talk about their jobs, an issue for some men who believe that increases rather than decreases their stress. Save the longer conversations for bigger issues. But don’t let things build up.
Being emotionally honest in a routine way is important. If a spouse says or does something that hurts your feelings, let him or her know. It doesn’t mean it has to be rehashed in detail. It doesn’t mean you have to get into an argument about what “really happened.” (There is no “truth” to be discovered; just respect the other person’s subjective experience of what happened instead of trying to defend yourself.)
Arranging an overnight or a weekend alone is a chance to rediscover the fun you once had when it was just the two of you. While it can be a challenge to arrange this if you don’t have family nearby to take the children, friends will often be willing to take turns watching each other’s children so others get that same chance to get away. If parents are not nearby (or a sibling), when you go to visit, work it out to have some alone time. Relatives usually love the chance to spend some time with your children without you around!
In addition to the prescribed couple time, there are two other critical daily rituals for couples that need to be honored and nurtured. Re-entry is one of the most important times of the day. As the family gets reunited at the end of school and work commitments, spouses need to genuinely look forward to seeing each other at the end of another demanding day.
The opportunity to hug each other and let go of some of the stress built up is a very special, intimate event that is sorely missed by those who are now divorced. Learn to appreciate this moment while you have the chance. It reaffirms that there are two of you joined together to cope with life’s challenges. It also should be a time to get yourselves in sync for the rest of the day. Review what the evening’s schedule is, what obligations each may have, what help may be needed from each other, and when there might be time to come together when the dust settles.
The other critical time is bedtime. No, not the children’s, the couples’! Probably about half of all parents go to bed at different times, contributing to a pattern of disconnection at the end of the day, undermining the sense of intimacy and adding to a sense of being alone in the marriage. Parents never let their children go to bed without some form of connection and reassurance that all is well. We read to our children, sit on their beds, lie next to them, hug them, and talk about the good things to look forward to tomorrow. While the extent and form of this change as our children get older, close families retain some part of this evening ritual even with teens.