How do we create and sustain a healthy, couple relationship? It’s the question that gets asked over and over, and there have been all kinds of helpful answers. However, there is one thing that must be present or all other efforts at creating a healthier relationship become obsolete-TIME. I ask every couple I sit down with how much 1-on-1 time they are spending together. Almost always I get the same answer…”not much”. And generally, the time being spent together is not high quality or making them feel closer. If a couple is not spending adequate, quality time together, then overcoming any other issue will become nearly impossible. Therefore, it is important that you know how much time you should be spending with your partner, and what you should be doing with that time. The following is a list of 4 fundamental ways you should be spending time with your partner that may increase satisfaction in your relationship:
1. Calendaring You and your partner should spend at least 1 hour per week discussing your schedules and calendar. Spending this 1-on-1 time together has many purposes. First, it allows the two of you to be on the same page during the week so that there aren’t misunderstandings or overlapping in schedules, and prevents arguments over logistics. Also, it shows each of you the times that you may be needed to help pick up some slack, or show support for each other. For example, if you know that on Wednesday from 3:00-5:00pm your partner has an important presentation, you may be able to help them prepare, ask them how it went, or simply know not to “push any buttons” that day. Lastly, spending this time each week allows opportunity for connection and insight into each other’s individual lives, so that even when you’re apart from each other, you can still have a sense of closeness and partnership.
2. Alone Time This is what many have referred to as a “weekly date night”, and should take place for at least 2 hours each week. This isn’t the time to discuss stressful issues or problems in the relationship-save that for another day or the therapy office. Instead, make this a time to let loose, be flirty, and have fun! It doesn’t have to be expensive or over the top, and feel free to be creative! Dinner and a movie every week gets a little boring. Take turns planning, and don’t put too much pressure on yourselves. Common barriers to date night include money and childcare, so it does take some planning, prioritizing, and budgeting to make it happen consistently. BUT, if all else fails and it has to be a late night in front of the fire playing Yahtzee after the kids have gone to bed, then so be it! Just spend time with each other doing something other than sitting side-by-side scrolling on your phones while Netflix plays in the background!
3. Daily Mood Check-In
This one should be at least 15 minutes per day, but can be dispersed throughout the day. When you’re apart, you should be checking in with each other-emphasis on the word MOOD. You don’t just call to shoot the breeze or make sure your partner remembers what time dinner is at. The purpose is for quick connection and to have a consistent gauge of what’s going on with your partner, so questions like, “How are you feeling about your presentation this afternoon?” and “Are you having a positive day?” could be appropriate. This can be a real “boost” in the day, and doesn’t need to be long- just five minute phone calls here and there. If your daily schedule doesn’t allow you to make phone calls, a text or email will work. It is also okay to use the full 15 minutes at one time during a lunch break. Just try to touch base with each other when you’re apart as a reminder that you’re there for each other.
4. Get Away Together This doesn’t have to be an exotic trip to Tahiti or an expensive European excursion. This is at least 1 weekend getaway every 2-3 months. If all you can manage is an overnight camping trip, or weekend jaunt to your friend’s timeshare at a local getaway, that’s great! You really just need time with each other periodically throughout the year to get away from it all and reconnect. This one can be challenging due to finances, work schedules, and childcare, but if you make it a priority, you can usually find a way to fit it in. Look at ways you can cut back on non-essentials to save money for it, ask other couple friends if they’d like to do the same thing, and each of you take a turn watching each others kids, and request time off work well in advance. If it’s important to you-you can make it happen!
Keep in mind that all of these steps are about you and your partner, so if your “date night” includes friends, or your weekend away includes kids, that’s great…but it doesn’t count! It is absolutely critical for couples to spend a lot of time together, or else it gets really easy for other things to get in the way and cause stress in the relationship. Think again about when you were dating-it is likely that your worlds revolved around each other, and you spent every possible second with together. It’s no wonder why when we get married and stop doing those things, the relationship can become a little stale!
Now, this list is by no means a “cure all” to fixing a struggling relationship, but it is a necessary first step. And don’t let the list overwhelm you! Many couples have reported a substantial increase in their relationship satisfaction just after applying a portion of the list. So pick one to begin working on, and keep taking steps towards implementing all 4. You will likely then begin to feel much closer to your partner, and you will actually have the energy, respect, patience, and TIME it takes to discuss your other root issues.