With Valentine’s day approaching, couples everywhere are looking for ways to mark the day with romance. From love-struck dating couples to couples stressed out with kids, every one of us struggles to find time to… Just. Be. Together.
Insufficient time together is one of the biggest contributors to relationship breakdown. Whether our relationship is flying or sinking, time together is like a balm, healing the bumps and bruises of life and stimulating our feelings of affection and tenderness.
When couples first fall in love, time is usually plentiful. Even when they are not physically together, the newly-in-love are thinking about, texting to, daydreaming of and otherwise planning for the time they are together. Together or apart, for these couples, their beloved is the centre of their attention and the focus of their purpose.
By the time they’ve been together for a few years, most couples find other things take centre stage in their life. The job, the mortgage, friends, children, hobbies, health… all these things begin to demand attention and their couple relationship gets pushed into the background. The time and attention given to their relationship is whittled away with some couples becoming like married singles living parallel lives.
Quantity is part of Quality
Many people justify the lack of time spent with their loved ones by saying “we have quality time”. They tag team on the childcare as they race from job, to meeting, to school concert to a catch up with friends. They have an intensive weekly conference to coordinate the planners and ensure that a child isn’t left stranded in the dark after a training session or that the electricity bill misses the due date. They may even schedule a quality-time date night if they can align their diaries.
It’s a great start but the problem is, quality-time is only effective with a foundation of quantity-time; low intensity companionship which builds trust and openness.
Quality-time requires emotional vulnerability. This disposition cannot be turned on and off at will; it is nurtured through quantity-time spent together, often in routine activities like washing up, gardening or going for a walk. Just like food, quality doesn’t help if there’s simply not enough of it – we need a staple diet of quantity-time to keep our relationship healthy.
Without a foundation of quantity-time, our attempts at intimate, quality-time activities often fall on their face. We go out to dinner and have two hours of uninterrupted couple time ahead of us and instead of talking meaningfully and intimately, we chat superficially about anything except ourselves …because we just haven’t got that sense of connection and trust established. We’re like a couple on the first or second date getting to know each other again.
Sometimes these dinner opportunities end up even worse as one tries to take the conversation deeper and the other resists causing hurt and resentment. Cue the sullen couple wordlessly dining as they will the wait-staff to speed it up.
So much for that romantic, quality-time dinner!
Quantity-time is not as hard as you think
Fortunately, we don’t need to have enormous, uninterrupted slabs of time together in order to experience the benefits. Regular, brief get-togethers make a backbone of trust and connection which can be built upon by more substantial time slots. Small changes in our schedule or routine can make a huge difference.
For example, scheduling an extra 5 minutes in the morning before leaving home allows us to connect in an unhurried good-bye kiss. Organising an early dinner for the kids and eating late when children are settled allows for relaxed conversation and debrief at day’s end. Working together on household and garden chores instead of each doing their own, is time together without neglecting our responsibilities. When you take on a quantity-time mindset, you can identify opportunities in your everyday routine that might be low-impact individually, but cumulatively have a significant impact.