There’s an old adage in the world of parenting advice: Kids spell LOVE as T.I.M.E.
Kids don’t need things nearly much as they need a parent’s attention and availability. It’s a classic mistake that we make all too often; we give them stuff we’ve bought instead of the thing they most need from us – our interest and investment in them.
Or we do things for them instead of with them – like lock them out of the garage while we assemble the new bicycle or shoo them out the kitchen while we bake a masterpiece for their birthday. We tell ourselves that these activities show how much we love them, but the truth is, nothing counts as much as simple TIME spent with them.
What’s true in parenting is also true in marriage. Our relationships thrive when we give them our time and attention.
When we reflect back over our more than 30 years together (28 of them married), the periods which stand out as our highlights are also the periods when we were spending the most time together.
For example, our relationship flourished in our first six months of dating despite living in different cities because we spent so much time writing love letters, working our casual jobs to pay for phone calls and planning for the brief moments we were together. Yes – it was the days before email and long distance calls were metered and thus brief!
Another highlight was a decade ago when we took a three-month sabbatical and lived in a village in Italy. Without the demands of work or the distractions of extended family and social networks, we had heaps of time together. Although we were visiting museums and doing things with the kids, we were doing it together and our relationship naturally flourished.
Conversely, the darkest times in our marriage are associated with our relationship being time-starved. Like when we had big projects happening at work or when client work took Byron out of town frequently. In these periods, our relationship stagnated and we grew distant from each other. We became critical and nit-picky and wholly less pleasant to be with.
In our busy world, stressors like this are an unavoidable reality for most of us. Unless a couple are both retired and have built their life around joint activities, most modern couples are regularly, if not constantly, in a time-starved state. And though we know our relationship should take priority, there always seems to be something more urgent that needs our attention.
But here’s the thing: most relationships don’t necessarily need a banquet of ‘quality time’. They simply need frequent, small snacks. In fact, our marriage will flourish far better with frequent daily attention in small doses than in an annual, or occasional, grand gesture.
The grand gesture is not a good maintenance strategy. To maintain our connection day by day we need to put in place simple daily habits that create the space for time together in an overcrowded schedule.
One of the simple ways we do this is taking an evening walk together. It gives us a bit of exercise and some private time together to debrief on the day without curious ears listening in. We have a standard route and if we need another five minutes to finish a topic we simply lap the block again. It is a powerful connection ritual that helps us to stay tuned in to each other’s world.
It works for us now that our children are older, but not when they were younger and we needed to be in the house. Back then, we had other strategies. The point is, every couple needs to find their own formula that works with their interests and circumstances. The only non-negotiable is that it should be daily.
Whether it’s a child, a parent, a friend or your spouse, if you’re not giving the relationship sufficient time, it’s going to stagnate and potentially break down. Making regular time for each other in small doses is one of the most powerfully loving things you can do.