One of the most common reasons people give for not having the relationship they want is that they are too busy. The reality for most of us is that life’s hectic. Going on a holiday would be wonderful but that might be months away. Having a regular date night would be amazing but seems completely impossible.
It’s easy for the weeks and months to roll by and for us to lack the connection we really want with the one person who’s more important to us than anyone else in the world.
When life’s like this we know that we want things to be different, but we can be unsure about how to change things. We can find ourselves just hoping that in time things will become more ‘normal’ and we can connect the way we used to.
Taking a back seat and hoping for the best tends to not work out so well. Great relationships don’t just happen by chance, they need to be nurtured.
However, don’t throw your hands up in despair!
Being busy does not mean you don’t have time for your relationship.
Connection is built into the DNA of being human. We are simply not designed to live in isolation and most people choose to share their lives with a particular someone. We want it to be a special relationship, but if we want our relationship to be special, we need to treat it like it’s special.
Across each week we have 168 hours. If we allow 60 hours for sleep that still leaves us with 108 hours to connect with the person we love. John and Julie Gottman describe the magic 51/2 hours per week.
Six small things that can make a big difference
There are lots of small things that can make a big difference. The suggestions below come from the Gottman’s research. You can shape them for what’s right for your relationship.
- Establish a positive routine for your regular partings
Most couples have a daily time of parting where one or both partners are leaving the home. This can be a rushed “see you later” as the door closes behind you or it can be something that takes just a little longer. John and Julie Gottman recommend spending 2 minutes each day on partings. They encourage the ‘6 Second Kiss’ and asking each other about one thing that they are anticipating in the day ahead.
Covid has brought about a significant shift to working from home, so if neither partner is leaving the home try creating a delineation between the being-at-home-with-you time and the being-at-home-working time.
- Offer admiration and appreciation
Early in a relationship we’re interested in the other person, ask lots of questions and, if it’s a relationship that’s going to develop further, we see things we appreciate in the other. We show each other respect and express our interest in, and fondness for, each other. Once the early shine of getting to know someone wears off it’s easy to take each other for granted… and no-one likes the feeling of being taken for granted!
So, it’s time to get creative. Offering admiration and appreciation can be expressed in a myriad of ways: giving your partner a hug, sending them to a text just to let them know you’re thinking of them, bringing home their favourite flowers or snack, saying thank-you, expressing appreciation for a particular characteristic you see in your partner and providing an example of when they expressed that in a way that was meaningful for you.
These are things that don’t take a lot of time; the Gottmans suggest 5 minutes/day. Often the challenge is the remembering to do, rather than the actual time the doing takes. If you recognise remembering it as your challenge set a daily reminder. It shows that even if thinking about your partner while you’re at work doesn’t come easily, you value your relationship enough to make a change and follow through. Treat your partner like they’re someone you love and make the effort.
- Offer affection
Offering affection is another way to strengthen connection. Enjoy affection for the sake of affection and not because it might lead to sex. Holding hands, cuddling on the couch, a rub on the back, a touch on the shoulder can all say, “I’m with you”. Touch can be lots of different things to lots of different people: comforting, romantic, playful, relaxing, loving… Talk about what different forms of touch mean for each of you at different times. Help your partner to understand what you like, when, so that you can connect affectionately in ways that are enjoyable for both of you. Again, even 5 minutes/day of appreciated affection can make a valuable difference to your sense of connection.
- Weekly date
Maybe a weekly date night seems impossible with work schedules and family responsibilities. Don’t let those things get in the way of your relationship. Make your weekly date as do-able as possible. Creating a routine can be really valuable here. It can be easier to get child minding on a routine weekly basis than ad hoc. Alternatively, maybe a date night is a candle-lit dinner once the kids are in bed. Is a breakfast or lunch more likely to work than dinner? Do you have friends you could share child minding with?
The time and place for this weekly catch up isn’t as important as the fact that it happens! Make sure that each week the two of you have time to connect with each other in a way that provides opportunity for connecting without interruptions. Ideally set aside 2 hours each week for this special time together. The Gottman Carddeck app has great prompts that might reignite your conversations and connection with each other.
- Have stress reducing conversations
Having a daily stress reducing conversation is a huge asset for your relationship. In the Gottman’s research it was found that couples who were able to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ were much better able to tolerate the storms of long-term relationships. ‘We-ness’ can be created by hearing, validating and empathising with your partner on issues outside of your relationship.
The stress reducing conversation provides an opportunity for each partner to share something stressful from their day for 10 minutes. That’s 20 minutes each day. And don’t tell me that nothing stressful happens in your day! Even if it was just a stressful moment it’s worth sharing. Remember though, that it does need to be an issue outside of the relationship. The listener can ask open-ended questions that increase understanding on the issue but must not go into problem solving, at least not until their partner says they feel understood.
- Weekly check-in
Last but not least, allow 30 mins each week to check in on the highs and lows for each of you in your relationship over the previous week. This is an opportunity to make repairs and to plan for things you can each do to support each other in the week ahead. For further information, read about how the Aftermath of a Fight can be used to make repairs https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-we-used-the-aftermath-of-a-fight-to-repair-our-relationship/
Learning new strategies takes some effort at first. Choose one of the above you think you’ll find reasonably easy to implement and maintain. Once you feel you’re managing that, add another strategy and then another. These strategies are not difficult, and over the course of a week they don’t have to be time consuming. Small, consistent, daily and weekly efforts have the potential to bring high returns for both of you.
Your relationship is worth it… give small things a go… often!