“We tell people what our priorities are by how we spend our time.” Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours
As a marriage therapist, I am often asked what are the problems that drive couples to my office. One of the most common and, in my view, saddest is when couples describe their relationship as being more like roommates than spouses. They frequently describe their life together as one of parallel existence with limited meaningful interaction, let alone any real intimacy.
Causes. The litany of their daily activities of work, child care, meal prep, laundry, television and surfing the internet may resonate with you too. When I inquire about how much they converse with each other or engage in activities together, I’m frequently met with blank stares and comments about “there’s no time”.
As the working mother of two children myself, I get it. The squeaky wheel gets the attention and children, work, and household chores are often squeakier than our spouses. When you’ve completed all the “have to” items, the lure of spacing out on the t.v. or the computer until time for bed may be too much to resist. This is especially true if your spouse is responding to the same siren call for winding down.
You may think you’re present with each other because you’re sitting in the same room, maybe even next to each other on the couch. But if you’re focused on your own activities instead of really interacting with each other, you’re really living lives in parallel. This may leave you both feeling lost and alone instead of secure and loved.
Important. It is important to be fully present when you are with your partner. It’s not enough to merely engage in what I call informational exchange. This is how many couples talk to each other. It is the quick and relatively impersonal conversation that happens several times a day, usually in less than five minute spurts. “What time will you be home tonight?” Will you be able to take Susie to her soccer practice?” “Can you pick up some milk when you’re out?” These exchanges are important, but they don’t bring the two of you closer together.
It isn’t enough just to know how your partner’s day was. It’s important to know how they feel about it. Being present means taking the time to really focus on what your partner is saying and how it is being said. It means paying attention not just to their words but to their tone, facial expressions, and body language. This is where the real information about your partner comes from. You will miss it if you aren’t really present.
Make Time. Make time to be intentionally present with your partner. This may mean making it a priority over the laundry or getting the kids lunches ready for the next day. It may mean scheduling it. It definitely means turning off the television, shutting off your iPad, and putting down your Smart phone. It means not just hearing your partner’s words but really listening to their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs.
As you really tune in to your partner, and they to you, you increase the closeness in your relationship. You will minimize the miscommunications and false assumptions that can create confusion and tension in your relationship. This lays the groundwork for the increased intimacy so many couples are searching for.
How About You?If you are applying these resolutions, I would love to know how your relationship is changing. Let me know what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t forget to join me next month when we address Resolution #5. The podcast for Resolution 4 is below.