The Magic Five and One-half Hours a Week:
How to strengthen your relationship by turning toward each other every day.
Couples who make time for each other on a regular basis strengthen their relationship. We often underestimate how important the seemingly small things are to the health of a marriage. Small positive things done often make a big difference in how loved each partner feels. Expressing fondness and appreciation every day for five minutes a day adds up to thirty-five minutes a week. How silly this sounds when you actually add up the minutes! But I can tell you that it works.
When a couple concludes couple’s counseling, a sure way to prevent relapse into old patterns is to keep in mind the following ‘magic’ behaviors.
Things You Can Do to Keep Your Relationship Healthy and Close
1. Affection: Kiss, hold, touch each other. Play is good. Make sure to kiss each other before going to sleep, and when you leave in the mornings. Kissing when you come home at the end of the day is a ritual that many couples do, without much emotion attached to it. It is still a good behavior but see if some of the time you can kiss and look each other in the eyes. Linger a bit, but know that the rule applies that showing physical affection doesn’t mean sex.
2. Admiration and Appreciation: Find some way every day to genuinely communicate affection and appreciation for your partner. A minimum would be five minutes a day each and every day. Appreciations can be small acknowledgments such as, “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher” or “It feels really good to have you make me my favorite pasta tonight”. Expressing admiration can be for big or little things, such as “I admire the way to handled the kids just now, you didn’t blow up the way I think I might have”, or “you look great today!” Of course, don’t start pulling out the timer on your smartphone and timing these things. The idea behind setting times is to help you understand that these small things add up—don’t short change your relationship by being stingy with affection, or expressions of fondness.
“It doesn’t count if it doesn’t come out of your mouth”. Often we think things about our partners but don’t express it. For reasons both complex and simple, people hold back their expressions of love, whether verbal or physical. Couples get into habits of aloofness and distance.
3. Love Maps and Dates: Date night is important because it lets you update love maps. Every relationship needs at least two hours every week to be alone together. Time to talk, to catch up on each other’s week, and to reconnect without distraction of kids, or even other couples. It is great to entertain together and solidify your community with friends, but don’t let this eat into your time together. Couples often come to counseling confessing that they never have time alone with each other. They are with their extended families, or the kids are around, or they have friends over to watch TV and have pizza. These activities are important and enriching, but should not be at the expense of time just the two of you. Date night doesn’t have to be at night either. You can schedule a lunch date once a week, or a morning walk. Sometimes people say that they can’t afford to go out. Paying for a babysitter, a movie, and dinner will add up fast. Don’t let money be your excuse. There are lots of free things to do – put time into thinking about ways to spend your time that doesn’t involve money. A picnic or a trip to a museum on Free Day – but make time to brainstorm together. If you don’t have family who can watch your kids, then ask other families to trade watching each other’s kids. The kids enjoy play-date trades, and they may not consciously understand it, but seeing their parents take time away from them is good. The world does not center on them.
When couples tell me they feel guilty leaving the kids, it is usually not the kids, but they who have trouble separating.
These are just a few of the things you can do to keep your relationship alive, and healthy.