Part IX: Make the Relationship a Priority
I once saw a couple we’ll call the Joneses. They walked into my office and said, “We’re really good at Jones Incorporated. We do a great job of managing our finances, managing our household, raising our kid, and all the other practical aspects of our family. But we’ve lost each other.”
They had stopped connecting with each other in terms of emotional intimacy. They were high-functioning, efficient, productive roommates. They were not fighting, arguing, or especially angry – but they weren’t very caring or loving either.
This is one of the most common couples problems I see in my practice. There are not necessarily any deep-seated emotional issues they are avoiding – they have simply stopped making the relationship a priority. They are busy transporting their kids to sports events, working at their jobs, managing the household, maybe volunteering in the community – and taking each other for granted. I only half-jokingly tell my clients that the two things people take for granted and stop putting effort into are exercise and their relationship.
Absolutely nothing in your life will work or provide satisfaction if you don’t put time, effort and energy into it. Let me say that again: Absolutely nothing in your life will work or provide satisfaction if you don’t put time, effort and energy into it. Ask yourself very honestly – how much time, effort, and energy are you putting into your relationship? What did you do to feed your relationship this week? Last week? In the past month? What other parts of your life do you expect to provide rewards when you don’t put anything into them? Your health? Your career? Your finances? Your house?
You have a lot of demands on you, a lot to juggle and manage in your life. Work/life balance is a serious challenge for many of us. Babysitters are scarce, money is tight, and you’re tired. I joke that half of my couples clients would be “cured” if there were 48 hours in a day (the other half would be “cured” if they made a pill that made people patient).
So given the limitations of a 24-hour day, what can you do? Date nights on a regular basis are great if you can make it happen. The dates don’t have to be expensive or fancy – just the two of you enjoying time as a couple. During your date, don’t make side trips to the store, and don’t spend the whole time talking about the business of your lives – just spend the time relating to each other as a couple.
I advise almost every couple I see to find ways to spend more time with each other. Some of them come back and say, “No, we didn’t spend any time together – we just went to the grocery store, department store, and ran errands.” Others come back and say, “Yes, we spent time together – we went to the grocery store, department store, and ran errands together – and we made it fun. We talked and enjoyed our time together.”
I knew a couple who started their day together early, before the kids got up, talking over coffee on their porch. Another couple solved the time-together challenge by showering together in the morning. Whatever you decide to do together, put it on the calendar and make it happen – don’t let it be just a back-up plan in case you run out of chores and projects to do.
If you allow yourselves to become strangers and roommates, there will be no meaningful communication or connection – and very little satisfaction. Nurture your relationship, and the rewards can make everything else in your life easier.