“But I don’t have time for that” is one of the most common obstacles clients share with me in making improvements in their relationship. I would anecdotally say it’s probably about 90% of my couples highlight this as an ongoing issue. Here’s the thing: there is no secret. No shortcut, no way around it. We all have busy lives, for any number of reasons, and almost none of them are worth the strife of having relationship issues. The kids have sports practices, or band lessons, or need to go to tutoring. You work weird hours and rarely are able to get out of work on time. These are all valid concerns that need your attention. And yet, none of them are more important than having a healthy relationship. We go crazy when our relationships are bad. Look at any celebrity couple break-up and track the crazy that happens. Same for regular ol’ peeps. When our relationships go down, so does our mental well-being. So, how do you find the time to connect when it seems you don’t have any?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that therapists all know and take advantage of: when you come to therapy, you have to carve out time from your schedule to show up on a regular basis. Wow Jer, not much of a secret!?!?! I know, but it’s a fact that every single therapist is aware of, because it tells that it is at least possible for you to structure some time into your schedule for self-care. So, as a couples therapist, I know that if you can come in for an hour session, plus drive time, then once you’re done with therapy you have at least an hour a week to use for couple time. Part of coming into therapy is using the tools and techniques you need to reprioritize your time. Need to get a sitter for therapy? Guess what, that same sitter is available for date night. So tapping into your support system is huge, but also a skill that people get better at the more they practice it. And when we need to go to therapy, problems are already at a significant enough level to seek help. What if we can avoid those problems in the first place with some preventative care?
Couples don’t fall out of love, they stop doing loving activities. Sure, your brain doesn’t light up the same way after 10 years together as it did when you first started dating. But while you first started dating you devoted so much time and energy to the relationship. You stayed up late talking, you went out for dinner, you thought about what clothes to wear, all that good stuff that put your emotions into action. As we spend more time in relationships, we spend less time on these activities. But they don’t stop mattering, we just get distracted by other noise in our life, and we end up letting our relationship slide down our priority list. It’s messed up and unhealthy, and almost all of us do it. Couples do great on vacation (for the most part), and it’s the reason those expensive marriage retreats seem to work. If you spend time with your partner outside of the mundane functional part of life, you enjoy them more! So while the dating stage of phone calls until 2 am isn’t sustainable, some version of that prioritizing needs to still be in your life. You need to want to set other things aside in order to spend time with your partner. It has to be a priority or it won’t happen. So, as I mentioned above, you need to carve out time in your schedule. Carve, like a dull pocket knife carving your initials into a tree. It’s a fight with your schedule, with all the other less-important-than-your-relationship stuff in your life. Drop your kid off at practice and meet your partner for coffee, ask the grandparents to take the kids for a night and go stay in a hotel (or just at home without the kids!), give the kids some screen time so you and your partner can cook together or share a drink. No one is going to hand you extra time in the day (and daylight savings can jog on while we’re on the subject), you need to fight for it.
If you have kids this is tough, but it’s a lot of creative thinking mixed with using your support system. Before kids wake up or right after morning drop-offs, lunch breaks, during after school activities, or after bed time are all windows of opportunity that you and your partner might not be using. But even just calling each other over a lunch break, or text each other funny memes throughout the day. Just share some positive intentions and communicate to each other that your relationship is on your mind often. Workout together, play games together, go grocery shopping together, whatever. Tons and tons of research comes out that says “couples who do this activity together report higher satisfaction blah blah” and it all boils down to couples that spend time together, because they make time together, are happier. So, prioritize it, and make it happen. All those couples that tell me this is a problem make progress once they start to put more intention into it. You can, too.