“Do you and your husband ever spend quality time together?”
That’s a question I recently asked Jan, who is a client of mine. She is living with a chronic condition that often limits her ability to participate as much she wants to in the daily activities of her home. Her husband, Jason, is always supportive, and willing to do whatever he needs to do to maintain their home. They have two young children. Jan admits that she often pushes herself more than she should.
Jan hesitated for a moment before answering my question.
“Well …” she answered. “We go over the bills every Sunday night after the kids have gone to bed. And we obviously talk when a problem comes up. Is that what you would call quality time?”
I answered with a question: “Is that what you would call quality time?”
“Not really,” Jan answered. “But I’m not sure how to change that. We don’t have much downtime around our house.”
I understand when I hear from couples like Jan and Jason about how difficult it is to spend time together that isn’t focused on keeping the home running smoothly and taking care of the kids. I also understand how those times can get pretty tense or stressful. Like when money is tight. Or when the partner living with the chronic condition is having an especially difficult time. Or when any of the other curveballs of daily life gets lobbed in their direction.
Some days can feel like one big fire drill. And couples have to mobilize and take action.
Is this quality time? Well, it’s certainly working together as a team.
But isn’t there more to a relationship than problem solving? Not that this isn’t a good use of your time together, as well as necessary.
I think of quality time as the moments you spend together when you are just enjoying each other. Relaxing, sharing an activity you enjoy, laughing … Kind of like what you used to do when your first started dating.
Quality time can also mean taking time to talk about the stuff you haven’t been taking the time to focus on, like planning for the future. Sharing your dreams, and strategizing on how to make them come true. How long has it been since you had a conversation like that?
Quality time can enhance your connection to each other. It’s an opportunity to be reminded of why you’re together in the first place, to enjoy each other’s company, without the distractions of life’s challenges and responsibilities. Quality time can be a way of healing the effect that stress can have on you, and on your relationship.
So … what about the time you spend communicating with your partner? Not getting enough quality time? Here are some ideas for building more quality time into your relationship:
Get it on the schedule. I’m not trying to turn this into hard work. On the other hand, most likely one of the reasons you aren’t getting enough quality time is that life’s daily fire drills keep taking priority. So how about setting aside some time? An hour? An evening? Don’t worry about what you’ll do with that time. Set it aside and figure it out later.
How about a date night? Dinner out, a movie, coffee and a walk, miniature golf … pick something you might both enjoy doing. Maybe you can’t do it every week, but how about once a month? It might be fun to take turns planning what you’ll do.
Don’t bring the kids along to chaperone. Couples often tell me that they have forgotten how to have a conversation with each other that doesn’t involve their children. When the kids aren’t around, they’re either too tired to talk or they talk about the kids. Plan a little time for each other that doesn’t involve the kids. Who knows, maybe they could use a break from you too.
Decide what not to talk about. How about considering setting a few ground rules, e.g. “We’re not going to talk about bills tonight.” Quality time is not only what you talk about, but also what you don’t talk about.
If you can’t get away for an evening, plan times that work for you. You may not have the time, the money, or the babysitter for an evening out. No problem. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Watch TV. Play a game. Take a drive. Turn the TV off and sit in silence. Quality time is all about spending time together, whenever you can make that time and however you choose to spend it.
Pay attention to each other. Listen to what the other person is saying. Make eye contact. You know, the stuff you did when you were first getting to know each other. Take a break from the smart phone.
It’s not about the amount of time you spend. It’s about spending the time. Even 15 minutes a day spent focusing on each other, sharing a story from the day, having a laugh, planning the weekend, is quality time.
While you’re taking a look at building more quality time into your relationship, you might also take a look at quality time as a family.
Quality time doesn’t have to be limited to you and your partner only. Are you having evenings when you all hang out together as a family and goof around? Play in the yard? Watch a movie? Maybe plan a vacation together? Or is your time together all about chores and homework and run, run, run? Plan on having some quality time with your kids. They need it, too.
You and your partner. Getting enough quality time? Define what quality time means in your relationship and then build more quality time into your life together. Communication isn’t all about solving problems. It’s also about building your relationship and, in the process, growing as individuals and as a couple.