For this month’s article I wanted to discuss the concept of protecting alone time with your spouse after having children. Often times when couples transition to being parents, they experience stress on their relationship; too much arguing, too little sex, too much stress about money, and not enough understanding. The demands of this life transition can serve to either bring a couple closer together or to drive them apart. One of the deciding factors as to whether these stressors bring you together or tear you apart is the amount of time you spend together. When I ask couples who are struggling how much time they spend together, the answer is often “Our lives are too busy to spend any alone time together”.
While most parents intuitively sense the trouble with this this response, it is also easy to understand how difficult it is to actually protect time for each other. The truth of the matter is that when you have young children, protecting time to be alone with your partner is inconvenient and inefficient. Deciding not to protect this time together, however, is a decision that ultimately erodes your sense of closeness as well as your ability to solve problems together.
Research suggests that couples who restructure as little as five hours per week for their relationship are likely to show significant relational improvement. The following is a guideline developed by Dr. John Gottman which can help. Good Luck!
THE MAGIC FIVE HOURS A WEEK
PARTINGS- Don’t part in the morning with out knowing one interesting thing that will happen in your spouse’s day (2 minutes a day x 5 days working: total 10 minutes)
REUNIONS- Take 10 minutes to talk about your day (the stress-reducing conversation) Partners alternate in actively listening. Rule: Support and understanding must precede advice (20 minutes a day x 5 days: total 1 hour 40 minutes)
ADMIRATION AND APPRECIATION- Find some way every day to genuinely communicate affection and appreciation toward your spouse. (5 minutes a day x 7 days : total 35 minutes)
AFFECTION- Kiss hold, grab, touch each other. Play is good. Make sure to kiss each other before going to sleep and before parting each day -- (5 minutes a day x7 days: total 35 minutes)
LOVE MAPS AND ARGUING- Take at least 2 hours a week for a marital date. During this date couples do a number of things, such as updating their love maps, turning toward one another, discussing conflictual issues, repairing failed bids, and often just asking one another how each is. Some think of questions to ask their spouses (eg. “how are you thinking of changing the bedroom these days? or What would be your idea of a great getaway? or How are you thinking about your work these days?)
Danielle Dougherty, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Boulder who specializes in working with postpartum women and couples with young children. Danielle also runs regular Baby-proofing Your Marriage workshops in Boulder. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please feel free to call or e-mail at: 303-550-3874/ firstname.lastname@example.org