Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding Time for Us

Sometimes my husband Bill's work takes him away from home. This past week, he was on the road where he slept in a hotel Monday through Thursday night. When this happens, if I take my mother’s advice, I’ll squeeze in as many precious “me” moments as I can in his absence. I recall that when my dad was occasionally gone overnight, Mom made no secret that a party was about to unfold. No, not an adolescent “Risky Business” kind of party, but a “we’ll eat cereal for supper and watch episodes of I Love Lucy in our nighties” kind of party. She knew how to live it up, my mom.

For me, I find it hard to constantly switch gears. The family schedule changes somewhat depending on whether Bill is in the house or on the road. Like many dual-earners, we have arranged our lives and divided the chores in such as way that we can keep things afloat. I cook, he cleans. I feed the dogs and walk them in the morning, he comes home at lunch. I supervise homework, he makes me tea. When he is here, that is. Maybe the worst part of the traveling is trying to find some private time to stay connected when our time is so limited. I am tempted to meet him at the door with a mop and bucket on Friday evening when he returns to welcome him into the squalor that has exploded in his absence.

Whether they travel or not, modern busy couples have to be creative to find some private time to keep their relationship on track. When partners do not take the time to tend to each other, it can lead to poor communication and feelings of emotional distance.

In her book What’s Happening to Home, author Maggie Jackson says, “Privacy protects us, allowing us to nurture our most intimate relations with others…” Researchers agree that partners need some private time, away from the hustle and bustle, to pay attention to each other. It is important to protect your relationship in a world where parenting, jobs, social duties and electronic gadgets often intrude on the couple’s privacy. While children need and deserve time, attention, and love, it is important to remember that children also benefit when their parents have a strong relationship.

Here are some ideas for creating and making the most of private couple time.

Set clear boundaries.
Boundaries, with limits you both enforce, can help keep all the parts of your life in their proper places. Examples: “Cell phones have to turned off during dinner.” Or “Saturday mornings are always our breakfast date, no matter what.” Or “No checking work email on the weekend.” Make sure your kids know about couple time and respect it, too. You may need to plan during times when they are busy or asleep, especially when they are too young to respect privacy.

Manage your non-couple time. Productivity has many benefits. If you make the most of your time while you are apart, it is easier to dedicate some free time to your partner, for example, in the evenings or on the weekend.

Share responsibilities.

There are many responsibilities around the house that can eat into couple time or can cause resentment and prevent couples from making the most of their private time. Make sure that both people agree about what is a fair division of labor.

When both partners contribute to the many jobs that keep a household running such as cooking, cleaning, errands and shopping, everything is done sooner and there can be more couple time. Couples who agree on how to share the load report being happier than those who don’t.

Candles and tablecloths are optional. Private time does not have to be expensive or even out of the house. It can be a coffee date at the start of the morning or an ice cream cone on the porch after everyone else is in bed. It is the one-on-one time that matters. It doesn’t have to be long either.

Quality private time.
Use your precious time well. Share with each other. This includes being open about your day and your feelings. While this does not mean you have to spill your guts about every little thing, it bonds couples to share regularly, especially any concerns. Remind your partner of your commitment to him or her, either in words or in actions. This is never old news!

After the next trip, on Friday evening I will meet Bill at the door with a nice cup of tea. I am going to suggest a long walk with the dogs so I can hear the details of his week and tell him about mine. (Between now and then, in honor of Mom, I’ll watch a few episodes of I Love Lucy in my jammies while munching my way through a bowl of Cheerios…).