Making Time for Your Relationship

Making Time for Your Relationship

“With two kids and two jobs, Doug and I never seem to have any time to be together just the two of us. You’re busier than ever, the days blur by, and then you look up and there’s your husband, and you realize that it’s been weeks, literally weeks, since you’ve done anything pleasant together. When we do get some time, it’s great and there’s a little glow in our relationship that lasts a couple days. We keep saying we have to do that more often. But it’s really hard.”

During periods of intense demands – such as the first months after birth, while an infant is colicky, or when either of you is sick or flat out exhausted – it’s normal for a couple to have less time for each other. But over the long run, we have to keep investing in an intimate friendship if we want to continue to have one. You can’t put a partner in the freezer for a few years and then pop him or her in the microwave and expect everything to be warm and tasty between you again.

Time together for conversation, doing fun things together, sweet moments, and affection is the foundation of a strong and enduring love. Here are some suggestions for busy parents:

Do tasks together.

Understandably, parents often divide their tasks in order to conquer them. But when you’re both cleaning up after dinner or bathing a child, it’s easier and more fun. Additionally, look for chances to connect even while you’re getting things done, like comfortably touching shoulders at the sink, shared glances of amusement at a child’s play with a stuffed animal, rubbing a partner’s foot as he or she reads a story, friendly conversation in the car while running errands, holding hands as you walk your child into daycare, and so on.

Create family fun.

You can also do more family activities that are fun and connecting for mom and dad, not just the kids, such as roughhousing together, making music, playing hide and seek or board games, making cookies, or planting flowers.

Make time for pillow talk.

Arranging to go to bed at the same time gives you more private moments for talking and snuggling, but that’s hard for many parents. Yet the difference in bedtimes is usually small enough that it’s easy to bridge with a gracious compromise. You could split the difference: if he’s the night-owl, he might come to bed a half hour sooner while you stay up for half an hour. Or maybe she could get the kids going in the morning, giving you more time to sleep so you can go to bed later with her. Or he might come to bed with you, talk and cuddle for awhile, and then go back out to the living room.

Establish daily routines.

Try to build time for just the two of you into the normal rhythm of your day. Tell the kids to leave you alone – perhaps after setting them up with an activity – and make the rule stick; soon enough, almost any child past two will come to respect it. Some couples have a cup of tea or glass of wine together when they’re both home from work. You could arrange for the kids to eat early so you can have a peaceful dinner with each other. Firm bedtimes will give you time to yourselves in the evening. Or pay an older child to play with your younger ones for a few hours over the weekend while you hang out together in another part of your home; a friendly ten-year-old is a preschooler’s dream playmate!

Schedule regular date nights.

By the time most infants are six months old (and for some, it’s sooner), they can handle their parents going off for an hour or two in the evening. At this point, try to schedule a “date night” for at least once a month, and maybe even weekly. The first time or two, let yourself be as careful or nervous as you like: call home every fifteen minutes, carry a pager, leave the movie early because you can’t stand being away from your baby, whatever – we’ve been there! But soon it will feel very natural, and the kids will see it as simply part of the weekly routine, even if they howl for a few minutes after your car pulls out of the driveway.

Let good moments last.

As much as you both want things to be good between you, it’s striking how hard it can be to let the nice moments last. For example, it might seem like a part of you doesn’t want to give way to strong feelings of liking or love. Perhaps you fear that would imply you’re letting your partner off the hook for the ways you feel they’ve let you down. Maybe you’re afraid to melt, afraid to let yearnings for love and support stir within you, unwilling to chance being hurt one more time.

Instead, try to take the moment for what it is: it doesn’t negate the past or de-legitimize anyone’s grievances, nor does it mean you’ve agreed to anything from now on. These minutes together are like beads on your life’s necklace: will they be pearls, or something plain or painful? You can help them be good by stretching yourself to be present when you feel far away, nice when you’re irritable, open rather than guarded. Try to locate in your partner that which calls forth warmth and fondness in you. When they offer something positive, try to build on it rather than letting it hit the ground with a thud. Protecting these moments makes a sanctuary for your love, giving it room to live – and grow.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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