I recall years of discussions about quality time in parenting. Personally, I think quality time for couples is a concept that is equally applicable and strangely, ignored.
When you look for articles on quality time, what you find is mention after mention of family time or spending time with your kids. Sure, you’ll see references to the importance of “date night,” and likewise, to sexual intimacy.
But is date night really bringing you closer — or just keeping you from being bored with one another? And as delicious as sex is — or should we say, making love? — has the afterglow become a replacement for necessary conversation?
Family Time Is Important, But…
Who among us isn’t for family time? We can easily understand the value of dinnertime sharing around the table, and encouraging the kind of talk that provides a window into a spouse’s day. And, we (hopefully) enjoy a more relaxed exchange with our children — at least, until they become teens.
All advantages of family togetherness aside, this “Peaceful Parent” article describes the value of one-on-one time with a child, which seems appropriate in a broader context. Emphasizing the importance of quality time spent with a single child in addition to family time, one of the key points made is this: Spending time exclusively with one child means undivided attention. Undivided attention results in greater empathy on the parent’s part.
Giving that some thought, shouldn’t the same principle apply to one-on-one time spent with anyone we care about?
The Importance of Empathy to Intimacy
If we carve out “focus time” for the person we love, if we stay open to their experience as they express it in conversation, if we observe changes in behavior and man up to the need to address them — aren’t we more likely to head problems off at the pass? Aren’t we more adept at putting ourselves in their shoes? Isn’t that precisely what empathy is about? How can we even imagine that we will sustain emotional intimacy if we cannot see the world through a partner’s eyes, and he or she cannot do the same?
This doesn’t require “fixing” each other, and I make that point intentionally. Too often, a spouse feels as if he has to fix his partner’s problems or supply a solution to the challenges he or she is facing.
Not so! Listening and understanding are, in my opinion, what so many of us are looking for. If a solution to concerns comes along as well? That’s great, of course, but intimacy isn’t about solving each others’ problems. In my book, it’s about understanding, respect and trust.
Date Night vs. Real Conversation
Naturally, I’m for date night! How easily we seem to set aside the pleasure of going off together to a little café or even a movie the way we did “in the beginning.” We have our reasons of course… time is short, money is tight, the kids (or the boss) need something, we’re tired… Believe me, I’ve been the one to use any of these reasons to say no thanks to going out.
On the other hand, not to enjoy a pleasant diversion with your partner is to lose touch with the laughter you may have once shared. And potentially to fall out of the habit of one aspect of enjoying each other that once brought you together.
Still… date night is too simplistic an answer. An “activity” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re truly connecting. I believe that requires shared experience and conversation.
Real Talk, Real Listening
How often are we talking at each other? How often, even when we are alone, are we going through the motions or our minds are elsewhere?
For me, quality time is all about real talk and real listening — opening up about what you’re enjoying, what you’re dreaming of, what you’re worried about, what you need from each other.
Can this be achieved over a quiet dinner in a restaurant? Maybe so. Can it also be achieved in quiet moments after a delicious time in bed? Maybe so. Can it be achieved with a 30-minute walk together two nights a week — a respite during which you explicitly designate the time for opening up to each other?
To me, even better.
One of the remarks from the parenting article that caught my eye is the following, which is so often used as a reason for why one-on-one time is impossible.
But I don’t have the time to play with my child, there’s too much to do!
How many of us in long-term relationships, living together or married could effectively say the same thing about our spouses or partners — in particular when we’re still raising children? Isn’t this one of the reasons that when we look up after years of focusing on family we no longer seem to connect?
Now, having had a husband who traveled a great deal, let me say that quality time cannot compensate for a spouse simply not being there, either in person or by phone, or for that matter, any other device. It is particularly insufficient if you’re raising children! That said, I also know my need for a certain amount of alone time. And that doesn’t mean alone with kids…
In my marriage, given the juggle of job, kids and domestic duty, the amount of time my spouse was gone left me exhausted when he was home. Clearly, this wasn’t conducive to quality couple time.
Hello… Long Distance?
This may seem like a contradiction, but I have enjoyed successful long distance relationships in the years since my divorce. One in particular comes to mind, and daily online contact allowed us to share portions of our days or evenings. Those odd hours were chock full of talk and listening and laughter. The quality of our communication defined the richness of our relationship, and the result was an incredibly deep bond.
When we did see each other, the experience was absolutely wonderful, as you might imagine. It was as if no time has passed between us at all, because effectively, it hadn’t.
Certainly, I would’ve preferred that we live closer. But the point here is that our quality time was based on communication, and the distance faded in importance as a result.
The downsides in a long distance relationship are obvious — having to go for long periods of time without sex, missing out on the pleasure of doing things together, and the reality of not having someone with whom to share the daily responsibilities and joys of caring for a family.
What’s Your Definition of Quality Couple Time?
Looking back, I see my ex and myself as unmarried marrieds. Without question, neither of us was proficient at communication and this was exacerbated by a certain emotional distance that was, I believe, natural to the man I married and possibly, to a lesser degree, to me. Perhaps if we had possessed greater communication skills early on, we would have avoided a number of marital pitfalls.
For me, quality time for couples is about listening to one another in addition to enjoying activities together if you possibly can, with the former more critical than the latter. That requires stepping away from kids, grand-kids and elder parents; setting limits with employers, clients and co-workers; saying “no” to the “everything” we take on that isn’t essential; and disconnecting from our smartphones and other devices.
The bottom line is communication, which is vital to empathy. And without empathy, it seems to me that emotional intimacy will languish, just out of reach.
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