One hundred people were in the room. I gave them a list of 10 characteristics of a healthy marriage. It wasn’t the Top Ten list. It wasn’t the be all or end all list. It was just a simple list of 10 things I see in many good marriages. (To see the list, click HERE.) I asked the couples to identify what was their two greatest strengths and two greatest weaknesses. I was intrigued to see if there was a pattern.
Two trends emerged. To their credit, most couples said their spouse was their first person. It’s an important trait of a good marriage. To turn toward our spouse before we turn toward anyone else is a characteristic of those who are happily married. (See: One Habit that Is Starves Your Marriage)
But a negative pattern was present as well. Nearly every couple said their biggest weakness was failing to spend time together.
It’s an understandable habit. Life gets busy. The demands mount so we have to make choices. So we push aside time with one another in order to attend to a more pressing need. In a single occurrence it is no big deal, but the cumulative toll of continually choosing other things over time with our spouse can have dire consequences. Sadly, quality time is most needed in the times it is most difficult to find.
In order to have a healthy marriage, couples must take intentional steps to spend time together. It may not be vital when they are first married. The needs for intention might diminish when the kids move out of the house, but during the majority of years of marriage, it’s non-negotiable. Without intentional acts to make time together, the busyness of life will drive us apart. It won’t be a conscious choice to drift apart, but will be the natural consequences of failing to nourish the relationship. As spouses spend time working, running kids to games, doing homework, volunteering, and doing a thousand other things life demands of us, their time together will subtly disappear.
As it does, their relationship suffers.
The problem with the process is that it’s unseen. If our relationships had a visible marriage meter that we could read, we would be better able to balance the choices of life. We could push aside time with our spouse for a few days, but as we saw the meter getting low we would make the conscious choice to fill it up. We would do whatever necessary to connect. Yet because it’s unseen, relationships starve without either spouse truly understanding what is happening. In many cases, by the time either spouse recognizes what has happened, they are well on their way toward trouble.
Two Habits for More Quality Time
Couples need to take two specific steps to protect themselves from this common trend:
1. Continually make a conscious choice to spend time together. You can’t wait until you sense trouble to do something about it. Healthy couples regularly try to find ways to spend time with one another. They meet for lunch. They sneak away from the children for a real conversation. They don’t call the kids to the dinner table and start without him until the kids realize what is going on. They plan date nights and getaways. They talk in the stands while pretending to watch their child play a game. Whatever it takes, they find a way to connect. (See: When There Is No Time for Marriage)
2. They regularly ask, “How’s the connection meter?” While there isn’t an official marriage gauge, healthy couples can create a mental one. At any moment, we can determine how we feel and we can ask our spouse how they feel. As we mature in our relationship, we can begin to identify times when we need to be together. We will learn the signs and symptoms of when our relational tank is low. Through trial and error, we can figure out what it takes for us to reconnect.
Looking at the responses of 100 people at a marriage conference was striking. I didn’t expect nearly every couple to identify the same problem within their marriage. But they did. Of the 10 items listed, they shared the same problem. Yet what worries me is what did they do about it? After admitting the problem, did they make any changes? Did they develop a plan? Did they take concrete steps to make better choices.
Knowing our problems is the first step, but if it’s the only step we take, nothing will change. However, if we can recognize what is wrong and make decisions to combat our common mistakes, our relationships can dramatically change.
If you want a happy marriage, don’t ignore the amount of time you spend together. Without a quantity of quality time, your relationship will suffer.