A few years ago when I was struggling in a first marriage that ultimately failed, I came across some advice that I have never forgotten. It was simple and brutal – if you want your relationship to last, spend 15 hours per week in face to face contact with your spouse. (See www.marriagebuilders.com for details.)
Not time spent sleeping, watching television or taking care of the kids. Face to face time. The kind that allows for conversation and interaction.
He made a good point — when you are dating, you make sure to spend this kind of time to get to know the other person, and you actually engage in certain practices that allow you to fall deeply in love. He argues that these practices, and their duration, is what allows a relationship to develop. When they cease, the relationship suffers and eventually dies.
In most marriages, other commitments come into play that reduce the number significantly — kids, work, hobbies, charities, church, chores, sports, television, games, Internet activity. Over time, the total number of hours shrinks as both partners unknowingly drift to other interests. Before you know it, each partner has developed a raft of other commitments that serve to keep them apart.
It was a compelling argument, but I had the reaction that most people have when they hear the 15 hour required minimum. “Where the heck will I ever find that kind of time?” It seemed to be an impossible task to squeeze that much time in, and I had the stupid notion that time with one’s spouse shouldn’t be forced… which only meant attempting to squeeze the time in between other, presumably more important, commitments.
The author argued that this was a cop-out. He asked his readers to imagine what would happen if they were to fall in love with someone outside the marriage, and were to conduct a torrid and passionate affair.
If you are a fan of the television series Mad Men you would see a good example of how the busiest people in the world are able to find time to have affairs, and I imagine that you and I are not too different. 15 hours a week on our secret love affair would feel like no time at all, and we’d magically find ways to be together that seem so hard once our lover becomes our spouse, and a few years have passed.
In my second marriage I have worked hard from the beginning to make sure that the 15 hour minimum is preserved, and I schedule time with my wife when I find that the minimum is being threatened. Some married folk in my time management classes argue that setting time aside to date your spouse isn’t romantic, but they ignore the fact that if they were to conduct an illicit affair, that high level scheduling skills would be an absolute requirement!
They also forget that when they were dating, coordinating schedules was an absolute requirement, and that we all make the mistake in thinking that once we are married, such dedicated time will come easily and effortlessly, without planning and foresight. Sex should happen spontaneously, right after doing the dishes and changing the baby’s diaper.
Once convinced, however, of the need for 15 hours, finding the time is often a huge challenge. Those with White belt skills in Scheduling, for example, are likely to find the going tough in spite of their best intentions. Their best tactic is to upgrade their skills in this area to Yellow or Orange belt levels, so that they can handle this new 15 hour per week time demand that seems to be such an imposing burden.
It seems a bit strange that time management skills might have something to do with saving a marriage. However, if we look at the things that don’t happen in life because we don’t have the time (such as more exercise, less clutter and better balance) it’s not hard to see that doing well in all of them requires good a time-management skills.