The Ultimate Christmas Relationship Survival Guide
The Ten-Minute Window in Relationships
Some commentary on modern relationships
You should be ashamed (feel guilty) if you're one of the 40% of people spending a mere 10 minutes a day talking to their partner and yet claim this is your most significant relationship! Apart from mitigating circumstances of time-pressure events like just having had a baby or changing jobs, why would you treat your significant other like a ship passing in the night?
Increasingly I meet couples that think they have a "relationship" when they spend little time together. These statistics got me thinking of the two main types of couples falling into this time-short category. The first are those who spend precious little time with each other, then cry all the way to Relate wondering why one of them has had an affair or why they've become complete strangers.
Largely this is due to poor relationship skills where they haven't communicated their needs for more contact, etc. Add to this the unrealistic expectations of what they can pack into a day still expecting to nurture their relationship. Plainly it's sheer stupidity to think you'll enjoy a loving and romantic relationship with such time pressures.
But what's more interesting are the second type of couple in perhaps a new social phenomenon that I call "Practical Partnerships". Underneath the appearance of a full relationship they actually don't have - or necessarily want - what our society views as a classic relationship to aspire to. They're content touching base, enjoying the benefits of busily sharing the mortgage, childcare, chores and such responsibilities, with their partner.
You might raise an eyebrow at such a comparison but I'd say these relationships are made of the stuff of what an arranged marriage is in other cultures. Both are based on the practicalities of life like working to achieve stability and comfort over and above romantic love.
A hybrid of East meets West where you find and choose your own partner in a western fashion, but end up with the pragmatism of arranged relationships. They start romantically but become a balance between what each partner offers based on trade-offs of who does what best. There are low expectations for romance and exciting sex; instead they're content with the equanimity achieved sharing life with someone of the same inclination.
Now on other hand if you yearn to live life on a wave of passion, to have fantastic sex, and dine by candlelight - yet only schedule 10 minutes daily for each other - you're one of the stupid ones. Or if you find yourself in a Practical Partnership when you desire something else you're on a disastrous path. They only succeed when both parties want them. Equally when both want a more classic and romantic loving relationship it only works when you have time together.
Recently I met "Amanda", 43, who complained bitterly about her wish to spend more time with husband. I suggested she kept a note of how much time they shared - and when - before exploring what to do. Amanda's enthusiasm knew no bounds, she excitedly said she'd use a stopwatch to time their moments together. "Ahem," I said, "men don't like being timed full stop! You'll need to take a subtler approach."
And that's what you must do if you long for more intimacy and connection and want something other than a Practical Partnership, because for some they work.
1/ Sing From The Same Hymn Sheet -
Make a "date" to discuss your expectations for how much time you spend together. The challenge will be if one of you is satisfied with a Practical Partnership and the other isn't. Compromising over your expectations may solve this. There's much to be gained meeting half way.
2/ For The Record -
Discover how much time you really share. Keep a note (not with a stopwatch!) of the time you have to enjoy each other. Doing chores side-by-side, etc., doesn't count! This gives you the baseline to work from.
3/ Stresses And Strains -
Decide what part of your routine causes most stress. What solutions can minimise this? Perhaps deciding against taking on that extra committee or doing regular childcare swaps with friends. This'll carve out more time for you two.
4/ Reality Check -
Examine your communication style particularly in time-short, high-stress periods. For example, do you snarl at each other when pressured? Let a tape-recorder run during a typical interaction for a real taste. People are shocked by what they hear. Rehearse a kinder, gentler tone of voice putting these more loving tones to good use.
5/ Clever Communication -
Use positive communication techniques, e.g. don't bark orders over your shoulder as you pack up the children's school bags. It takes only a moment to turn around, face your partner, and calmly state what needs doing. Don't beat around the bush - be direct and clear. Use "I statements" where you claim responsibility for what you're saying. Start with an "I" as in, "I'd like us to do more of X, Y…" Far less frustrating for you both.
6/ Happy Times -
Think through what's made you both happiest over time. Even if in a Practical Partnership you could do with some fun together! Develop this one pursuit that's brought you most pleasure and commit to enjoying it together.
Ultimately, if you thrive in this new phenomenon of Practical Partnerships that's great. But if you want more connection consider the choices you make. Forgo things like your annual holiday abroad. What good's a fortnight in Tuscany when you've barely spoken the other 11 1/2 months? A few long weekends might be better. Or consider leaving purchases like a new car or flat-screen TV. These should wait as you knock over-time on its head and spend that precious time with your partner. Otherwise you'll be left with a lot longer then 10 minutes to ponder why your relationship withered and died.
Published in The Express Newspaper
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