I most often hear that connection and communication are lacking in people's relationships.
When your relationship is your top priority, you are behaving in Secure Functioning (meaning you have each others’ backs, you seek comfort and sex from one another, you create a haven in your home that gives you energy to do everything outside your door, you make interpersonal repairs genuinely and quickly, you get to know the many facets of each other, you protect one another emotionally, you champion each other, you stick to your agreements, you do what you said you would when you said you would, etc.).
Prioritizing your relationship does not mean you have to spend all of your time together. It means the time you are together, you are building each other up, filling one another’s love tanks, encouraging one another to be the genuine, best self you want and can be.
Remember: you don't have to think alike; you have to think together.
These are the generalizations I often hear from couples:
- She focuses on the kids first, everything else after that. I’m last on her priority list.
- He’s always working or playing video games, doesn’t plan anything social, and does almost nothing around the house. I’m last on his priority list.
I’m certain that was not your plan when you got dressed up, invited family and friends to join you in your sacred (I don't mean religious) ritual of love and commitment (and perhaps spent a ton of time and a small fortune). And by the way, what exactly did you commit to on that special day?
I know it’s hard down the line when there are kids and parents who need care, your careers, and [you fill in the blank. There will always be too much to do, and not enough time.
So what do you do?
- You can enact Gottman’s 6 Magic Hours for healthy partings, reunions, affection, appreciation and affirmation, date night and ‘State of the Union’. That’s daily time to really talk (10 minutes each, whether you are usually the talker or the quiet one). I want you to listen deeply when it’s your turn to do so (not be thinking of a reply, not interpreting what you hear--just listening with eye contact). You will have to train yourselves and your kids to make this time. A two-hour date weekly in which you don’t talk about work or kids or logistics. If you want, get a couples conversation deck of cards or book to prompt new conversation topics.
- Take the 5 Love Languages Quiz and create a plan of small, medium and large ways to give to your partner in his/her love language (this won’t solve your issues, but it will bring down the tension enough so you can put in the time and effort to work on your issues).
- Do what you did when you were dating. Then you were ‘selling’ to one another that you are THE person for him/her. You did fun stuff, and definitely made your partner come first.
- Look at photos of the two of you over time.
- Reminisce about how great you are together, what you’ve done that gave you joy. (Last night I was thinking about my husband, my love for him, his for me, how we take care of and support each other. And I thought about how much agony it’s going to be when one of us dies and the other will be alone. Yes, that hurts my heart to think about, and it terrifies me. It’s also completely worth it for the love we share. I’m choosing every day to be all in.)
- Create an emotionally secure environment for your kids so they grow up able to have a secure relationship with their partner of choice. This includes teaching your kids that it’s normal for Mom and Dad/Mom and Mom/Dad and Dad have alone time. Your children will not be harmed by your adult time; they will gain from this now and in their future.
- Greet and say goodbye daily with a two-minute belly to belly hug. Greet your partner before you greet your kids (I promise, they will adjust and get used to it--and in the end they be thrilled to have the parents who demonstrate love. It makes kids feel safe, and sets them up with the experience of a healthy adult relationship.)
- Have sex and lovemaking. Try something new once in a while.
- Have physical intimacy (hold hands, touch a shoulder, hug, etc.) that is not necessarily sexual.
- Have emotional intimacy. This means talking since no one can actually read your mind. Don’t make your partner have to dig for what’s going on with you, or take up all the emotional space in the house, or be teflon (dismiss what your partner has to say).
Really take this in: Everyone has to work on their relationship after saying, “I do.” Books, movies and fairytales often end with the wedding and “They lived happily ever after.” You [hopefully already accept that you have to work and improve at work, to care for your body through healthy-enough food, exercise and sleep, and you have to take care of your mental health. You need to have fun, too. So accept and enact relationship care and work, too.
On the downside, people who are under involved in their relationship are more at risk for dissatisfaction and affairs (BTW, monogamy is a commitment you make to yourself). There’s not much worse loneliness when you’re lonely in your relationship.
Remember to police yourself in your efforts to prioritize your relationship. As I’m sure you already know, it gets ugly when you police each other.
What will you do today to work on your relationship?