A number of years ago I planned a weekend getaway for me and my wife. I booked a bed and breakfast and planned a tour of part of the Olympic Peninsula we had never seen so that we could enjoy some time together. But in the days leading up to the event, a family in the congregation I pastored experienced a loss and I was called upon to lead a memorial service.
We were still able to go on our trip, but we left later than expected, got lost on the way, and if all of that wasn’t bad enough, a winter storm stopped most of our outdoor activities! We still look back on that trip and laugh as it could not have gone much worse. Let’s face it, our plans don’t always work out. However, the fact that we are intentional about scheduling these times, regardless of how they turn out, is what’s important.
In looking at how we connect to our spouse I believe we all have different ways and preferences. I have heard many couples talk about how stressed they feel and how they don’t have the time they need for an extended time together, so they focus instead on quality over quantity.
While it is true that you need quality time with your spouse, you cannot just “declare” that a particular moment or outing will be quality. I have found that you must set aside time in order to connect – some of it will be quality and some may not be, but by prioritizing time to connect you show that value each other and your marriage bonds grow stronger.
Connecting in Conversation
For some talking is a chore, and while we want to feel connected, deep conversations are not going to just happen. For some, talking about deep things is easy and a great way to connect. Everyone is different in this area.
Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen a couple that doesn’t say much? They just sit across from each other and eat? Are they connected? The truth is that sometimes we may have lots to say and other times just being together and experiencing things as a couple is enough. A constant stream of words is not necessarily what is always what is needed. But if you never talk to each other, you do need to ask yourselves, are we connected? If you never share deeper issues in your life you need to be more aware that important communication needs to take place.
What About Date Night?
Couples need to set aside special times to build their relationship. A regular date night is one way to do this and can be a great way to plan to spend time together. I recommend it, but I also think that relying solely on a date night for connection can lead to disappointments. What happens when your monthly date night doesn’t happen because of a sick child, or car break down, or some other unforeseen event? Does that mean you don’t really care about your spouse? Certainly not! I cannot tell you how many times a special time was planned for my wife and me to share that ended up being interrupted due to outside issues. But because we make efforts to connect in other ways as well, our relationship is secure and there is little need to hang all of our hopes on the big date.
Make Time to Connect Daily
For some folks, a simpler approach can be good, like daily touch points. Maybe you and your spouse talk about what their day will entail every morning over coffee, or perhaps you spend a few minutes every evening talking about what happened during the day. Taking time to show an interest in your spouse’s life each day will go a long way in fostering connection.
Some people love to receive text messages from their partner throughout the day. These messages don’t have to be long, but a short note that says “I’m thinking about you” can really help you feel connected.
The main point in all of this is that it’s our job to establish connection.
John Gottman, one of the top marriage researchers, talks about the importance of bids in healthy relationships. Healthy couples turn towards their spouse 86% of the time. Unhappy couples that divorced averaged 33%. In other words, happy couples engage and respond to their spouse with positive interactions.
Here’s what’s tricky – positive interaction differs from person to person. For some, it’s spending time together and doing an activity that you share. For example, I love fishing, but my wife not so much. She does, however, love to give me time to do what I enjoy. On occasion she will even just hang out with me, or join me in an activity she knows I enjoy. And sometimes she wants to do things I am not so interested in, but I do them joyfully and try to discover what it is that she likes. When couples start to focus on building connection, their marriage satisfaction will rise.
Tips for Healthier Connection:
- Don’t assume. What works for one may not work for another.
- Find ideas you can agree on. Date nights, daily touch points, enjoyable activities and when to find time to talk.
- Put together a plan. Commit to actions. It may be as simple as a quick text before coming home or at lunch? Maybe set aside an evening each week to go for a walk together and talk.
I often tell my clients that relationships are like climbing a greased pole. You are either climbing up or sliding down. Keep climbing and win your spouse’s heart.