On a muggy Summer evening I posed the question ‘do you want more quality time with your husband?’ to a Facebook group of women juggling careers, marriage and kids. Within thirty minutes, 103 women had selected ‘yes’ with as much fervor as a semi-blind gerbil attending a glasses convention.
The frenzy shouldn’t have surprised me. Every day another article is published exploring the burden of the mental load, of mother guilt, and of the inequitable split of domestic duties — still.
It’s easy to lose yourself, and each other, in the boredom of routine and an over-stuffed schedule. You cling to hopes of reclaiming your freedom when the kids grow up or when you achieve your financial goals, but there’s no guarantee you’ll emerge unscathed when that time comes.
The cost of this holding pattern may very well be your relationship.
What is quality time?
Quality time is defined as ‘time that you spend with someone, giving them your full attention because you value the relationship.’
As with all things to do with love, we’ve added a truck load of expectations on top of the simple definition. Quality time now represents more than giving someone your undivided attention, although for many that would be a great start. Here are some of the responses to my Facebook question:
- I want time together as a couple with no babysitter deadline or housework waiting at the end of a too-brief date night. The occasional date night never feels like enough.
- I want his undivided attention and his enthusiasm, I want to know he’s enjoying himself.
- It would be great if he wanted to be there with us as a family and wasn’t just coming along because it’s what I want.
- I want to create memories and have fun. I want to laugh goddammit! I can’t remember when I last laughed til my sides hurt.
- I want to feel understood. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking another language, he’s there but he doesn’t get it.
How to create the conditions for more quality time
A 2008 study by Impett, Strachman, Finkel and Gable measured the impact of positive and negative events on relationships by asking participants to respond to a set of prompts over a series of days.
I’ve adapted their work to come up with the following eight ‘positive event’ prompts you can use as a monthly reflection, or when you feel far away from each other and you’re craving more quality time:
- I told him/her I loved them
- I participated in something I enjoy
- During a discussion I tried to understand and appreciate him/her
- We did something fun
- I did something that made him/her feel special and wanted
- I complimented him/her
- I made him/her laugh
- We talked about making our relationship more committed
According to the research, the above prompts represent actions that support love, connection and joy, which in turn increases individual motivation to spend more quality time together. Why? Because it feels good.
Now, you may have noticed that the prompts are worded in first person, meaning they’re reflections on what you gave rather than what you received.
Before you sigh at the prospect of yet another thing you have to do, hear me out. By approaching your relationship from a place of generosity, you take radical responsibility for your role in its security and satisfaction. Responsibility may feel heavy and not very fun but it’s the only true freedom you have. Otherwise, you wait around for schedules to clear and planets to align — you wait for him to lead the way, and while you’re waiting, resentment and frustration grows.
Reflect on the prompts and take action where you find things lacking. Be the agent of change and he will show up for more connection and joy with his party pants on.
Originally published on Medium