When I think on the courtship my husband and I shared, I have memories of sweet notes, flowers, long walks while holding hands, and many, many conversations as we shared what was most important to each of us. When my children ask what made me fall in love their dad, it doesn’t take me long to come up with an answer. “He made me feel loved and important. He listened to me and remembered the things I shared.” The longer we dated, the more I longed to be with him and he with me. We wanted to enjoy these feelings every day forever.
Marriage was supposed to be the key to keeping this intense love alive, but not long after our wedding we found ourselves moving in different directions. Mark was still in school. I was working two jobs. We worried about bills, transportation, in-laws, holiday traditions and more. I had moved to a new city and knew few people. Mark went from school to work coming home after 12 to 15 hour days. It was hard to feel and remember the connection we both loved about our relationship.
Married couples across the country are struggling just as we did, being pulled between kids, school, work and other responsibilities. Dual earning homes have become the norm for many families, with over one fourth of these couples having at least one spouse working a nonstandard shift. Having such different schedules often results in couples speaking only in passing with just enough time to rundown the “chores of the day” and almost no time for the spousal relationship.
Authors Francine and Byron Pirola call this situation the “Auto-Pilot Marriage.” Married couples today often experience this auto-pilot lifestyle shortly after saying their marital vows. This is not a sign that there is no longer love in the marriage, but rather the normal progression of the modern marriage, if couples don’t actively work towards an alternative.
The alternative to the auto-pilot marriage is to be an intentional couple. An intentional couple creates and shares daily rituals of a significant nature with each other. Dr. John Gottman shares in his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” what research has shown makes the most effective rituals. For the majority of couples, it can start with just a few minutes each day.
Partings: Unlike the marital relationships of our forefathers, rarely do modern couples work side-by-side throughout the day. Therefore parting happens at some point. Gottman suggests couples dedicate 2 minutes each day to share something that will happen while they are apart. These two minutes begin a domino effect of connection. For example, in our home it often plays out something like this…
Mark: I will be conducting interviews for half of the day today. I’m not sure my partner and I are looking for the same qualities in a candidate. I hate to waste time interviewing people I feel are under qualified.
Me: That must be frustrating. I know you have a lot on your plate right now.
Me: (Later on sent in a text): I’ve been thinking about you today. I hope your interviews are going alright.
Mark: (texted in reply): I love you. I think we may have found someone we both can agree on. Hallelujah!
Me: That’s wonderful news! I love you too!
When we invest in the lives of our partner, we invest in our marital relationship. Taking the time to learn about each other’s plans, hopes, and fears shows we are partners. We demonstrate that we care about our partner and that we desire to be connected even while we are apart.
One last note on parting: kiss your partner goodbye. Not just any kiss, but a full six second kiss. Make the kids squirm a little! Gottman calls this a “kiss with potential.” A six second kiss is a kiss full of love, longing and commitment. Saying goodbye with such a kiss helps you leave with what I refer to as tingly toes. It lightens the day before it has even really begun and reminds us where our heart lies. So set aside just 2 minutes to listen to each other’s plans for the day and then share a kiss worth remembering.
Reunions: The second ritual that intentional couples do well is reunions. Reunions are my favorite part of the day. I often find myself waiting for the text telling me Mark is on his way home and smile when he walks through the door. Home is not home until he is there. Plus, Gottman suggests we reunite with another six second kiss. That’s two toe-tinging kisses a day. What a way to say hello!
Gottman then suggests that couples engage in a stress-reducing conversation at the end of the day. This conversation need only be about 20 minutes and can take place at any point in the evening. Just find a time that works for you and stick with it! I find it easier to talk once the kids are in bed. We snuggle up together in bed and share the events of the day with each other. If you have teenagers, consider going for a walk together in the evening. Teens are often up later hours and leaving the house gives couples that uninterrupted time. Most importantly, remember this 20 minutes is for connection. Problem solving and logistics can be worked out later.
Try these changes this week. Choose to be an intentional couple every day. Enjoy your six second kisses and connecting conversations. It’s amazing the power these small investments of time can add to your marriage.