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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time Together: A Cure for Relationship Problems

couple on sofa

Photo: Joe Madeira

For many relationship problems, the fix is simple but not easy; spend more time together. I don’t mean get-more-things-done-together time. Or even air your problems time. Partners need to have time when they can each share what naturally bubbles up from deep within — interests, values, or experiences that are expressions of their true selves. And they need their partners to have the time, focus and interest to really listen. This kind of being together is often lost in the overcrowded shuffling of daily activities.

Couples who first come to me for therapy often acknowledge that our appointment was the most time they spent alone together that week. As therapy continues, my office becomes a sanctuary; a place where they can devote their attention wholeheartedly to each other. Not surprisingly, their previous lack of time together wore away at their connection and left them, to a degree, emotional strangers or even, in some ways, adversaries. So, we use therapy to help them become teammates again. But an essential ingredient in making this happen, and in helping them to maintain their new friendly status, is quality time spent together.

There are small, but important, ways that couples can make the most of the snatches of time that exist in their days. For example, literally two minutes together each morning to share the highlights of their upcoming day is extremely helpful. Then they can close the loop in the evening with a short discussion (maybe 20 minutes) about how the day unfolded. With these two anchors in the daily routine, couples can remain connected with each others lives.

But it’s also extremely important for each partner to have time when they can just be themselves, apart from all the demands of life. To be happy, they need to be able to express the things most important to them — their interests, values, or dreams. And they also need their partners to respond by just focusing on them, attending with warmth and caring.

Basically, couples need some quality time together. But this quality time cannot exist if there isn’t any, or much, quantity of time together. Couples may wish they could make more time because they would love to be together if it wasn’t for everything that needed to be done. But, as we all know, time is not made — we must wisely use the time that exists. So, couples need to ask themselves whether spending quality time with each other — to keep their marriage healthy and happy — is a choice they want to make.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic, visit the Relationships and Coping Community.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 7:37 am

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