Monday, May 17, 2010

Like Ships Passing In The Night

A past neighbor of mine worked in a trade. His wife was a bartender. For almost 10 years they worked opposite schedules - he worked days and she worked nights. In that time they bought a house, had 2 children, and somehow managed to keep it all together. At least we thought they did. One day they both looked at each other and said "I'm done." They didn't really know each other anymore and most of their recent interactions had been highly conflicted. They split up.

Incompatible schedules.

I shake my head when I think of all the couples I have known who thought that they could long term sustain incompatible schedules. Working opposite from your spouse may be a practical way to solve some short term problems (child rearing, financial issues, education) but long term it is death for the vast majority of relationships. Some people can manage it for a few weeks, others for a few months, and some even for a few years. But eventually cracks begin to show and things begin to deteriorate. It's only a matter of time.

The problem is that when a couple isn't together, focusing on each other, it is extremely difficult to meet their most important emotional needs. Needs such as affection, sexual fulfilment, conversation, and recreational companionship. Dr. Willard Harley, author of His Needs, Her Needs believes that all couples need a minimum of 10 hours a week together to specifically focus on meeting each other's needs just to maintain a good relationship. To fix an ailing one requires many more. Emotional needs don't just take care of themselves. They require quality time together focusing on each other. Couples who are in the initial stages of relationship find this instinctual but couples who have been together longer need to choose to make this a reality.

Protecting your quality time with your spouse takes creativity, negotiation, taking some career risks, and making some sacrifices. But it is the only way to long term relational health. No relationship can survive for too long without quality time together as a foundation to build upon. So how are you doing in this area? What do you need to change? Here's a challenge I sometimes give some of my clients: spend 10-15 hours per week (for a month) in quality time with your spouse, giving your full attention to meeting each other's most important emotional needs. You may think you could never find that kind of time but what will it hurt to try it for a month? The rewards will be worth the small sacrifices you have to make. To find out what your spouse's most important emotional needs are, download a helpful questionnaire here.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Thanks for writing about this.

I've made some major changes in my career to ensure that our family - and Geoff + I - can maintain quality time and healthy relationships. I've always had a 'regular' job that required 60+ hours a week but was centred around 9 to 5 / Monday to Friday, and Geoff is a nurse who works 12 hour shifts. It was always a struggle for us to make time to connect. With a child in the mix, it's even harder. I was lucky enough to figure out a way that I can still have my career but work almost exclusively from home (and less than full time).

Some days, it makes me a little bit sad to know that I'm making choices that might be stunting progression in my career, but I hope that it's worth it. Reading your blog today helped me realize that it definitely is.