We Don't Spend Enough Time
with Each Other
Introduction: My recipe for a great marriage is simple. (1) meet each other's
most important emotional needs and (2) don't be the
cause of each other's unhappiness. Meeting each other's needs deposits love units, and
avoiding unhappiness prevents their withdrawal. The result is a happy marriage filled with
There are many reasons why people fail to achieve these two objectives and that's what
the Marriage Buildersﾮ web site is all about -- helping you overcome obstacles to their
achievement. One of the obstacles is time, or more precisely, the lack of it.
Most spouses fail to give each other enough of their time each week. It not only accounts
for failure to meet important emotional needs, it also creates a great deal of emotional discomfort. It could easily be argued that the lack
of time in marriage may be one of the greatest causes of loss of love, and subsequent
Of course, it's not the lack of time, per se, that causes divorce. It's that without time, it is impossible to meet the needs that keep a marriage healthy. Without time, the personal
attention required to sustain love cannot be provided.
The letters this week expose the problem that couples face trying to juggle all of their
responsibilities, particularly after their children arrive. In the first letter I post, the couple
is aware of their neglect for each other, and is searching for creative strategies to solve
the problem. But in the second letter, the problem has been around long enough to have
destroyed the couple's love for each other. It will be much easier for the first couple to
save their marriage than it will be for the second couple, because they still love each other.
But in both cases, time is their solution -- the reassignment of time.
Dear Dr. Harley,
I would like to know your thoughts on couples taking a weekend long vacation -
without the kids? We have 3 children, ages 5, 4, and almost 3. Our marriage has been
under some strain in the past year - from remodeling our home. It has consumed so much
of our time, we have not had any free time to be with each other. My husband and I need
some time alone to re-group, re-prioritize. One problem: We live in Alaska with no
relatives, they're all back in Alabama. But we do have close friends that we would feel
comfortable leaving our children with for a weekend. I am apprehensive about leaving my
children for a weekend. But I think it would be helpful for my marriage. What are your
thoughts on this? I know going away for a weekend won't make everything "o.k." but is
it a start?
A weekend away is a great idea, but you should use the weekend to create a plan to be
alone with each other every week thereafter. At the age of your children, it will be difficult
to engineer, but you can do it. When they get older, you can plan to be alone each week
while they are in school.
Your attachment to your children is very normal, and most women do not want to leave
their children to be alone with their husbands. They want their children along whenever
they go out so that they can experience a family outing. But the most important emotional needs in marriage cannot be met very well
with the children present. It's only when you have taken the time to give each other your
undivided attention that you can meet those needs.
You mention in your letter that you need time to reset your priorities, and I applaud you
for your wisdom. But I want to be sure that you understand what your priorities are.
From my perspective, your highest priority should be to meet each other's emotional needs. If you fail to meet each other's needs,
your marriage, which is your source of strength in achieving all your other objectives, will
weaken. And if your marriage suffers, everything else you value will suffer along with
Meeting each other's needs is more important than meeting the needs of your children;
more important than going to work; more important than paying bills; more important
than cleaning the house, cooking meals or visiting friends and family. It's the most
important responsibility you will ever have in life.
That should put your weekend together in perspective. You have done what many couples
unwittingly do. You have prioritized your life in such a way that everything has become
more important to you than each other. Even your remodeling project has become more
important. I noticed that you said you didn't have any "free" time to be alone together.
Why wouldn't you have said the same thing about remodeling your house? Why wouldn't
your time together have come first, and if you had any left over, you'd remodel your
You already schedule time for other responsibilities you have. Your children, your job,
your house, your friends, your church ... they all have a place in your weekly schedule.
Why don't you schedule time to be alone with each other?
If you were dating, you would find time to give each other your
undivided attention, or you would not be dating very long. Can you imagine dating
someone who would bring their children along on every date, or would have you over
only if you would help fix up the house or pay some bills. Courtship determines how
good you are at meeting each other's most important emotional needs, such as conversation, affection, and recreational
companionship. You married each other because you proved your ability at meeting
some of those needs. But now that you're married, you may fail to meet them because you
don't take the time to meet them. What a tragedy!
The solution to your problem is to schedule time each week where you can give each other
your undivided attention. And then schedule everything else in your lives around it.
Think of your time together as earning each of you $1000 an hour. It's time you could not
afford to miss, and you would see to it that you would earn every penny. As it turns out,
your time together is worth more than that, a lot more. It will buy you something that
$1000 an hour could never buy you -- your love for each other.
How much time? I suggest that you schedule 15 hours each week of undivided attention.
At this moment, that may seem to be an overwhelming and impossible goal to achieve.
But if it is, then meeting each other's emotional needs will also be overwhelming and
impossible. That's about how much time it takes to meet the needs of affection, conversation, sexual
fulfillment and recreational companionship, four
of your most important needs. You met some of those when you dated and you fell in love
with each other as a result. If your lifestyle prevents you from doing it now, your love for
each other will eventually disappear, because you will not be able to meet each other's
Two hours a day will just about do it. Or you can plan to be alone together one hour a day
and make up the difference on the weekend. Assuming you have about 110 hours a week
of productive time, it represents less than 15% of your total time to be spent doing what
is most important in your life -- meeting each other's needs. It's about the time you would
spend at a part-time job.
The time you plan to be together should not include children, relatives or friends. It
should be just the two of you, so that you can give each other your undivided attention.
And the purpose of your time together should be to meet each other's most important emotional needs, such as affection,sexual
fulfillment, conversation, and recreational companionship.
If you have not been spending much time together lately, your first dates will seem
awkward, and you will come face to face with the incompatibility that is creeping into your
marriage. As you follow the Policy of Joint
Agreement in deciding what you do when you are together, the awkwardness will
fade, and you will find it to be the most rewarding part of your week, just as it was when
you were dating each other.
You will also find yourselves coming up with excuses as to why you must miss a date.
The reason is that you are not used to being together on schedule, and it will take a while
to adjust to the idea that your dates are set in cement. Your courtship would not have
lasted long if one of you stood up the other due to more pressing responsibilities. The
same is true for marriage. If one of you tries to break a date, the other will feel neglected,
and rightfully so.
Another suggestion is to schedule time when you are both full of energy. Don't give each
other your left-overs. I usually recommend that time after 11:00 pm doesn't count, even
if it turns out to be the most romantic experience of your day. That's because, on average,
we're not worth much after 11:00 pm.
The time you spend alone with each other
is the most valuable time of your week. It's when you are depositing the
most love units, maintaining your love for each other,
and ensuring the success of your marriage. To neglect scheduling that time may prove to
be one of the biggest mistakes of your lives.