The other critical time is bedtime. Probably about half of all couples go to bed at different times, contributing to a pattern of disconnection at the end of the day, undermining the sense of intimacy and adding to a sense of being alone in the marriage. Parents never let their children go to bed without some form of connection and reassurance that all is well. We read to our children, sit on their beds, lie next to them, hug them, and talk about the good things to look forward to tomorrow. While the extent and form of this change as our children get older, close families retain some part of this evening ritual even with teens.
So why doesn't our beloved spouse deserve at least the same consideration? If one partner goes to bed earlier than the other, arrange for a signal that you are in bed and the other should come up for a similar intimate goodnight. Hugging, snuggling, and briefly putting to rest any left over tensions with "I'm sorry. Let's have a better day tomorrow." It is a reaffirmation of the caring and respect you have for each other. It allows each to go to sleep with a sense of being together, even if it is at different times.
If possible, going to bed at the same time is a wonderful shared ritual of intimacy. it is equally important to do more than just say goodnight. The old adage about never going to bed angry is truly valuable. A few moments of bodies warmly snuggled together releases a lot of tension and, again, reaffirms your reasons for being together. One of the common complaints I hear about snuggling at any time during the evening, especially in bed, is from wives who say their husbands always interpret this as a signal to try and have sex. Usually this complaint comes from a couple whose sex life is unsatisfying. The role of sex in a marriage will not be addressed here. But for now let it suffice that couples must talk about this and allow for affection that is not a signal for having sex. If you have a strong intimate relationship, you will know when it is time for sex…and have enough of it!
Much of the connecting discussed so far has involved talking (and some physical affection). For some, especially men, connection is not always verbal. For these husbands, the male emphasis on intimacy as being side-by-side as opposed to face-to-face, needs to be honored and nurtured. Again, this may require men to be creative and think of ways to communicate their caring. I think of one husband who used to leave for work before his wife awoke. He would make coffee for her, including setting out the cup, and he would write a short note each morning that he leaned against the cup. The content was often just something practical about the upcoming day's events, but it always ended with a "love you." His wife was able to appreciate this special intimate act from a husband who was particularly verbally challenged.
To begin to reintroduce intimacy, first start with a schedule 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted conversation each day. This can be supplemented and reinforced then with at least one long conversation each week that should last an hour or more. This can include a good session of sex. This may take some creativity and a mutually accepted commitment. But the payoff is enormous. To make the daily/weekly conversations happen requires some joint planning time. Get out your calendars, look at the week ahead and figure out when you can make time for each other. Don't limit yourselves to evenings (usually the worst times for parents to try and talk without interruption or, worse, just when you are starting to crash). Depending upon ages of children and job demands, some couples are able to arrange breakfast alone for daily conversations or a lunch as a chance for a long conversation. Phone conversations or running errands together can fill some of the daily conversation needs. Taking a short evening walk or a long weekend one is good for your physical health as well as the health of your marriage. Taking up a mutual hobby or sport like golf, skiing or tennis can provide some of these intimate times. There is nothing like the intimate conversation shared on a ski lift or in a golf cart.
Conversations should involve sharing information about work and family and other commitments or interests so you are able to nourish the sense of being best friends. Both need to talk about their jobs (key word here is “talk”…not complain). This can be an issue for some who believe that increases rather than decreases their stress but your partner needs to know what is going on when you are apart. Save the longer conversations for bigger issues. But don't let things build up. Being emotionally honest in a routine way is important. If a spouse says or does something that hurts your feelings, let him/her know. It doesn't mean it has to be rehashed in detail. It doesn't mean you have to get into an argument about what "really happened." (There is no "truth" to be discovered; just respect the other person's subjective experience of what happened instead of being defensive. There is no value winning the argument.)
Try to schedule at least one overnight just for yourselves every few months. Even better would be to supplement those overnights with at least two weekends just for yourselves each year. Arranging an overnight or a weekend alone is a chance to rediscover the fun you once had when it was just the two of you. While it can be a challenge to arrange this if you don't have family nearby to take the children, friends will often be willing to take turns watching each other's children so others get that same chance to get away. When going on visits to distance relatives try to find some time for just the two of you. Relatives usually love the chance to spend some time with your children without you around!
In addition to the prescribed couple time, there are two other critical daily rituals for couples that need to be honored and nurtured. Re-entry is one of the most important times of the day. As the family gets re-united at the end of school and work commitments, spouses need to genuinely look forward to seeing each other at the end of another day. The opportunity to kiss and hug each other (no matter how brief) helps let go of some of the stress built up and is a very special, intimate event that is sorely missed by those who are now divorced. Learn to appreciate this moment while you have the chance. It reaffirms that there are two of you joined together to cope with life's challenges. It also should be a time to get you both in sync for the rest of the day. Reaffirming your intimacy gives you the strength and motivation to tackle the next day’s challenges.
This has become a common theme…”there isn't enough time” or “we never seem to have the right timing to be alone”? Wives and husbands are so overwhelmed with the demands of work and children that they simply can't create any space to share intimate moments with their partner. Busy couples in a long term relationship who fall into predictable routines The result is often an increasing sense of disconnection that gets expressed as problems with communication, disagreements over finances, parenting conflicts, petty jealousy, or insufficient sex. But these are symptoms, not causes. By improving the feelings of intimacy, feelings of trust and loving mutual respect will increase. Once those feelings are revived, it's remarkable how much easier it becomes to resolve conflicts of any nature.
Couples looking to reverse this erosion of intimacy need to be reminded that if they constantly put their marriage at the end of their "To Do" lists, assuming that there will always be another day to attend to their spouses' needs, one day they will be shocked to discover that there are no more days. This can result in one of them will be saying "I don't love you anymore and I want out." This means that couples must truly make their marriage (or relationship if un-married) a priority, not simply in words or feelings, but in deeds. This is a daily intimacy exercise that needs to be practiced until it becomes a natural part of the everyday “routine”. In today's world of cell phones, PDA's, and other forms of keeping schedules, this means actually scheduling time for the marriage rather than expecting time shared will just happen.
For couples that have children, the most important gift they can give their children is a healthy marriage. When marriages are working well, family’s function better. Children will not only find that their lives run more smoothly because their parents are in sync but research shows they will have fewer medical problems, presumably because there is less chronic stress in the home. An added benefit is that a good marriage models for children what they need to learn for the day when they are in relationships. Since a healthy relationship is such an important gift for children, parents need to shave off some of time currently devoted to parenting, work, and family obligations and to invest it in the relationship. One cannot minimize the value of intimacy when comparing it to our daily obligations. Regardless of what pressures we deal with, romance, love and commitment require a deep level of intimate feelings between couples.
Let us look at some methods to create (or revive) a more intimate and rewarding marriage or committed relationship
Side-by-side intimacy should focus on doing activities together. I've already mentioned walking, sports, hobbies, or something fun that required joint participation. This should really be at the top of the list as often as possible. Often couples have forgotten how to have fun together. Life has become all about work and tasks and becomes much too serious. Yet when couples reflect on what led them commit to each other, high on the list is nearly always shared memories of having fun together. Sometimes it is a matter of thinking about what you used to and making it a priority to get it worked back into the schedule. Other times, couples will talk about how their interests have changed and they don't have that much in common any more. This requires some creativity, along with being committed to wanting to have fun again. Couples have ended up trying new activities together ranging from kayaking to cooking classes and rediscovering that there is a huge assortment of experiences out there to be tasted and shared.
One of the frequent barriers is that parents of younger children often feel they don't spend enough time together as a family and Saturday nights typically become renting a video and sharing popcorn with the kids. While there is certainly value in this, it should not become the rule at the expense of the marriage. Remember what I said about the most important gift you can give to your children. So taking some time from the kids and investing it in the marriage is still doing something for the children. One good solution is to have night were there are separate movies or activities for the parents and the kids. You all can share the popcorn for a break but separate endings with the kids in bed and private time before bed can make for a perfect evening.