27 Mar Intentional Time Together and Apart: Nourishing Your Relationship By: Sarah Frank Jarvis LMFT, ATR-BC, CGP
In busy times many couples find that the time-sensitive or more immediate daily tasks make it to the To-Do list while time spent together and self-care do not. Deadlines take priority over date nights, work overflows into weekends, meeting the many needs of children or pets eclipses the more abstract-seeming (but just as crucial) needs of a partnership. This is an easy trap to fall into for many couples, often occurring as a gradual process over time, and contributes to feelings of disconnection between partners which can lead to much bigger problems.
According to many psychological studies, two of the most important keystones of healthy, thriving relationships are spending quality time together and also taking time individually for self-care, other relationships, and personal growth and development. In the early stages of a relationship many couples may spend more time together because being together is new, novel, and exciting. But it’s totally appropriate to begin talking early on about the importance of maintaining special together-time as well as activities independent of one another, as this combination is likely to bring greater fulfillment and security overall and contribute to a long-lasting relationship. The balance is individual to every couple of how much time is spent together, alone, and with others (including partner and not), but it’s this combination that nurtures feelings of security, self-confidence, and continued interest between partners.
Taking time for yourself can manifest in many ways. You might regularly incorporate solo activities such as meditation, taking a class, reading, having a spa day, engaging in personally meaningful work, or self-expressing through writing, art, music, cooking, etc. As with couple time, one of the most important factors is that this is intentional, meaningful, and enjoyable for you. The amount of time you spend on solo activities is up to you but should be consistent and planned at least once weekly.
It is also important to nurture other relationships with family and friends as these provide social fulfillment and meaning, support, and perspective. You and your partner may even spend different amounts of time engaging in solo and social activities, which is okay as we all have different needs and levels of comfort. Keep an open dialogue about each other’s time apart, maintaining a sense of inclusivity, interest, and encouragement. If one of you does not feel supported by the other in pursuing personal interests, nurturing other important relationships, and practicing self-care then this can create tension and resentment in the relationship and may need to be discussed further with the help of a couples therapist.
Spending time together as a couple simply requires that the time is intentional and the purpose is to enjoy being with each other. Doing chores together can even suffice, so long as it is done in an intentional way where there is a shared goal and a sense of teamwork and play. Play some upbeat music and take turns showing off dance moves to each other as you sweep or wash dishes. There are so many creative ways to spend time together, either leaving the house or staying home. You might make a list together of things you want to explore or try, including a range of ideas and what would be required in terms of time, cost, preparation, and travel. If you search the internet for “date ideas” you can find endless lists and suggestions of activities that are cheap/free, creative, cultural, unusual, romantic, and so on.
The bottom line is that every relationship benefits from intended time spent together as well as on our own self-development and care. Even the busiest of schedules can incorporate quality time as a couple that is planned and not pushed to the back burner. Sometimes even just by following through on a planned 15-minute encounter, the couple gets a recharge of connection and a sense of accomplishment for making time together a priority. I encourage you to make some time to have a conversation with your partner about your current levels of satisfaction with the amounts of meaningful time you spend together and apart. Then come up with a vision for how you would like it to look, if it’s not yet where you want it, and support each other in staying accountable to your goals. Just by putting the intention out there you will start to appreciate how this benefits you and your partner.