Linda: What is it that extraordinarily happy couples are doing? One of the important things that they are doing is checking in. Checking in is taking a brief break from the many competing urgencies of our day to first check inside to see what we are experiencing, and then to use that brief break to reveal to our partner what we are experiencing. Then, last but not least, we listen to their experience with caring attention. These daily check-in’s allow for a feeling of connection that sustains the couple’s bond.
In recent years, there are greater expectations of marriage to foster authenticity, self-expression, fulfillment, romantic passion and personal growth. It’s a wonderful trend, but it’s a tall order. At the same time that expectations of marriage have taken a jump up, the support that would allow that lofty vision to manifest has diminished.
In "The All or Nothing Marriage," Eli Finkel reports the sociological trend that there has been a reduction in the time spent with family and friends. Finkel states that in 1975 Americans averaged two hours per weekend day alone with family or friends. In 2003, the time dropped to one and a half hours per weekend day. The drop in the amount of time a childless couple spent together in 1975 declined from thirty-five hours per week to twenty-six hours in 2003 due to more hours spent at work. The decline of hours spent together for couples with children fell from thirteen to nine hours a week due to the time spent in increased work responsibilities and intensive parenting.
At the same time that expectations for fulfillment and growth in marriage are rising, the needed support from family, friends, and our partner is declining. We are all challenged to fight against the prevailing drift toward disconnection. To counter the trend sweeping us into work and parenting, it is necessary to be intentional, deliberate and committed to taking regular time to connect to ourselves and our partner in a meaningful way.
It is not merely the time that successful couples spend together but the depth of the connection that makes all the difference. They are spending time regularly having emotional intimacy. They are sharing with each other on a feeling level, speaking about things that truly matter to them. They are not just exchanging information such as ‘pass the salt’ and ‘who is picking up the cleaning?’ They are relating in a personal way.
One form of checking in is through touch. Many successful couples wouldn’t think of letting a day go by without some sensual touching. In the late ’70s, Dr. Bill Masters, renowned sex researcher, sex therapist, and teacher of sex therapists, advised his trainees: “Tell your couples that twenty-four hours must not go by without some sensual touching.”
Without having daily connections, we run the risk of becoming roommates, business partners, or co-workers doing the job of parenting and home management. The juice of the relationship will inevitably dry up if the marriage is not infused on a frequent (daily) basis with ample amounts of validation, acknowledgment, appreciation, gratitude, generosity and any other expressions of love we can think of. Even when there are physical separations, regular interaction by phone, email, letter, text, Skype, or any other means of contact will continue to promote and deepen the connection.
The difference between marriages in which couples, even after many years together, continue to be affectionate, and those in which they are not, has to do with the degree to which they have nurtured their connection with meaningful contact. In merely good relationships, couples may have done all the right things, but the element that is missing is the spirit of love that is often lost in the tasks that are inherent in creating a shared life together. Deepening a loving relationship is not the same as sharing lives together. It is less about ‘doing’ and has more to do with ‘being.’
The daily practice of checking in to show love with sensual touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, little gifts of all kinds (even when it’s not a special occasion), and spending quality time together to share ourselves on a regular basis, all work together to create a context where intimacy is consistent and becomes a way of life.
For the lofty goals of personal development to be realized, more time, attention, care, dedication and nurturing of the relationship are requirements. Those who are influenced by others around them give so much time and attention to work and children compared to romantic partnership that it will be deprived, and they will not be able to achieve their goals of personal growth. Only those who carve out sufficient time and energy to mutually support each other’s development will have success. Taking a stand for the partnership takes many forms. But spending abundant time together for self-exploration is one of the most important components of all.