The Secret to Finding Time for Your Relationship

Couple Sitting on Sofa with Television Off“Time is the currency of relationships. There’s no way to invest into a relationship without investing your time.” —Dave Willis

Time is a mystery. When we’re young, we have all the time in the world. When we’re married with kids, we never have enough time. When the nest is empty, we wonder where the time went. As we age, we increasingly comprehend the value of time. When faced with the realization that time will end, we truly appreciate just how precious it is.

I learned that lesson 20 years ago when my younger sister, Harriet, age 30, got a rare and aggressive type of cancer—only 200 cases or so of adrenal cancer are diagnosed per year in the United States, according to cancer.org. They gave her six to nine months. True to her personality, Harriet fought; she had surgery, then chemo, then more chemo and more surgery. She extended her life for 15 months. She taught me the meaning of time. She wanted as much as she could get.

During those 15 months, I had a full-time practice, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and less time than ever. But I knew I had to make time. Time to spend with her, time to go to the hospital, time to shop together, time to talk, time to laugh, time to grieve, time to say everything we could think of to say to each other before she passed. If you asked me where I got the time, I couldn’t tell you. I just made it. Harriet taught me the value of time. I stopped saying, “I don’t have enough time.” I realized that time is priceless, and that I had more control than I had previously thought.

We choose how to spend our time every day.

In couples and marriage counseling, I often hear frustrated couples complain, “We don’t have time for date nights,” or, “We don’t have time to work on our relationship.” There are too many tasks, long days at work, food shopping, laundry, homework, after-school activities, sports, and lessons. The list never ends.

My response is, “You have to make the time.” If your relationship, your marriage, and the future of your family are important, become the master of your time.

You may think it’s impossible, but even small changes can make a big difference. Here are some examples of what my husband, Bob, and I did to master our time over the years:

  • When our kids were young, Bob and I scheduled a long lunch together every Friday to connect. We made it a priority—sacred time. We used to joke that it was the only time there were no kids and we were both awake.
  • We limited the amount of time for our kids’ activities so we could have dinner together some nights. By the way, the kids grew up fine; neither of them has complained about not participating in enough activities, but if they do, I’ll tell them to complain to their therapists.
  • We took the kids on some memorable family vacations before they got to the stage where they didn’t want to be seen with us.
  • Three or four times each year, Bob and I went to a bed-and-breakfast, for just one night and two days, to remember why we married each other. We looked forward to those weekends. It kept the passion alive.

Time is precious. We all have 24 hours a day. What we do with our time will define the quality of our lives and our relationships.

The secret to finding more time for your relationship is to realize that you have the power to create it. Here are six tips that will help:

  1. Take stock: Have a conversation with your partner about how you spend your time each week. Talk about work, time with kids, activities, laundry, cleaning, shopping. Discuss what is working and what isn’t, and what you would like to change.
  2. Create your time wish list: Brainstorm the activities you would like to do together if you had more time. Then prioritize them. Don’t forget sex; making love often ends up on the bottom of the list.
  3. Identify what you can change: Figure out what you can do to create more time together. For instance:
    • Take personal or vacation time to spend the day together without kids.
    • Adjust work schedules; go in earlier and come home earlier.
    • Limit the number of activities the kids participate in.
    • Establish cutoff times for electronics in the evenings—computer, cell phone, Facebook.
    • Hire a babysitter more often or trade off babysitting with friends.
    • Pay someone else to clean or do chores.
    • Lower your standards about the neatness of the house.
  4. Build time rituals: Create activities that you can build in habitually so you don’t have to remember to make time. Some examples are:
    • Schedule a regular date night.
    • Get up 15 minutes early and have coffee together.
    • At the end of each day, spend 15 minutes together talking.
    • Have a weekly lunch together.
    • Buy a subscription to the symphony or tickets to the ballgame.
    • Go to bed together at night and cuddle.
  5. Plan ahead: Make time together a priority. Each Sunday, look at your calendars for the upcoming week and plan your time together. Make appointments for sex. You may prefer spontaneity, but that’s not always possible.
  6. Share gratitude: Don’t take time for granted. We may have 24 hours a day, but we never know for how many days. (At his yearly checkup, Bob always asks his doctor for his expiration date, but the doctor won’t tell him.) Show your partner you are grateful for your relationship, for your life together, for your family. It’s the greatest gift on earth.

Here’s to my wonderful sister, who taught me the most important lesson of my life: to spend the gift of time wisely.

I’d love to hear how the issue of time shows up in your relationship. Please comment below.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 21 comments
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  • Tabitha

    Tabitha

    August 26th, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Well, the way I see it is that you just have to make time in life for the things that are important to you. If it is then fine, you make the time to make it happen. It isn’t that important? You just avoid it and then you could end up on the road to divorce. That’s not good.

  • keith

    keith

    August 26th, 2015 at 5:23 PM

    The more you find yourself NOT wanting to spend time with this person, devising new ways of avoidance, that’s when you know this marriage might not be saved

  • Leah A

    Leah A

    August 27th, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    Lori, thank you for sharing such a personal life lesson. It sounds like you were able to make the most of the remaining time with your sister – what a gift! When my Grandpa passed away in May, I took stock of my life and realized, somewhere during the last eight years, I had relinquished control over my time. His passing was the wake-up call I needed to stop wasting precious time on things that really didn’t matter to me and MAKE TIME for the PEOPLE who did. I’ve even ventured back out into the dating game after a decade on the bench. Wish me luck!

  • fallon

    fallon

    August 27th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    My marriage had struggled off and on for years and for a long time I blamed him, it was all his fault for not making the time for me and the kids that I felt like we deserved. And he felt just the opposite- that we made TOO much time for the kids, and after a while I saw that he was probably right. I scheduled my entire day based on what the kids had, not what my husband and I actually needed from each other. Once we sort of switched our priorities around a little, and It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but once we started putting each other first again, and knowing that the kids were taken care of too, things got much better between us again. And we got close to each other again.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 27th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    Tabitha, Thanks for your comment. Yes it is up to you to make time. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 27th, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    Keith, Yes, or it’s time to find a good marriage counselor and turn the relationship around.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 27th, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    Leah, Thanks so much for sharing your story! So glad you are dating again. There is nothing so awesome as a healthy relationship to share all of life’s joys; and the difficult times.

  • kyle

    kyle

    August 27th, 2015 at 1:39 PM

    Wouldn’t it be great if all it took was to pencil it into your calendar and it was a done deal? Life should only be that easy but in reality it never is. The good thing is that if you actually take the time to even try to schedule it in, even if it doesn’t happen and you have to rearrange sometimes a little goes a long way and you are more apt to try again than to not try to reschedule at all.

  • Diane

    Diane

    August 27th, 2015 at 5:57 PM

    Time is essential in maintaining a healthy lasting relationship. Even when words are not spoken, just sitting in the same room could sacred time together. Intention is key during times of unspoken presence.

  • Kay Lee

    Kay Lee

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    I honestly do not think that there is any kind of secret to this. I believe that if you are with the person with whom you are meant to be then the time will be there, and certainly the desire to make the time will be there.
    I see a lot of couples who seem to create ways to be away from each other, and that is just a huge red flag to me that this is no good.
    If you like your time apart more than you enjoy the time together then I think that the two of you have to very much reevaluate the home life and decide if this is something that the two of you actually wish to continue to pursue together.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 28th, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    Fallon, Thanks so much for sharing your story! So glad you and your husband worked it through and are closer!!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 28th, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    Kyle, Thanks for your comment. You’re right, life is not easy. Lack of time is one of the most common complaints I hear from couples. Scheduling it definitely helps!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 28th, 2015 at 12:00 PM

    Diane, Great perspective! Thanks for sharing.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 28th, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    Kay Lee, Interesting points. Thanks for your comments.

  • sabrina

    sabrina

    August 29th, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    I read this and I read all of the comments and I realize that I guess others must think that I am very naive about relationships because I guess I have always felt like this is the one thing in my life that I shouldn’t have to work so hard at. This is the thing that should always be easy, that soft place that we have to look for from time to time. To think that I have to put this much work into it is almost like me admitting that it wouldn’t work without that, and I want the ease.

  • Joanie

    Joanie

    August 30th, 2015 at 2:43 PM

    It would help if I felt like my husband actually wanted to still spend time with me but I have this fear sometimes that I am the last person that he wants to spend his time with. I am not sure how we grew so far apart but here we are and I am stuck on what we need to do to help bring us back closer together. I think that in many ways he is glad that we aren’t close anymore, but I think that I am too afraid to ask him because I am not sure I really want to know what he would say to that.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 31st, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    Sabrina, Many people think that relationships shouldn’t be “work.” Certainly some relationships take more work than others. To sustain a long-term relationship there will be times where you have to work on communication, resolving conflicts, negotiating your needs and wants and connecting intimately. However, a great relationship is worth the work!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    August 31st, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    Joanie, It’s not unusual for relationships to “drift apart” over time. We see this all the time in our practice. It happens insidiously in this busy life where there is too much to do and not enough time. Our relationships end up last on the list. You don’t know if he is “glad” you aren’t close. He may be worrying about the same thing or may have become complacent with the status quo. What often brings couples closer is facing the very thing you are afraid of. I understand it’s scary to do that, but it’s also scary to not do that. It would likely help if you discussed this with a therapist who could learn more about your situation and help you figure out the best course of action.

  • Jason

    Jason

    October 5th, 2015 at 12:46 AM

    Not too sure about the rest. I have been married to my wife for more than 22 years and we are still dating and enjoying each other’s company. I think the key thing that many couples failed to see is that the person you marry ought to be your BFF…and like your best friend you would want to spend as much time with him/her. We enjoyed every moment together and we are almost inseparable. I have coached younger couples to build their relationship on strong friendship bonds, then on the marriage relationship. When you are with your best friend, you do not argue about whose rights is it. However, that is not so true between a husband and a wife relationship. Many tend to say that a husband or a wife must do this and that…which often is the start of many arguments. However, should you base the relationship on the strong friendship you have, you just want the person you are with to be happy and in return you will be happy. That’s my two cents worth of advice.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    October 5th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Jason,
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Gio

    Gio

    May 10th, 2017 at 9:16 AM

    It could be anything honestly. My partner has alot of family issues and lives with parents. However, he is always busy in the weekend trying to get things done. In additional, In the mornings he runs without me because he thinks I am mad at him but, I am not. I told him we need more communication and he agrees I see that this can be many scenarios from his behavior.

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