Updated: Dec 3, 2018
A healthy marriage is one in which a husband and wife are wholly committed to one another, and daily nurture the body, personality, needs, wants and goals of each member. The result is an established trust and a secure sense of interdependence. My clients will often describe this mutual process of care as feeling like a married couple, being on the same team, or feeling emotionally connected. Reaching this level of health in a marriage requires that we prioritize key elements of our relationship in the long term. This article addresses the notion of time.
Risks of the Pace of Life in American Culture
Our modern American culture is one where we commonly find a husband and wife working long hours and struggling to connect because of the resulting stress and fatigue. The time they do have together may be spent preparing dinner, managing finances, helping their children with homework or other activities, or decompressing from the workday by watching television or scrolling through social media. By the weekend, they may have had less than a couple of hours of meaningful conversation.
This pace of life is understandable considering the many roles we carry as spouses, parents and professionals in our career. However, it can pose a great risk to a marriage by creating a situation where spouses find themselves feeling alone and asking, “Who are we?” and “Who are you?” Many of the couples I see in my office seek counseling because the intensity of their schedules has led to a process of emotional distancing that is unsustainable, and they need help establishing a work-family balance.
Building Upon a Foundation of Time
Regaining that balance involves the couple having to once more view their relationship as an essential priority, which like many aspects of nature, grows best and endures over time when it is properly tended to and nurtured. When they can see that a vibrant marriage is built on a foundation of quality engagement over time, and act accordingly, they position themselves to maintain what I call the hierarchy of meaning:
This hierarchy, when balanced, allows a couple to experience a depth and richness in their relationship, because it allows a natural progression to unfold:
Our faith-spirituality drives our sense of purpose and informs the values or principles applied in our marriage, family and career.
Our marriage, when prioritized and healthy, feeds a sense of structure and health into our parenting and family life, while providing a context for us to replenish emotionally so we can continue efficiently with our work.
Our work taps into our sense of purpose or calling, and serves as a primary means by which we provide for our family and engage our community.
Because this is a hierarchy of meaning, it factors in time somewhat differently than you might think from its order. For example, it has nothing to do with spending as much time praying or hanging out with your spouse or family as you would at work. Rather, it has everything to do with the way in which you prioritize your time and engage with your husband or wife when present.
Time and Helping Our Spouse Feel Loved
We need to use time as an ally in helping us to fully connect with, understand and love our spouse. In terms of achieving the balance I mentioned earlier, we can maximize the time we have available together by engaging our spouse in a manner that deeply resonates with them. For some couples, this may include studying a devotional together for a half-hour before bed, holding each other close while watching their favorite television series, taking a short walk together, or going hiking over the weekend.
What matters most is that they are aware of what feeds the heart or soul of their partner to the greatest degree. The book, The Five Love Languages,1 is a wonderful resource which helps couples identify their primary love language. When identified, a couple can use this information to inform how they engage during the time they have prioritized for each other. The broader point, however, is to make sure there is a mutual endeavor to clearly understand and follow through with what each member needs to experience a sense of connection and love.
Why It Matters
Humans, at their core, are relational beings. Ancient scripture beautifully highlights this aspect of humanity in the story of creation. Genesis 2:18 (NIV) states:
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
You might say that built deep into the fabric of our human structure is a need to be joined with the other, someone outside of ourselves, that enriches and adds wholeness to our lives. Spouses have the honor of filling that role for each other, yet they can only do so effectively when their utilization of time proves to each member that they are a priority. That being said, your marriage will ultimately reflect the time you invest in each other. Those who do this well can continue experiencing the great love that brought them together in the first place.
1. Chapman, G. D. (2010). The 5 love languages: the secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Pub.
Eric Gomez is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in building families, strengthening marriages and addressing the personal, relational, and cultural harms of pornography. He received his graduate degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University and his undergraduate degree in Psychology from New Mexico State University.