The other night I was with a group of women, all mothers save one, and a companion mentioned her wedding anniversary was coming up. A chorus broke out, “So’s mine.”
We’re too busy for them.
Another September calendar date amid the back-to-work/school crush is about the farthest thing from romantic I can think of at the moment. Yet the unplanned-yet-to-be-discussed date is this weekend.
My husband I have been so consumed by our individual responsibilities, (not to mention spending our limited downtime in front of the TV for either the political conventions or the Nationals pennant race), that we scheduled a sitter for a short spell last Saturday just to have a face-to-face conversation before he flew off on a business trip.
Thus I was primed for an e-mail I received from an occasional On Parenting contributor who is also a D.C. therapist and advice columnist. Stacy Notaras Murphy said she’s been seeing this issue crop up in her office: The spousal disconnect this time of year.
“I know from personal experience, and through the parents I work with as a couples counselor, this time of year really takes a toll on how we relate to our spouses. The state of our intimate relationships is just about the last thing we want to think about as school fundraiser commitments and team sport practices really get roaring,” Murphy wrote me.
“But trust me, now is not the time to back burner your marriage.”
Here is where I began to take personal mental notes:
“When we make less and less time for connecting with our partners, we start building a life that does not require that connection. Our days stop making room for it. Our bodies get used to it. Our hearts may scream that something’s missing, but we fill any holes with things we think will be easier to absorb: television, food, celebrity gossip, etc,” She wrote. But it’s in this calculation that we make our biggest mistake. You really only need 30 seconds to feed and water your relationship.”
“One moment of simple connection with that other grown-up who balances out your family seesaw does not require lots of planning, or even complete privacy,” she said.
“I may be going against the Therapist’s Code here, but we couples counselors often prescribe the Date Night or Appointment Sex because they are sure-fire ways to get people to connect on a regular, measurable basis. But the aim of that whole process is so that the two people get to that smiling, eye-contacted moment of really breathing together, acknowledging their partnership, and naming what they are building through their choice of living a shared life.
“What I’m advocating for here is 30 seconds of hand holding, eye contact, and saying something (anything) positive about the other person. In those 30 seconds, you simply acknowledge that while you don’t have the time/energy/sitter funds to plan that big date night out, you really would love to have that time together.”
Murphy advises a planned approach on this, one that may be awkward for the squeamish:
“Talk about this before you start doing it, ensure that both parties know what is expected (in other words, this is not a one-sided exercise, both people need to know what’s what),” she said and then suggested one of these approaches.
o Make face-to-face eye contact
o Touch in some way: holding hands, hugging, touch a knee
o Acknowledge that you would like to take 30 seconds to offer an appreciation of the other person, then try this frame: “Something I love about you is…”
o Finish by saying “thank you” AND “you’re welcome.”
It happens that author Gretchen Rubin, who I interviewed earlier this week about her new book “Happier at Home,” reflected on the topic on her blog this week. There, she spelled out her own more conventional strategies for trying to bring more “happiness” into her marriage on a daily basis.
Okay, Murphy and Rubin’s takes are helpful to keep in mind through these trying weeks, but I still need to unearth some energy for a anniversary date, don’t I?
Murphy was ahead of me on this one too:
“My 13th wedding anniversary was last week. We celebrated with takeout and Netflix. We also exchanged cards, a small token that reflected our budget, but also highlighted the evolution of our relationship,” she said.
“Inside, I knew my 22-year-old former self was asking, ‘Where’s the original poetry? The city-wide scavenger hunt? The grand, dramatic gesture?’ But my existing, 37-year-old mother-of-two self saw that with a low-key evening and a simple set of cards, we still were able to get to the ultimate aim of the anniversary celebration: We recognized our partnership, showed gratitude, and had time together.”
How do you stay “connected” to your partner through particular busy family times? If you have an anniversary this time of year, are you finding time to celebrate it?