By Kristen Manieri
I recently made a startling calculation about my marriage: my husband, Marc, and I spend about four hours spending time together, just us, each week. That’s about 3.5% of our 119 waking hours.
We’re around each other plenty more hours but together is a different story. Being in the same house does not necessarily constitute together. Neither does sitting next to each other watching a movie. Driving in the car while I answer email on my phone? Again, not together.
The key word here is together, which isn’t just proximity; it’s presence and focus.
Back on the marriage therapist’s couch a few weeks ago, Dr. Sean leaned forward from his pillowy chair and asked, “When do you make time for togetherness?”
“That’s easy,” I replied, whipping out my smartphone calendar. “We have date night on Saturdays and we set aside 30 minutes every Monday and Thursday morning.”
“How efficient,” he chortled. He didn’t mean it as a compliment.
I’ll admit that Marc and I do have a very efficient marriage. He goes to the gym Tuesday, Thursdays, and Sundays, and I get to go the other days. Whoever is not at the gym makes lunch and breakfast. At night, he cooks and I clean. Afterward, we take turns with each of the two kiddos. There are plenty more examples, each making a case that points to this hard truth:
Our lives are parallel but rarely intersect.
Looking back, I can see exactly when our marriage diverged like two parallel railroad tracks. It was right after the birth of our second daughter, when “divide and conquer” became a mantra for a life buried by a bewildering avalanche of joyful yet arduous obligations.
In the early years, doing anything as a family of four felt like so much work. So, we’d go back and forth between running errands and taking care of the kids. By some miracle, we each managed to squirrel away a few hours of self-care each week (exercise, time with friends, a massage), but time spent together beyond date night often felt impractical, if not impossible.
Divide and conquer was our way to survive. And it’s exactly how we ended up with four hours of “us time” each week. Divide and conquer has been our reality for seven years. It worked well until it didn’t.
“You choose function over feeling,” Dr. Sean said. He was right. My life is full of schedules, time blocks, checklists, and routines. It has order, reliability, and predictability. It is planned, organized, and efficient, but it also has joy and love and laughter. Our kids feel immensely cherished, knowing that they are steady and secure in our life.
But Marc and I? Well, we ended up as an item on a checklist. And a marriage can’t survive as a box to be checked.
What I realize now is that togetherness can be purposeless, mindless, directionless, and even fruitless, but it is never without meaning. I can sit and chat with Marc while he cooks dinner, even though using that 30 minutes to return email or pick up around the house might make more sense. I can hop out of bed at 5 AM to start my day, or I can linger 30 minutes longer to snuggle.
That 30 minutes isn’t a wasted part of my life. It is my life. Those clothes that need to be folded? We can fold them together. That lunch that we both need to eat? Certainly, we should eat it together a few times a week since we both work from home.
Where I once felt time-starved and put upon, I’ve now started to cultivated a “leaning in” to all of the crossroads that present themselves in my life with Marc. Together is a commitment, a way of living, and a state of mind.
If my life is organized in attempt to get as much done in a single day as possible, which it was, then efficiency matters a lot. But when boxes to be checked and to do lists to be completed take a backseat to love and togetherness, how I work through my days starts to look and feel completely different. I’m open, available and easy. And that feels good for me and for all the people around me.
“Efficiency is doing things right,” author Peter Drucker is quoted as saying. “Effectiveness is doing the right things.” That is sage advice for managers, but vital advice for married couples.
Kristen Manieri is the creator of DateNightGuide.com and OrlandoDateNightGuide.com, a site that launched in 2007 and now serves over 50,000 unique visitors each month. A frequent speaker and television media guest, Kristen is also a prolific freelance writer with travel and lifestyle articles published in magazines across the country, including Huffington Post. Kristen is also the host of The Synced Life, a podcast focused on the power and magic of human connection. She lives in Orlando, FL with her husband and two daughters.
Originally published at www.gottman.com