How much time does a married couple need together?
I was recently asked to comment on the question of how much time a husband and wife should spend together… and most often this actually takes the form of “how much time is it reasonable to for me to ask my spouse to spend with me (since I have asked and they told me what I was asking for was unreasonable).
I have a couple of comments.
First, before I say anything else, I want to communicate that one of the things that can make marriage fun is when you know you can ask for what you want.
I think a spouse should generally not be chastised for asking for what they want… I am serious when I tell my wife that I want her to feel welcome to ask for what she wants. If my wife wants more time, more focus (can you imagine?) from me, then I want to know it!
I cannot promise that she will always get it, but sure want to know about it just in case I can! This rule is a family rule, by the way. The kids area also allowed to ask for what they want… but not promised to get what they want…
And I love, even when I cannot provide, to dream with my wife or child.
“I really want that toy” … “Man, I bet it would be great to have every toy we could imagine – what else would you like if you could wish for it?” – that isn’t sarcasm, it can be just dreaming with them!
Also, different people have different Love Languages – one of which is “Quality Time” (according to Gary Chapman)… in my marriage, I would translate that for my wife into “Undivided Attention.”
The idea here is that one spouse may be satisfied with less time than the other… but why not take the opportunity to give it? I want to be able to give what I can when I can, because The Lord knows that I will not always be able to say yes.
God is a God who loves to give good gifts… and I love to reflect Him as a good gift giver to the people I love the most. I love to give them what they want, when I can or when I think it is right/best. Now, on to the question more directly…
Marriage as a garden
For years, counselors have compared marriage to a garden. This comparison works on many levels. I have pointed out before that one comparison is that the “natural” state of a garden (meaning the state it exists in without the intentional input of energy) is death; the “natural” state of marriage is divorce. Without the intentional input of energy, marriage dies.
Many want to think of marriage as similar to drifting downstream together… but that would imply that the natural state of marriage is to go where it needs to, but that isn’t the case, as anyone who is married knows.
I assume most therapists would agree with me that very few marriages end with the emotional bang… most marriages that end in divorce, drift into divorce.
There is more to look at in regards to this issue here at boring marriages… and ideas of how to avoid that drift! If the question is one of sex, it may actually be about intimacy, so I would encourage you to take a look at the conversation about how those things are linked in powerful ways.
But in response to the question asked, the first answer would have to do with what kind of garden you have? If a garden is otherwise healthy, and in an environment that engenders health (think two people who are generally healthy and who have quite a bit in common), then less scheduled and intentional time is probably necessary.
A good rule of thumb for time together
Years ago, I think I remember hearing James Dobson say that he figured a good minimum goal would be: 15-30 minutes a day, 2 hours a week, 1 night a quarter, and one weekend a year. I like these, and would generally agree…
By this he meant (if I am remembering it correctly) that we need direct and meaningful conversation and interaction 15-30 minutes every day in order to keep the garden in good shape. Then, we need to plan a more extended period each week in addition to that – a date, couch time, etc. of meaningful interaction; then an overnight away about 4 times a year and a longer couple’s vacation about once a year.
Keep in mind, this is focused time! Watching TV together, while nice at times, would not count, unless you were engaging at the time with one another (in which case, feel free to turn off the television).
Now, you can already see that a one-size-fits-all rule just won’t work, though.
So, what are some concepts that might work? Jump on over to part II