the study of marriage

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maintaining romantic love, part 1: Is your marriage worth 8.9% of your time?

If someone was to ask you what you thought the biggest killer of marital happiness is, what would you say--fighting? infidelity? money troubles? It's true, each of those things can cause unhappiness in marriage. But based on what I know from experience in my own marriages, and from my studies, I have a different answer, and it's a simple one: Time. Couples who spend enough high-quality time together will stay in love and happy in spite of conflict or troubles, while couples who neglect to put in the effort to have their best times together will not.

This revelation isn't mine, though. I learned about it from Willard F. Harley Jr. in his excellent "His Needs, Her Needs" series of books. In the 1970s he took a hard look at why traditional marriage counseling wasn't helping couples stay together, and his conclusion was, "if I wanted to save marriage, I would have to go beyond improving communication - I would have to learn how to restore love."

One of the primary components of his love-restoring plan--the foundation of the rest of it, really--is what he calls "The Policy of Undivided Attention." This official-sounding phrase really boils down to "spending fun, romantic time together like you did when you were dating, and no kids or other distractions allowed." From "His Needs, Her Needs For Parents," page 57, here are his basic recommendations:
The number of hours you schedule to be together each week for undivided attention should reflect your love for each other. If you and your spouse are in love, schedule fifteen hours each week to be together. But if one or both of you have fallen out of love, plan more time until marital satisfaction is achieved.

Did you get that? At least 15 hours per week in quality, focused time together. Does that sound scary? Apparently to a lot of couples it does, as Harley says on his website:
It's incredible how many couples have tried to talk me out of their spending more time together. They begin by trying to convince me that it's impossible. Then they go on to the argument that it's impractical. But in the end, they usually agree that without time for undivided attention, they cannot re-create the love they once had for each other.

Let's think about it for a moment. If you live on Earth like me (which you do), you have 168 hours in a typical week, give or take an hour here or there for seasonal time changes. 15 hours to spend hanging out with just you and your spouse, paying attention to each other, is only 8.9% of your total weekly time. It's less than half of the hours you're expected to spend at your job, right? So in reality, it's not that much total time.

Speaking of your job, if you didn't put in the required hours and performance there on an extremely consistent basis, would it be reasonable for you to expect your boss to give you a raise or promotion? Marriage isn't much different--if you don't put in the hours and work, you're not going to be rewarded well, and you'll probably end up with a pink slip.

Now that you're thoroughly convinced that you should be spending plenty of quality time with your spouse, your next logical question is: But what the heck are we supposed to do for 15 whole hours together? I'll start on that answer tomorrow, but in the meantime, be reassured that quality time together isn't all about "sitting and talking about the relationship." To be continued!


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