19 Sep Time Poor Couples Simply Must Get This Right

Keeping a relationship healthy over years and decades is hard, especially for couples who don’t get much time to actually be together. It’s a modern dilemma facing so many modern couples, and relationships everywhere are buckling under the strain.

If this is you, you might find yourself pointing to your busy schedules to justify why your marriage or relationship isn’t great.

And to a certain degree, there’s no doubt you’re right:

Healthy relationships simply can’t happen if the two people in them are too often apart.

Yep, I’m hearing you – if only it were a matter of choice, you’d do it differently. But you’ve got kids, mortgages, jobs, relatives, sporting clubs, schools, gym memberships, pets… all of whom demand your time. Your relationship so often ends up coming last.

If you’re a time-poor couple, instead of shrugging your shoulders and getting all defeatist about it, it makes sense to squeeze the most out of the time together that you actually do have.

If you’re like many of the couples I see in clinic, you’re not doing this well. In the limited amount of time that you have together, you’re ending up either on some sort of “auto-pilot” road of disconnection, or dodging head-on collisions as you bicker about your respective unmet needs.

Now it’s a double whammy: very limited amounts of time, and when you have it, you spend it badly. It’s a recipe for relationship unhappiness. You can do better. Here’s how:

1. Respect each others need for space.

It’s a common FIFO dilemma, but also a problem for busy non-FIFO couples too: a demanding work schedule that leaves you exhausted, with a legitimate need to recharge before being able to attend to your relationship with real presence.

Partners who navigate this well communicate assertively and are honest, collaborative, and patient. Communicate with your partner when you need space to recharge… and… be willing to wait just that little bit longer when your partner needs some personal time.

2. Create a healthy and connected relationship culture.

Too busy to say farewell or greet each other with real presence? Big mistake. It takes just a few seconds to share a smile, hug, or kiss: gestures that create a healthy and connected relationship culture that nurtures your relationship before and after the times when you’re physically apart.

Partners who do this well know the value of a heartfelt “hello” and “goodbye”. If you’re not touchy-feely partners, find another way to connect and build it into your own relationship culture.

3. Quarantine your relationship from distractions.

Be aware that in addition to digital devices, well-meaning (or not) relatives, drop-in neighbours or friends, and binge-worthy live streamed entertainment, one of the most insidious distractions facing you as a time-poor couple might actually be your very own kids.

You obviously need to be there for your kids, and this isn’t about ignoring them when they really need you. But if it’s a healthy relationship you’re after, it’s up to you to teach your kids that parents need (and deserve) uninterrupted time to enjoy being together. Even a few uninterrupted minutes spent over a cuppa can be valuable relationship tonic after time apart.

4. Remember what’s important to your partner, and ask about it.

You might not share the same interests, hobbies, sports, or passions as your partner. This does not matter. What does matter is going out of your way to be interested in what most interests your partner.

Ask about the game, the journey home, or how the meeting went. Couples who do this well make it their business to know what’s coming up for each other, then make a point to ask about it once it’s done.

5. Touch! Or at least be physically close to each other.

In some relationships this might mean heading straight for the bedroom, but if you’re like many others, it might simply be preparing dinner in the kitchen together, or collapsing on the couch together after the kids are in bed.

Couples who stay connected know that it’s super important to share the same physical space. It can be (but doesn’t have to be) about physical touching or sex. Just make an effort to be physically close or simply in the same room whenever you can.

6. Repair quickly after disharmony.

All couples argue at times, but far too many couples hold onto grudges and stay cranky long after a disagreement has passed. It’s an unhealthy relationship habit at the best of times, but if you’re a time poor couple, you simply don’t have the “luxury” of delaying repair for a second longer than you really need to.

Deal with issues assertively, make and receive apologies where due, then let it go, let it go, let it go. Relationships where partners are capable of swift repair are ones that thrive.

7. Make an effort to keep connected, even when you’re apart.

Out of sight… out of mind? Not so for healthy couples. There’s much value in a little love note tucked into a suitcase, a simple “I’m missing you!” text, or a phone message left at bedtime to say “goodnight”.

Think about what helps each other feel connected. Then make it happen. And be sure to appreciate each other’s efforts with a heartfelt “thank you” when it’s due.

8. Prioritise your relationship whenever you possibly can.

You might be time poor now, but that doesn’t stop you planning for a future time when your relationship can take centre stage. Start an ongoing conversation about a future holiday or project that you can do together, even if you can’t make it happen just now. Schedule a date for a night out.

Regardless of how time-poor they may be, successful couples know that relationships need moments when they’re prioritised in order to thrive.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Pamela has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive for over 25 years. Contact Pamela here.