Are You Settling for Poor Quality Time with Your Honey?

(Part Two of the “Rituals for Securing Relationship Health” Series. See Part One which offers a simple ritual to improve your relationship here.)

In the first half of the “Secure the Health of Your Relationship,” we established how the “state of the union” ritual is essential for relationship growth and maintenance. Now for the harder half of the challenge…

I would strongly recommend creating a shared ritual of monitoring the “quality” of your quality time together. A commitment to maintaining the quality in quality time is a key component of a healthy relationship. These valuable segments of time become the psychic glue that holds the bond together when something challenges the strength of the connection. It is a key step to fix your relationship and potentially saving your marriage. How do we go about upgrading the quality of shared quality time in your relationship?

Here are some suggestions if you are serious about securing the health of your loving relationship…

1. Make time for quality conversations about quality time.

I would suggest beginning with a discussion of the activities you both consider to be “quality time” and the challenges to building memories of quality time together beyond the obvious (i.e., long work hours or parenting.)

(Try this: Carve out the time to talk about the role that screens play in enhancing or diluting quality time. Is all of your quality time together at home in front of the TV? Are you texting or checking Facebook while you talk about important topics? Ask your partner how connected he or she feels during screen time. Share your views as well.)

Screens can be an all-too-easy way to avoid addressing the emotional needs of the couple. In fact, if screens dominate your quality time, you’re probably not doing much to regulate the quality of quality time together…the kind of quality that builds important memories of shared experience.

Shared memories of quality time play an important role in how connected you feel to your partner on an ongoing basis when you mentally picture the relationship.

The experience of feeling attended to by your partner in which you aren’t competing with his or her phone or computer or the TV screen helps to build valuable memories of togetherness. By contrast, the accumulation of memories of competing with your partner’s screens for his or her attention promotes emotional distance and resentment.

If you commit to an ongoing conversation about the role of screens in your relationship, you will be taking an enormous step toward enhancing shared quality time and building beautiful memories together.

2. Consider that a lack of quality time is often cause by a lack of quality attention.

Are you constantly dividing your attention between your partner and your screen when you should be bonding?

How rich and unobstructed is the attention you pay to the people you love?

Do you actually listen or do you wait for the moment to interrupt when you think you have sufficient information to cut your partner off (when your real intention is to shut them up and get back to your screen as quickly as possible.)

(Try this: Have a conversation with your partner about the typical scenarios in which either of you feel like screens are getting in the way of quality attention.)

For many of us, it takes an active effort to disengage from your screens to allocate all of your attention to your loved one sitting next to you.

Just know that if you really care about the future of your relationship, then the best gift you can give is a commitment to building quality memories together that aren’t degraded by repeated checking of screens. If you’re constantly degrading experiences by splitting your attention between a person and a phone, you will not benefit as much from the memory of the experience.

The omnipresence of screens promotes passive acceptance of a watered down version of quality time in relationships. Click To Tweet

It’s a lie if you insist that you can still listen with the same quality of attention whether you are with or without a screen in front of you. Just know that your loved one is being systematically deprived of quality in the loving connection between you if screens are always included in the conversation.

If your attention is compromised during bonding time, don’t expect to internalize a warm memory of togetherness.  For example, if you and your honey go to a concert together and one or both of you are on your phone the entire time, then it’s likely that neither of you will recall the connection experienced between you during that event. If you string together many memories of disconnection from your partner during shared experiences, this degrades the quality of the loving bond and promotes blocks in communication. You can certainly lie to yourself about how large the emotional bandwidth was between you and your partner during an event, but eventually this distortion of the truth will catch up to you in the future.

The quality of attention during bonding time is a neglected topic in most couples.

Why? It’s usually because both partners have a powerful addiction to their screens, leading to a diffusion of responsibility for initiating change in how they spend their time together. If both members of the couple offer relatively equal levels of distractibility during quality time, then neither member questions it because there is (an unhealthy) balance that needs to be disrupted. If the scale is tipped toward one member who gives significantly less attention than the other, then it becomes the attention-hungry member’s responsibility to initiate the state of the union ritual or a direct conversation about the lack of quality attention during supposed quality time.

3. Fight against your inner teenager who wants to keep watching your screen when your partner requests your undivided attention. 

Your inner teenager can wait. Your screen isn’t going anywhere.

(Try this:  At least once a day, make a conscious decision to pause before acting on your need to check your screen when someone else is looking to engage you in conversation. Delay checking your phone until the conversation has ended.) 

When my wife and I realized about a year ago that our recently upgraded screens were running our lives and interfering with the limited time we had to bond, we decided to tweak how we spent our time together. The result of our efforts made such a huge difference for the relationship AND for our love of shared screen use! We both reported feeling more heard and understood by one another, and we felt a more powerful sense of closeness whether we were sitting in front of the TV or hiking through Manhattan. This seemingly magical enhancement of our loving bond came from an honest examination of the contents of what we considered “quality time” together.

How do you know if there is true QUALITY in the quality time you spend with your honey? Once again, just ask your mate what he or she thinks about the status of your quality time. Then share your thoughts. The real challenge here is that most people consider it the norm to engage in repetitive checking of their devices during quality time. It’s just something we do.

We’ve evolved to accept that our partners won’t be looking at us when we reveal in person how we feel about something important.

We’re growing less likely to put our devices down unless we’re asked to do so, and even then we still say, “Just a minute.” We think that if every night we exchange tidbits of info about our days and then dive headfirst into hours of shared TV time, it’s considered quality time together. Well, it is—up to a point, but the takeaway message here is that quality time is such a relative term. I would say that your loving bond is probably strong if you and your partner spend about 10 minutes engaging in screenless, meaningful, uninterrupted communication for every hour spent together with one or more screens present.

4. Discuss what your vision of a greater investment in quality time looks like for each of you.

(Try this: Takes 10-20 minutes per week to conduct a state of the union discussion outlined in Part One. If you plan to call out your significant other on his or her lack of investment in quality time, prepare to meet your partner’s resistant and defensive side. Very few people respond with openness and cooperation when the need to reduce screen time is introduced, especially with no notice given. Why? Because for many of us the idea of reducing screen time is experienced as having your absolute favorite toy taken away.

If you don’t see yourself investing in an ongoing discussion about the “quality of your quality time,” then your crystal ball could is likely to show that there won’t be much love in the future of your relationship. Think of time spent communicating with your full attention to your honey as points earned toward indulging in time spent losing yourselves in shared or separate screens. Yes, your full attention.

Does one or both of you buy into the adage “If you can’t beat them, join them,” which would freeze the two of you in the status quo with no growth taking place? I understand why it’s easy to think “My partner doesn’t seem to care about initiating changes, then why should I?” Just know that this way of thinking predicts dangerous levels emotional distance in the future. Don’t settle for quality time diluted by partial attention to each other’s needs. Initiate the state of the union ritual, or at least start a conversation about increasing your joint investment in the health of the relationship.

Given how enjoyable screens are, people often agree in theory but don’t follow their declarations with action. Keep in mind that the spoken intention to reduce screen time just to satisfy a partner’s needs is rarely followed by action unless quality time is actually experienced as rewarding and there’s a system of checks and balances in place to promote accountability.

5. Make a long-term commitment to creating and maintaining upgrades in shared quality time

Consider that happy couples in long-term, monogamous relationships naturally upgrade their quality time together when drift occurs by checking in with one another and coming up with a plan to improve emotional distance before someone acts out.

They check in with one another and make adjustments so that both partners’ unmet physical, emotional, or spiritual needs are fulfilled, or at least targeted. Partners who lack a healthy forum for promoting corrective measures tend develop an uncomfortable sense of decreasing returns as the years pass. When an investment in maintaining the potency of quality time is neglected and no check-in mechanism exists, the motivation to nurture the relationship doesn’t kick into gear until a problem in the communication gets so severe that one or both partners act out or explode with resentment rather than communicate in a healthy manner to convey emotional pain. This “crisis management” approach is commonly found in couples with a tendency to sweep problems under the rug until they can’t avoid tripping over it.

6. Treat the consistency of true quality time and undivided attention in your relationship as a barometer of how healthy your relationship is in the present and healthy it’s likely to be in the future.

We can determine the current and future strength of the love in our relationships based on the quality of attention we give and receive. It’s sage to assume that if the level of one partner’s attention is low (e.g., one or both of you are looking at a screen,) then the felt experience of connection will be low.

How do you improve the quality of your attention during time together at home on the couch? If you both accept that you will be on your devices, make an effort to look away from the screen for at least a few sentences spoken by your partner and show that you heard him or her. If one or both of you is tuning in to a screen, try to make physical contact by either holding hands or putting your arms or legs over each other.

**The true quality of quality time REALLY boils down to the ratio of time spent together with compromised attention (e.g., multitasking) or no attention to one another (e.g., sharing a TV show) versus undistracted attention and active listening during communication.

So it’s really a relative phenomenon. Sharing a relaxing boat ride certainly falls under the category of quality time, but if the couple lacks the anchor of quality attention during regular communication, then one or both members of the couple might look outside the relationship to communicate their enjoyment of the trip. As a result, the healthy benefits of shared experience are reduced. How do we prevent this from happening?

LET’S REVIEW:

HOW TO CREATE A RITUAL OF MONITORING THE QUALITY OF YOUR SHARED QUALITY TIME (Bringing Together Part One and Two of the Series)

1. Make the topic of quality time and attention matter in your relationship.

Begin by discussing what quality time means to you and encourage your partner to share as well. Evaluate the level of undivided attention you experience from your partner and whether you can make improvements in the quality of attention you offer. Consider increasing screen-free time together if you determine that your digital technology is interfering with quality time.

Commit to ongoing conversations about shared quality time. The most predictable way to jointly visit the topic of quality time is to include it in the state of the union ritual. You can also make it a separate discussion to reinforce what you’ve heard from your partner or what you’ve shared.

2. Make it safe for your partner to alert you to disruptions in the loving connection.

Minimize your defensiveness in response to your partner’s feedback on his or her experience of you and your technology. Avoid retaliating with accusations when your partner is sharing in an open and honest way. Also, be prepared for your partner’s retaliation when you share, and answer with love and a spirit of personal responsibility.

3. Take the initiative to share first when you sense emotional distance between you, or if experience a lack of focused attention or quality time together. Don’t wait for your partner to notice. Avoid punishing your partner for emotional distance. Go into troubleshooting mode together and create at minimum a renewed commitment to the weekly check-in as a system of accountability.

4. Learn to respect and acknowledge the power of personal technology to reduce your motivation for face-to-face bonding. Talk more openly with your partner about the irresistible pull toward your screens. Identify out loud when you need your partner’s help with putting away your own device, but take the initiative to show how you value your partner’s words and eye contact more than your own screen.

If you commit to creating an ongoing and safe forum for jointly reflecting on the quality and frequency of your bonding time together, then you are taking a significant step toward maintaining and upgrading the love and communication in your relationship for years to come.