For busy couples, clear goals and a calendar to hold yourselves accountable are a must.
How can busy couples make more time for connection and fun in their marriages?
I recommend two things.
First, busy couples need to do a better job of defining exactly what makes them happy. Couples with specific goals are more likely to prioritize time for having fun when life gets busy.
An exercise I call “Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage” helps couples draw up a detailed “battle plan” for marriage that incorporates both spouses’ passions and interests.
In this exercise, I ask couples to write down all the things — big and small — that bring them satisfaction in life. There are sections in the exercise to share individual dreams, marriage and family dreams, and dreams for each other (link to exercise is provided below).
My wife & I struggled early in our marriage. We were busy. We often disagreed on how to spend the free time we had. When we were tired, we found it too easy to zone out on our devices. We were drifting apart.
Completing the “Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage” exercise changed the whole trajectory of our marriage. It’s not that we hadn’t heard each other’s dreams before, we just never had an organized discussion of them. Writing down and reviewing together our goals was a game-changer.
I was aware, for example, my wife wanted more attention from me. She often complained I was on my phone too much. When she wrote down, though, she dreamed of having quiet time with me — no cell phone, no television, no family, no friends, no sports, no work — my heart finally went out to her.
Crafting specific goals
We didn’t leave my wife’s desire for time with me at a general level. I asked my wife, specifically, what she wanted from me. Her answer: two dates a week — the dates didn’t have to involve going out — and four “just us” weekends each year — no technology, family, or friends.
I told her these were reasonable requests, and I committed to them on the spot. Having shared specific goals eliminates the possibility of misunderstanding — I now know exactly what my wife wants — and allows us to hold ourselves accountable.
The Shared Vision exercise made us realize how little we were valuing each other’s priorities. The night we completed the exercise, we adopted the marriage policy, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”
In a separate post, I will take a deeper look into all the ways the Shared Vision exercise has enriched our marriage. For now, here is a quick peek at some of the specific goals the exercise has led my wife & I to embrace for our marriage:
• We make it a point — once every two months — to go to theater, an activity we both enjoy but had rarely made time for.
• To keep things interesting, we adopted the goal — once every month — of doing something new we’ve never done before.
• We established the tradition of visiting a new and different city every Memorial Day weekend.
• I agreed to cheerfully go to the beach for one week each summer with my wife — something she loves.
• My wife agreed to cheerfully embrace the football trip I make each fall with my brother — something I love.
In the midst of our busy lives, having specific goals has given us an energizing plan for our life together. As our obligations continue to mount, we haven’t lost sight of the variety of activities that bring us joy.
Finding time for connection and fun
But, it’s one thing to have goals. How to make them happen in real life?
For busy couples — for all couples — the essential marriage tool for keeping married couples on track and having fun is a shared, cloud-based, calendar system.
From my work with struggling couples, I am convinced that 50% of marital misery would be eliminated if couples just had a shared calendar.
The most common complaint I hear from couples who come to me for help is: “we spend no time together.”
I’ve even had couples tell me they had gone thirty years without having a single date… and they had gotten so busy with work and raising children “they didn’t even realize it.”
I tell these couples, “if you had a shared calendar, and were in the habit of looking at the calendar, you would see you weren’t making time for each other.”
In a separate post, I will take a deeper look into how our shared calendar system works. For now, in a nutshell, here are its key features:
I subscribe to my wife’s personal calendar (she adds her significant work events to this calendar). She subscribes to my work and personal calendars. We both subscribe to our kids’ calendars (which we maintain for them). We also share a family and date calendar for the things we do together.
This shared calendar system allows us — in one app — to see what everyone has going on. It also provides us with an objective record of how we are spending our time.
I like to ask our calendar questions: “Calendar, I promised to take my wife to theater once every two months. When was the last time I took her?”
Our calendar gives me a “kick in the pants” — and I need a kick in the pants
It’s amazes me how many times the calendar has given me a wake up call. I get busy. I get distracted by too many things that need to be done. Memories of past shared fun can lull me into a state of complacency.
A look at the calendar has often brought me a dose of reality: “Peter, again you’ve gotten too busy.”
To ward against drifting too far off course, I use my phone’s reminder app to send me a “kick in the pants” on the first day of every month: “Peter, it’s a new month. Take a look at your calendar. Ask yourself: when was the last time you…?” I can then review a ready-made list of our shared goals.
Thanks to this monthly reminder, our list of specific goals, and our shared calendar, we have been able to chart a positive course through the past very busy seventeen years of our marriage.
My favorite moments with my wife are when we are sitting with our calendar and making plans for our future together. I feel like our marriage is a priority at these times, and I feel like we are building a fun future together.
We know — with us both working and having young children — we aren’t going to get to spend as much time together as we might like during this challenging chapter of our life, but having shared plans to look forward to keeps us optimistic and reassures us our marriage bond will remain strong.
So, how can busy couples make more time for connection and fun in their marriages?
Have a shared calendar — and put your marriage on the calendar!
Complete the Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage exercise.
Set up — or ramp up, if you already have one — a shared calendar system.
Exercise – Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage
Blog Post – The Essential Marriage Tool
Bill Doherty – Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart
Bill Doherty – The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties
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