The biggest challenge facing our most important relationships today is that most people struggle to give them the attention they need to thrive. One could argue it is simply a question of making our relationships a priority, which is true, but the average person has so many commitments that compete with their relationship, prioritizing their significant other is becoming increasingly difficult to do.
On top of the time crunch our long-term relationships face, according to Eli Finkel, PhD (author of “The All or Nothing Marriage — How the Best Marriages Work” which examines the current state of marriage), people are demanding more of their relationships today than at any other time in history. Throughout history, we looked to marriage to provide security (food, shelter, and protection), and more recently, we looked to marriage to make us happy. Now, we also ask that our relationships support our journey to self-actualization and personal fulfillment. That is a lot of pressure to put on one person! This is why it is more difficult than ever to make long term relationships work. The good news is that when you do make it work, it is worth it; happy couples report deeper levels of health, satisfaction, and fulfillment now than at any other time in history.
Below we will examine some of the commitments that get in the way of having our relationship thrive, and why it is not so easy to give them the boot from our life.
This one is particularly challenging as it is also essential for your survival, and plays an important role in life satisfaction. When we see all the images on social media of people living these amazing lives, we think we can maybe have that too if we just do more and hustle. So, we invest a ton of time in our pursuit of that dream. The challenge is that for many people that means putting in long hours, including evenings and weekends, the time usually reserved for our important relationships. Also, with how connected we are to our devices, and the expectation to be available in all our waking hours, being present with the people you love takes a big hit. Average time spent working per week = 50 + hours including commute.
We are living in the age of perfected television programming. Whether it is big budget series like Game of Thrones or can’t-help-but-watch reality shows like The Bachelor, there is perfect television programming for exactly your tastes, and that is not good news for your relationship. At least there were commercial breaks 10 years ago where we had a moment to connect, but most of us don’t even have that anymore. After a long day, it is so easy to just sit down on the couch and watch shows until you go to bed. With Netflix, you don’t even have to lift a finger to change the channel. Average time spent is 35.5 hours per week.
The World Health Organization has officially declared that digital addiction is real. Some research shows that our smartphone is as addictive as cocaine. Social media is perfectly satisfying, at least for our brains, offering instant gratification for precisely what we are interested in. In fact, according to one survey 77% of people spend more than 3 hours per day on their mobile devices. That is at least 21 hours per week!
Sadly, this category has the least amount of time spent, even though many of us know when we take care of ourselves, we are more available to take care of others in our life. Participating in sports, exercise, recreation, socializing, and communicating is barely 1 hour a day for the average American and about 2 hours a day for a Canadian. That is a measly 7 hours per week.
The amount of time we spend with our kids has doubled in the past 50 years. I think this is a good thing, but that still means we only spend around 2 hours per day with our children (and the other 22 feeling guilty we aren’t spending more). Even though that amount of time may seem low, and there are countless rewards to being a parent, there is nothing that has a bigger impact on your relationship than having kids. They take up those critical hours, energy and attention that we might otherwise give to our significant other. What is the advice of our favourite psychologist and author Eli Finkel for parents about their relationship? Just do whatever you can to make it through the child rearing years as everyone struggles to maintain the relationship with their partner that they really want during that time. For the record, it’s about 14 hours per week with your kids.
Doing the Math
Now, even if you do not fit into the statistical average, it is likely that your relationship with your significant other still takes a back seat sometimes. This makes sense because giving our relationship attention is rarely urgent, (until it is), and so we give our time to the urgent things, even if they are less important. Over time, this can lead to habits of micro-neglect, where we habitually prioritize other things besides our relationship. Although this doesn’t have an immediate impact, over time the effects can be dramatic and devastating to your connection. Most people do enough to avoid relationship disaster, but habits are hard to break. So, it is better to develop good relationship habits instead of bad ones, right?
What to Do
First, give yourself and your partner a break. This is just the reality of the world we live in. Sure, you can give up TV and time on your phone but those are incredibly difficult habits to break. According to BJ Fogg, a behavioural scientist at Stanford, the best way to change is with tiny actions. So as you go through your day, try and find little ways to connect with your partner. PhD and author Eli Finkel calls them “Love Hacks.” You may not quite make it back to that honeymoon feeling, but if you can connect meaningfully every day, you can at least avoid the lawyer’s office.
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