No More Excuses

Restore Intimacy to Your Marriage You Must Spend Time Together

By Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

The first thing you must do to restore intimacy to your most important relationship is to increase the amount of time that you spend together.  It is not only the first thing that you must do, it is the most important thing your must do if you want to recover that sense of “us-ness”. 

Couples often come into counseling complaining that they have grown apart, that they are not feeling loved, or that they do not feel important to the other partner.  What most of these couples have in common is that they do not spend much time together.  They usually believe that they do not spend any less time together than their friends spend with their spouses.  They may be correct.  However, when couples are missing the closeness that they once had and not feeling loved, a lack of time together is a major part of the problem. 

Of course many couples are in chronic conflict with each other. Chronic conflict makes it difficult to enjoy the moment with your partner when you are primed and ready to see everything they say or do as negative and motivated by a desire to hurt you in some way.  Ongoing conflict and negative feelings about the partner and the relationship play a role in avoiding spending time with each other.  Who wants to expose himself or herself to a person or situation that is just going to hurt your feelings?  Athough this couple has to work through the conflict to restore a desire to spend time together, they have to spend time together to work through the conflict.

There are just as many other couples who are not in chronic conflict that feel disconnected and emotionally abandoned by each other.  The most common excuse I hear is that “we are so busy” with work/school/kids/aging parents/etc., that we don’t have the time or energy to carve out any time for ourselves as a couple.  Most people live very busy lifestyles these days. 

Parents of school aged kids often find that their evenings and weekends of taken up by soccer/football/baseball/karate/dance/etc., and protest that they just don’t have the time to set aside for “dates” or “couple time”.  Sometimes, families that are so over-engaged with kid activities, are actually doing a disservice to the kids, who are also over-engaged.  Many times kids will tell parents that they want to quit some of the activities, but parents, fearful that the kids will develop a pattern of not following through, keep the child engaged past their interest and tolerance.  These same kids would often benefit more from a set of parents that are more tuned in to each other, more loving and accepting toward each other, and happier in their marriage.  The parents are the kids most important role models for being in relationships.  Parents that are spending and inadequate amount of time and attention on their marriage are modeling this to the kids.  A lot of marital problems are associated with not spending enough time together.  Marital problems with unhealthy interactions are also modeled to the kids.

Not only is spending time together essential for restoring intimacy and marital happiness, the way you spend time together is also important.  For one partner, spending time in the same room watching the same television program may count as quality time together.  For the other spouse, this activity does not count at all, and may serve as a source of hurt and anger.  You do not have to be doing anything “special” like taking a vacation or going on a “date night” to be engaged in establishing closeness in your relationship.  Many people still harbor the notion that they can spend next to no time together, carve out a tiny slice (one hour a week as date night), then it will be “quality” vs. “quantity” time together.  This “quality” time may be spent in a dark movie theater where you cannot hold a conversation.  If you are setting aside small blocks of time for your marriage, examine it for the actual amount of “quality time” you are getting from it. Quality time equals time engaged with each other.  Do you have to be talking to spend quality time?  No.  If you are both together in connected in some meaningful way, where you both believe it to be meaningful, you have quality time. 

Couples need more than “quality time” together.  They need a quantity of time together.  Couples need to spend a lot of time together to have that sense of connection without having to talk.  While just being together may count as quality time, it usually takes being together a lot to establish that shared meaning.

Partners also enter relationships with their own emotional baggage, which may include insecurities and a higher need for closeness than the other partner.  Conversely, one partner may have a much lower need for closeness than the other partner, based on his/her own emotional baggage.  A couple will rarely have the same level of need for closeness vs. distance at the same time.  In the beginning couples share that same desire for closeness as they are establishing the relationship.  It is often described as the process of “falling in love”, when each is excited about seeing the other, pays a lot of attention to  what the other is thinking/feeling, and is very conscious of relationship dynamics.  At this point, both partner are flooded with neurochemicals that make this a very exciting time.  When couples come into counseling, one will often say that s/he just wants to feel like s/he did when they first got together.  S/he wants to re-experience that sense of falling in love or being in love.  Couples can regain a sense of falling in love or being in love, but desire to have that experience does not magically make it happen.  It takes work and it takes time.  Lots of time.  Lots of time and energy. 

If you want to regain your sense of closeness or emotional intimacy, slow down and dedicate the time and energy that it will take to accomplish it.  If you don’t have anything to talk about, or are having awkward silence in your time together, try some couple communication exercises (e.g., The Honey Jar), a couple’s retreat, or a joint activity.  You can take a dance class or learn a foreign language.  Break out of the rut and do something different. 

Copyright 2010, Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D., www.peggyferguson.stillwatermarriagecounselor.com; http://www.peggyferguson.com

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Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

By Peggy Ferguson, Ph.D.

To restore the closeness in your most important relationship, your marriage, you must spend time together.  Almost all couples whose marriages are drifting apart, being torn apart, or dying from neglect, already know this.  Yet, they typically do not do the most important thing in restoring the good feelings and closeness to their relationship.

Why?  Exactly.  The excuses that I hear from couples about why they cannot carve out time to spend with each other vary from the stereotypical to the highly specialized.  Most of the time people make excuses rather than doing what they need to do because a) they don’t want to do it in the first place, or b) they are afraid of what will happen if they do it.  Some have fear of success.  Some have fear of failure.  Some have fear of change, regardless of the direction that it goes.

What are excuses?  We culturally define excuses as justification for some act/behavior or lack of taking some action.  Excuses serve to hold the person with the responsibility harmless.  It seems to serve as a way to neutralize responsibility.

Eventually in therapy, one partner will get honest and say “I don’t want to spend time with you”, then describe what s/he is avoiding.  Much of the time, partners collude with each other to prevent spending time together by backing up each other’s excuses and failing to problem solve on actual impediments.  They are usually not consciously in a conspiracy to let their marriage die by neglect, erosion, and active chipping away at its foundations.  Yet, that is often the outcome. 

When your marriage counseling has asked you to spend more time together and you say, “yes, but…..” the next thing out of your mouth will typically be the excuses.  To restore the happiness to your marriage, change how you think and increase your willingness to do something different.  You cannot change your relationship by doing the same old stuff over and over.  It is not working now.  It has not worked in the past.  It will not work in the future.  Doing the same stuff more vigorously probably won’t work either.  Use this worksheet to explore your excuses, identify real impediments, and to problem solve on those roadblocks that are standing in the way of restoring your positive feelings and closeness. 

 


The Excuses Worksheet

By Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

A.  Identify your excuses for not spending more time with your spouse.  Write them down.  Identify how you and your spouse are complicit in maintaining the status quo. 

Categories of Excuses:

Time:  “We just don’t have the time because…”:

 

 

Kids:  “We have kids.  We can’t have alone time because…”:


 

 

Money:  “We can’t afford to have special time together because…”:

 

 

 

Individual awkwardness:  “I am uncomfortable spending time with you because…”:

Examples: “We don’t have anything in common”; “I don’t want to spend time with someone who will be criticizing me.”; “We don’t have anything to talk about.”; “I’m afraid if we spend more time together we will discover that we don’t want to be together and will get a divorce.”

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Miscellaneous category:  “We can’t carve out more time together because…”:

 

 

 

 

 

B.  Identify how you and your spouse are complicit in maintaining the status quo.  Go back through your lists above and identify the ones that your partner reinforces in some way.  They may be the same excuses used by your partner or they may be excuses that your partner believes to be “real reasons” why it is difficult to carve out time together.  Put a checkmark by those on your lists above.

 

 

C.  Now go back and identify the items that are actual roadblocks or problems to be solved.  At this point it does not matter whether you believe that you can solve it.  Just identify the circumstances/conditions/items that are really in the way of being able to spend more time together. 

 

 

D.  Take this worksheet back to your counselor for assistance with problem solving on those barriers.  A basic Problem Solving Model can be used to eliminate the impediments to spending more time together.

 

(Peggy’s note:  This worksheet and any other materials provided by Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D., are not meant to diagnose or treat any problem or condition and does not serve as a substitute for appropriate professional help.  Copyright:  2010, Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D., http://www.peggyferguson.stillwatermarriagecounselor.com; http://www.peggyferguson.com.

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How To Get Your Spouse To Want To Spend Time With You

By Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.

 

Many spouses complain that their partner does not want to spend time with them. There are a number of reasons why the distant partner is not spending time with the other spouse.  Some partners are actually avoiding their spouses, while others want that time together, but can’t accomplish it.  Many actually want to spend time with his/her spouse, but logistical issues create a barrier that has not been resolved or overcome.  Some have depression or other mental health problems where social isolation and withdrawal are symptoms.  Others may be struggling with extreme stress by themselves.  They feel like they are just barely hanging on, without adding “one more thing”. Others are prioritizing in ways that leaves the spouse somewhere other than at the top of the list.  Still others may be avoiding their spouses because of guilt.

Many partners avoid their spouses due to relationship distress. Much of the time there is ongoing, unresolved conflict in the relationship.  One spouse wants to get in there and resolve the problem by discussing or arguing and the other is conflict avoidant.  This scenario sets up a pattern of pursuing/distancing, which can become a stable dynamic in that relationship.  The pursuing partner may request closeness in ways that are virtually guaranteed to achieve the opposite results.  She may be trying to protect herself from further hurt by being indirect with her requests.  She may be using some of these communication techniques that will not work:

            “You never want to spend time with me.  You don’t love me!”

            “You always act interested in what your mom/brother/secretary is saying, and do not listen to me.”

            “You never want to do anything that I want to do.  You only want to do the things that you like.”

            “It drives me crazy when I have to keep reminding you to take out the trash.”

            “We never take vacations or go to the movies.  You are so cheap.”  (Men are just as likely to be the pursuer and women the distancer.)

These communication behaviors are believed to be requests for time together.  Sometimes these indirect ways of asking for time together seem a lot safer than taking the risks to be open, honest, and direct.  When a partner says, “I miss you and I want to spend time with you.  I need to feel re-assured that you still love me,” the other partner is free to say, “I don’t care; I don’t want to spend time with you.”  Because there is not much room for miscommunication, the partner on the receiving end of “I don’t want to spend time with you,” can’t protect her feelings with the perception that the spouse just didn’t really understand.  Vulnerability is scary.

However, when a spouse is more direct about wanting time and attention, she is much more likely to have her request granted.  When acting out feelings or hinting at the message, it is very difficult to see through what is being said to discover the real meaning.  Not only is the distant partner likely to not understand the message, indirect and acting out ways of communicating that message, can create further hurt, anger, and more distance. 

Ask yourself what it is like for your spouse to spend time with you.  Do a self-analysis to determine if your spouse is avoiding you because of distress in the relationship.  Ask yourself these questions:

How good are you at just relaxing into the situation and enjoying the time spent with your partner?

            a.  Do you have difficulty relaxing and being mentally, physically, and emotionally present in the moment?  

            b.  Do you feel compelled to take advantage of his/her attention and bring up your complaints or requests for change?

            c.  Do you get easily frustrated or annoyed?

            d.  Do you break down in tears?

            e.  Do you try to make your spouse feel guilty?

            f.  Are you fun to be with?

            g.  Do you complain about the service at the restaurant?  Do you swear you will never come back to this restaurant/movie theater/performing arts center? Do you embarrass your spouse with your criticism of service or your demanding behavior?

            h.  Do you fret about the money you are spending?

            i.   Do you have difficulty with paying attention to your spouse when you are out and about?

            j.  Do you flirt with other people, make casual conversation with them, or otherwise divert your attention away from your spouse.

            k.  Do you frequently sabotage your date or get sick so that you have to come home early?

            l.  Do you talk non-stop about yourself, or do you ask questions about your partner’s day, work, interests?

 

If you find yourself doing some of these behaviors, your spouse may be avoiding spend time with you because it is not fun or enjoyable to them. 

So, if you want your spouse to want to spend more time with you, make a direct request without criticism or blame. Then, make the best use of the time spent together—rekindling the positive feelings for each other.  You can’t rekindle positive feelings by being negative.


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