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By: James W. Walkup, D. Min.

You already know that finding time for each other is your biggest challenge. Feeling guilty about spending so little time together will not help. Promising to be home early tomorrow will probably be met with skepticism by a spouse who's heard it all before. You may be too busy to sense how much each of you yearns for quality time.

Invigorating a time-starved relationship requires work but the rewards are unbelievable. Maintaining a sense of mutuality and strong affirmation will require the very best of your adult skills. Guarding your love for each other is not for sissies. Setting boundaries and safeguarding your time together requires aggressive measures but the effort is worth it.

Dual career couples treat their moments together as precious Couples who give their relationship top priority make sure they have prime time committed on the calendar for just each other. Make conscious decisions about time. Spending time alone increases your sense of closeness. Insure that the pressures of work or children do not pull you away from experiences that will help you remember why you fell in love in the first place.

Consider what the impact of any "time" decision will be on your spouse. If you coach soccer for your child, where will be the time for you and your partner? When you take on that special project at work, when will the two of you have your dinner out together alone? Such times can be a movable feast on your calendar but be sure to move the date to another place on the calendar in the same week.

Remember: when you regularly disappointment each other, hurt and disappointment eat away your morale and isolates you from your most natural companion and cheerleader. Even though you see each other at some of your worst moments in the day give it your best shot to stay warm and affirming. If your partner is your best friend, then treating he or she like one will go a long way.

Working many hours often leads to a felling of entitlement. After getting on the train at six and getting home at eight, you may feel entitled to be taken care of. Your partner however may feel the same nee. Some couples actually declare a no fight zone during such evenings. When you recognize that you will probably bee reactive to almost anything, agree to discuss things over the weekend. Hopefully by then you will have caught up enough with sleep to listen.

Stress siphons off your ability to see things in shades of gray. If you find yourself grumpy and impatient, ask your partner for some time to re-center yourself so that you can be a better listener. Of course, when kids are involved, this means someone must stay in charge. A cartoon in the New Yorker shows a couple playing doubles tennis with a baby crawling down the center court line. Each yells, "Yours." Clear assignments of "who's responsible when" can save a bushel of disappointment.

So what else will work? You need to be rigid and intentional about securing your emotional and physical health. Get enough sleep. Eat healthily. Exercise at least 3 times a week. You know the drill. But are you clear that doing so will automatically enhance your relationship and save time?

Stressed, tired people feel hurt and disappointed with their relationships. Unfortunately, they blame their partner for the small things as if those are the things causing unhappiness. "If only you had picked up my suits at the cleaner, I would not be yelling at you like this." Don't believe it.

Most fights center around little things that have become big things. Seen through the prism of exhaustion, leaving towels on the floor may be experienced as the only thing that matters. It will be viewed as total proof that your partner does not care about you.

The freedom to honor the reality of the mistake and appreciate the disappointment can go a long way. When you're feeling defensive, you may have to bite your tongue, and take ten deep breaths before you are able to acknowledge that you have failed to hold up your end of an agreement.

Each time you nurse a wound when your partner has forgotten to call, you develop plenty of justification for distancing and giving up. Couples, who care about each other, recognize that they need time to air grievances.

Of course, you each must have enough resilience to show up for these conversations. Couples in time-starved relationships need to make catching up a priority. You may find that who's right and who's wrong is not as important as wanting to be together.

Sharing your feelings does not mean that you resort to blame and rage. Rather treat the moment as if your best friend had asked you to share some of your joys and concerns. Letting go of the righteous indignation goes a long way.

You will find that feeling heard and understood counts. You don't want to heat your partner coming back at you with "why you are really the problem." You will relax and feel more connected when your partner indicates that he or she understands how this might have upset you. A sense that your partner cares about you restores your faith in the relationship.

Follow a simple rule of thumb: the partner who feels the strongest yields the floor to the person who feels most vulnerable. Agreeing to listen all the way through until your partner feels understood will take the sting out of her or his upset. If you summarize what you have heard, you and your partner will stay in a mode of problem solving rather than playing the "who's to blame game."

Then and only then, will you have gained the right to have the floor to be heard as well. This saves an enormous amount of time even though at first you may find it tedious. Making sure that your partner knows that you want to hear what is bugging him or her and that you are willing to do something about it, restores a sense of hope and equilibrium back into this relationship.

Probably the least appropriate time to resolve conflicts is at bedtime or thereafter. Learning to declare cease-fires and making appointments to deal with things when you both feel sane can save much sleep and marital disarray.

Remember: you need this partner as a cheerleader, confidant and friend. Your long life depends upon it. Agreeing to make the most of your time together can help both of you feel great. Your concentration at work will heighten. Your pleasure with your children will increase. And most fundamentally, your pleasure with each other will increase.

If these strategies do not work and you find things still not improving, seek some counseling. Research shows that most couples wait seven years after first identifying a problem before they reach out for help. Often by then, one or both partners feels so wounded that reconciliation is much more challenging. A few sessions of help early on can make all of the difference between a life of quiet desperation and a life of knowing the joy of true companionship.

This article was provided by James W. Walkup, D. Min. for
The Counseling Center

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