It sounds so very Mad Men to admit, but having cocktail hour saves my marriage.
No, I am not languishing in an unhappy life that I need to drown out with booze. Nor do I meet my husband at the door with an apron on and an old-fashioned in hand. But I am a mother and wife who believes that the hour I spend sipping a cocktail with my husband each evening keeps our bond stronger.
We have been married for nearly ten years. We have two little boys (ages 3 and 6), and life is chaotic. My husband and I constantly feel overwhelmed, stressed, and behind. There aren’t enough hours in the day to complete must-do items on our lists, let alone the things we might want to do. You know, such as hobbies.
I know we’re not alone in this struggle. Adults our age have an average of 4.1 hours per day to engage in any sort of leisure activity—and that includes time for social media, the gym, reading, and meeting up with friends. Those hours go by fast! We all work hard and try to be the best at everything we do. That’s a great thing. But when the noise starts, and the demands come pounding down on my husband and me, the thing that stands to suffer most is our relationship. We take each other for granted. But, even worse, we take for granted that we will be able to reconnect once life slows down.
The truth is that life never really slows down. What happens if, seventeen years from now, when things have maybe calmed down a little, we can’t connect anymore because we have forgotten how? What if we forget how to talk to each other? What if we missed a huge chunk of each other’s lives, and too many years have gone by to get them back?
We have to be committed to our marriage first. But date nights, babysitters, and time for just us are hard to find. So we have relied on the cocktail hour.
In our society, we tend to talk quietly about the cocktail culture. We love fancy bespoke drinks, and Pinterest boards highlighting new concoctions are wildly popular. Going out to drink socially with friends is encouraged. But admitting to a regular cocktail habit at home still seems taboo. Of course, my husband and I don’t need alcohol to talk. We get along regardless of what we consume. But the habit of the actual hour of enjoying a cocktail together has reminded us to slow down and make each other a priority.
Our cocktail hour has organic roots. My husband and I have never formally defined our habit or discussed it at length. But if I were asked to point to a potential origin, I would immediately turn to days spent on the lake with my parents.
My parents have been a shimmering example of marriage for nearly forty-five years. Through a military lifestyle, three kids, multiple moves, and the general hardships of life and aging family members, they have remained happily married. They still look forward to seeing and talking to each other every single day.
Some personally tumultuous years later, my stoic husband and I now visit my parents and soak in everything about their life. We look at their love for each other and how that love strengthens everyone around them. We look at their life, relaxed and laser-focused on what matters, and we look at how they devote their time to the people around them by engaging in meaningful conversation.
For my parents, cocktail hour is their signal to their guests and household that it is time to put down the iPads, magazines, phones, and books, and come together. It is now time to connect with one another.
Cocktail hour is the trigger—whether or not actual alcohol is involved matters little. At my parents’ lake house, we all gather as the sun sets over the water. Here, stories are told, brave issues tackled, family wars waged, and a lot of meaningful moments shared. It seems a natural extension that my husband and I would try to carry those same magical moments to our own family unit.
So now, when the work day is done, there is a twilight hour when life is precious and ours to be enjoyed. The lull before the nighttime routine of dinner, putting the kids to bed, watching TV, or social activities is sacred. Instead of throwing this time away by scrolling through Facebook, leafing through a magazine, or talking on the phone, my husband and I grab a drink, together, at home. It is my favorite part of the day.
The reconnection that occurs between my husband and me during that time is hallowed. Whether it’s over a glass of wine or a mint julep expertly mixed, we sit together while our children play around us. Sometimes we wrap our arms around each other; other times we sit across the room, but always, we talk.
We recap our days for each other: the good, the bad, the mundane, and the very important. In these moments we talk about our plans for the weekend and our hopes for the future. At times we make child-rearing decisions, set a budget for a home-improvement project, or plan a vacation.
The ritual itself invites us to collaborate. We enjoy trying new cocktail recipes, sourcing for ideas, and discussing which cocktails fit the season we’re in. It is a creative movement where even the preparation and the decision-making have brought us closer.
When the ice clinks, we sit down together and focus on the present moment. One drink together, with the evening light streaming in, where things are blissfully calm. It’s this practice that makes the subsequent chaos of our lives feel more manageable. Life isn’t simply passing us by as long as we’re taking time each day to reflect and connect.
Once the beverages are poured, once we slow down and take a moment to rate what we created together, life is back in focus. I focus on him; he focuses on me. In a lifestyle where we spend much of our time sending business notes to each other via email (“Here is the link to register the kids for soccer.” “Here is the note on the open house for our son's new school.” “I’m thinking of refinancing our mortgage. Can you look at these documents?”), it is in this time that we actually discuss in person, while holding hands or while lazily sprawled across from each other in armchairs, what life has for us. We become a team again.
Not every couple needs a cocktail hour. Maybe for you it’s going on a walk or watching a TV series together and discussing it after. Whatever the activity is, every couple needs this time of reconnection. We just happened to take a page from the 1950s, and it has worked for us.