Talk to any couple with jobs and kids, and they’ll agree: Making time for each other is hard. In theory, the space should exist. If you work forty hours a week and sleep eight hours per night, that leaves seventy-two hours each week for other things. Yet when you have young children, the tendency is either to trade off, so each parent gets work or leisure time, or to all be together. Nurturing a partnership isn’t the default. Consequently, the time you find together tends to be low-energy: sitting on the couch next to each other watching Comedy Central after the kids are asleep.
Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like dozing off to the tune of late-night television.
But such softening of intimacy into roommate status isn’t inevitable. As I’ve studied people’s time logs, I’ve seen some strategies that help even the busiest couples put their relationships first.
Try mornings. Mornings are a great time for doing anything that’s important to you. This is time you can have for yourself or your relationship before the world’s priorities invade. One couple I studied got up every morning before their children in order to have coffee together. Waking early requires going to bed on time, but most people aren’t doing anything all that productive in the hour before bed anyway. It might be worth capping that time and turning unproductive evening hours into productive morning ones.
Commute together. I once interviewed a couple that drove together from their home in New Jersey into Manhattan each day. This turned what could have been a very painful trip into a daily date. Even if you don’t work close to each other, sharing a ride once a week may be worth the extra driving in order to get time together.
Schedule the children wisely. One busy consultant I studied wanted her girls to take piano lessons. So she found a music school where the kids could take lessons simultaneously on a weekend. She and her husband went for a coffee date while the kids were occupied. Sure, you want to watch your kids’ sports games, but you can skip a practice and turn that into date night (or date afternoon, as the case may be). Sending the kids off on a weekend scouting or a church trip is also a great way to score some Mommy and Daddy time.
Nap together. You know the admonition to “sleep when the baby sleeps”? When the baby naps on weekends, that’s a perfect time for both parents to go take a nap . . . with just a little time spent doing other things first. Older kids can watch TV or play video games.
Meet during the day. When I was studying an accountant’s time log, I saw an intriguing entry: “date lunch.” She recognized that she and her husband already had childcare during the day, which made lunch together much easier to schedule than an evening dinner date. Breakfast is also an option, as is an afternoon tea time if you work near each other.
Work from home on Fridays. Both of you. If the kids are in school or day care, then the coast is clear for you to build in a simultaneous break.
Do an early happy hour. One woman who normally left her tech firm around 5 p.m. left at 4 p.m. one day to meet her husband for a quick drink before their sitter needed to go home. If your relationship is more fitness-oriented than happy hour–oriented, you could also use that time to go for a run or walk together.
Stay home. Finding a sitter for Saturday night is tough. So my husband and I sometimes cook a nice dinner together after our younger kids go to bed (the older ones can read or play on their Kindles). We open a bottle of wine, and it’s like going out to a fine restaurant—only we can drink more of the wine because no one has to drive home.
Separate romance time from administrative time. Here’s the thing: If you really want to enjoy couple time, you don’t want to spend these precious hours hashing out who has to pick up the kids on Thursday. One couple I studied, who had three kids and two businesses, scheduled “date night” and “administrative night” separately. That way they figured out their schedules and could spend the other night talking about things that were a bit more fun.
Whatever your strategy, with intentional time management, you’re likely to discover that you have more time for each other than you may have thought. And that can mean more than any heart-shaped box.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography