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Making Time for Love: Busy Schedules & Taken-for-Granted Marriages

Love — especially in a marriage — needs time, and if we do not MAKE time for the marriage, we can bet the time will slip away and the marriage will be, at best, lack-luster. I haven’t been exactly a model of making time for my marriage through the years of grad school and pre-tenure professorship, but I’ve been working on this one over the last year, and it is one of my priorities during this sabbatical to figure out a better plan for the future. Thought I’d share my strategy this Valentine’s Day and explain the changes I’ve embraced to make time for love to thrive.

First, my husband and I set aside a couple of hours for a conflict resolution “meeting” each Sunday afternoon. When we started this last year, we were arguing a lot. (This happens to all married couples, I suspect, from time to time. No big surprise, right? Marriage is hard work.) Anyway, a few months after we started these meetings, we had noticably fewer arguments, and life together got a lot less stressful.

Here are the rules of our meeting time: (1) We each chose one issue from the week that we want to discuss, and we get to speak without interruption to explain our concern/feelings while the other person listens. (2) Then the other person asks clarifying questions and does active listening to make sure the speaker was really understood. We say things like, “So what you are saying is….” (3) Then we move into problem-solving mode, trying to find a way to fix the problem. Sometimes this entails the listener bringing up points that the original speaker misunderstood or omitted, but the goal is problem-solving, so our tone is supposed to stay helpful. (4) We write down the resoluion we agree upon so we can check for follow-through in the ensuing weeks: “Spouse A will work on being more welcoming when Spouse B comes home and not dump the day’s problems on Spouse B immediately.” Etcetera. (5) Then we go through the process for the other partner and what he or she wants to discuss as a concern.

These days we seldom had to go through the whole process — we are just getting along better now. But what we are using the time for is discussing big issues like our child’s education, use of family time, or issues we are facing not in the marriage but elsewhere. This is fine with me! The point is that every week we know we have time set aside to work on issues that matter to us.

The second thing I’ve done in order to try to make time for our marriage is still in development, but I can share some of what I’ve come up with today and let you know how it goes later! Here’s the idea behind my latest move…. I’m currently on sabbatical leave and so I am not teaching, only doing my research and writing, but when I AM teaching, I usually create my syllabi for classes based solely on whatever strikes me as good ways for students to learn and how much work is reasonable to expect from them. I never think about how much time what I have planned will take ME. I always figured that I just had to suck it up and make it work, and I did…but at the expense of (a) sleep, (b) exercise, and (c) time with my husband.

I’m sure some of you must think I’m nuts. What an idiot not to consider how much time tasks will take to accomplish! But really, it just hadn’t occurred to me that perhaps I should try filling in a schedule with the necessities like sleep, eating, exercise, and family time FIRST. Then see how much time is available for my work and plan my classes and service projects accordingly. A life in higher ed means no 9 to 5 work day, and this openess can be tricky because there is ALWAYS more work to be done! Most faculty I know work way more than a 40 hour week. It’s no exaggeration to say that typically during the semester, I work 70 hours a week. But I just can’t do that anymore. It’s not healthy for my body, I’m getting burned out on teaching already at 43, I’m a terrible role model for my students and my son with my chronic overwork, and it’s not fair to my husband.

So I’ve created a rough draft of a schedule for the fall semester, when I will return to teaching, with the following breakdown: 33% of my week = sleep (that’s eight hours a night — what a concept!), 29% of my week = work (that’s 49 hours), 29% of my week = the general business of living (exercise, eating, cleaning house, driving the kid around, time with family/husband, church, etc.), and 9% left open for miscellaneous demands on my time. I’ve never left myself any unscheduled time before, so when something went wrong, like I had to take the kid to the doctor or my car broke down, etc., there was no flexibility in my schedule. Stuff still had to get done, so I’d just have to take away time from sleep, exercise, and husband. I’m hoping that if I plan my courses now in terms of the actual time I have available each week for my job, then I will find my career much more sustainable over the long haul. And when last minute things come up, I’ll know there is time to spare. The trick will be to make sure that I do not add in a bunch of committments to use up that 9%!!

I know it will be a real challenge for me to break old habits, but I am committed to making time for the things that matter to me. While teaching DOES matter to me and my work is very important work, it is also crucial that I maintain my health and give proper attention to my family. I can do a lot still in my alloted time, but I am no longer going to let myself feel pressured to try to do everything. It’s time to make a change.

Happy Valentines Day to you all! May you make time today, and always, for those you love, including yourself, and may your lives be a perfect balance of meaningful work, rejuvenating personal and family time, and restful and regular sleep! 🙂

4 Responses

  1. That is a very interesting post and I’m glad it is working for you. Seems like a very adult way to handle a problem (increased arguments).

    Anyhow, I hope you can stick with your plan and of course add in some time for writing and blogging 🙂

  2. Thanks for the words of wisdom on this special day. Hope it’s not too late, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

  3. I had hesitated to post on this, actually, because I was worried about coming across like a know-it-all! It’s not like things are perfect, but these things we are doing do seem to be helping.

    Thanks, guys, for stopping by!

  4. This is the best theme song for all busy couples out there. It goes straight to the heart. Hope you guys enjoy it.

    Turn Down the World Tonight

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