We continue our on-going series, Relationships 101. Who has time to be in a relationship anymore? Today's overextended life leaves working couples with little time for real intimacy. Mira Kirshenbaum, author of "The Weekend Marriage," explains what it means and how you can overcome it. Read an excerpt from her book below:
Chapter One: What Is the Weekend Marriage?
It took years before it finally hit me: Oh my God, I don’t have time for my marriage! How could I have missed it? After all, I knew that it’s hard to have a relationship if you don’t have time for it. Time is the air love needs to breathe. But when you’re suffocating slowly, it can take a long while to realize what’s really going on.
It’s not that I’d been working every minute. But I saw that the pace of my life, plus my husband’s busy life, meant we were too often like ships passing in the night. No, change that. Like two New York City taxis that every now and then find themselves waiting at the same red light together.
This is the weekend marriage. It’s the marriage most of us have these days: during a typical week you have only minutes, not hours, to spend feeling like a couple—getting close, having fun together, feeling intimate. It’s not one of those rare situations where one person works in a far-off city Monday through Friday. In the weekend marriage you and your spouse sleep under the same roof most nights but you rarely have enough time for each other except on weekends. If then.
Few of us are exempt. Whoever is busiest or most drained determines how much time the two of you have together. If he or she has only a few minutes a day for the relationship, that’s all the relationship gets.
When I saw what was happening in my marriage, it scared me, as it does so many of us. I knew in my bones that neglect is how you kill a relationship, just the way neglect kills pets, plants, and other vulnerable living things. And we’re right to be scared. I’ve learned that the weekend marriage is now the most important and least understood reason why couples end up getting divorced.
Like many of us, I felt guilty. What kind of person was I to make my relationship such a low priority?
But I also felt angry. With my husband first of all. Didn’t he care enough to call us back from the mad pace of our lives? But the thing is, he had. We both had. “We need to get away,” we’d say. “We need to spend more time together.” But we didn’t do much about it—we were too busy to make plans! Then, stupidly enough, I was angry with life. It didn’t seem fair that there’s no time left for love if you live the way you’re supposed to—work hard, keep up your home, spend time with family, and do all the other things that come along with being responsible and living a normal life.
But it wasn’t just about not having time for each other. I noticed that something weird happens when you go from having plenty of time together, like when you’re first starting out, to not having much time. You’d think that the good and bad ways you used to interact would shrink in the same proportions. You’d spend less time making love and having nice easy conversations, but you’d also spend less time arguing and being mad at each other.
But the proportions don’t stay the same. The bad stuff—the disagreements, the irritability, the misunderstandings—seem to take up more time than they did before. It’s the good stuff that gets squeezed out. Here’s my variation on Murphy’s Law: the less time you have together, the more things go wrong in your relationship.
No wonder a lot of marriages are ending these days that should survive. Couples are battling forces that are too much for them: too much stress and not enough time. If this pattern of life continues, the divorce rate will only climb. And a rising divorce rate will discourage people from entering into committed relationships.
Something must be done about this. But what?
It would be great if we could get together as a society and fix this. We desperately need to live in a more family-friendly environment, which would give people more time for their relationships. If we made a national commitment to do this, I’m convinced the divorce rate could be cut by more than half. But there’s nothing on the horizon that shows we’re even close to making a commitment to becoming a more family-friendly society. On the contrary, global economic forces are pushing people in the countries we compete with to work harder. In that environment, how can we work less?
So that leaves us needing to find solutions as individuals. And here I bring good news. I know from direct experience that people can learn to protect their relationships from the ravages of the time crunch, and if they do, that too would cut the divorce rate enormously.
I believe in marriage, and what’s more I believe most marriages today can be far better than people imagine. The fact that we’re dealing with a new reality is a tremendous opportunity. But we need some coaching.
Think of how the two of you are dealing with each other these days. Is it working for you? Probably not. It’s time to try something else. We can’t keep ignoring the impact of our lives on our love. We can’t pretend anymore that lack of time doesn’t make a difference. We can’t keep putting off all the healing we know our relationships need for that time “one day” when time is no longer a problem. The lives we lead today are a recipe for loneliness, for bitterness, for feeling guilty that we’re not able to make things better, for fear of where the distance and anger are bringing us.
This is where so many divorces come from. I’m not talking about the divorces that come when people realize what a stupid choice of partner they’ve made. No, I’m talking about the sadder, more common divorces that leave people asking each other, “Where did our love go?” There was once real love, but it got chewed up in the time crunch.
Until now we haven’t understood how the lives we lead damage love, and we haven’t known what to do about it. How do you solve problems that come up between you if there’s no time to talk? How do you deal with anger if there’s no time to heal the hurts? How do you make good things happen and rebuild your relationship if you’re always using the little time you have to put out fires? How do you balance your needs and your partner’s?
I had these questions, too. So I started doing research. I figured that there had to be couples out there who would prove that we don’t have to be starved of love just because our lives are starved of time. It took me years, but I found their secrets.
I now know that you and I can thrive even in the midst of a time-starved lifestyle.
And that’s where this book comes in. It provides the insights and tools you need to protect your love and keep it strong. That’s why I wrote it. Until we change the way we live as a society, we’re going to have to protect our stressed and harried marriages one relationship at a time.
In this book you’ll see how to deal with the real issues between you and your partner and make sure your needs get met and recapture the joy, intimacy, and abundant love you’ve been longing for. I’ll tell you one thing: it turns out to be a lot easier to do it right than to do it wrong.
Excerpted from "The Weekend Marriage: Abundant Love in a Time-Starved World," by Mira Kirshenbaum. Copyright © 2005. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishing Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.