Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

When Mates "Don't
 Have Enough Time"

Confront the Real Problems

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/no_time.htm

Updated  02-07-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost..

      This is one of a subseries of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This subseries focuses on improving primary relationships. It adds to articles proposing how to make three wise courtship decisions with and without kids from prior unions.

      This article proposes the real reasons many committed couples "can't find enough time" to nourish their relationship, and what can be done to improve that. It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement Lessons 1-4  Parts 1 & 2

  • requisites for a mutually satisfying relationship,

  • perspective on primary relationships

  • this reprint on correcting "emotional distancing"

What's the Problem?

      Primary relationships range from independent (I don't need you in order to live a satisfying life) to interdependent (I don't depend on you, and I choose to be with you) to dependent (I can't live a satisfying life without you). If a dependent person chooses an independent mate, there can be significant conflict over "spending time together" because their needs for that differ. Typical males have lower needs for intimacy than females, with some exceptions.

      As a family-systems therapist since 1981, I've often heard troubled adults and couples with and without kids say "We know we should find time for us and our relationship, but we can't seem to do so." Such couples seem to be in an impasse: one or both aren't getting some key relationship needs met, and yet they "can't find time" to fill these needs adequately.

      If you seek a solution to this impasse, then pause, reflect, and say out loud the main reasons you partners "can't find enough time" together.

      I propose that the reasons you cite probably aren't the reasons. Let me explain. When I hear "We can't find time for us...," I ask each partner to meditate silently on two questions. Reflect on them now...

  "Recently, what are your top five life priorities as judged by your actions, not your desires or words?"

  "What would you say your mate's recent top five priorities are, based on his or her actions?"

Then I ask the couple to compare their answers. Several themes are common in their responses:

One or both mates can't describe their specific priorities; or...

Their stated priorities don't seem to match their recent choices and actions; or...

One or both partners significantly misperceive the other's priorities, and express surprise or skepticism; or...

One or both partners don't include (a) personal wholistic health (self-nurturance) and/or (b) their primary relationship in their top five priorities, and they were unaware of that or make excuses for it; or...

One or both mates rank their children's needs, career, debts, biological relatives, socializing, or something else higher than their primary relationship; and...

Both partners agree they hadn't recently discussed their immediate and long-range priorities because "we're too busy," or "we haven't thought about them."

      This two-question exercise explores...

  • how important the couple's relationship is to each partner relative to other things in their lives,

  • whether their stated priorities match their actions, and...

  • how aware they are of their actual priorities, and what that means.

      Note your reactions to what you just read...

The Real Reasons

      In this article, mates' "time together" means undistracted periods of emotional and physical intimacy, which may include discussing common interests and concerns, planning, worshipping, playing, and resolving relationship problems (unmet needs). It does not include doing domestic chores, socializing, parenting activities, watching media, or working together.

      Premise: each mate can choose how to spend each 24 hours. So "We can't find time for us" really means "I or we don't rank our relationship highly enough to make enough time for it." That may mean that undistracted "time together" doesn't yield enough pleasure to motivate partners to seek more of it among their other interests and responsibilities.

      Why would mates who "fall in love" and vow to prize each other beyond all others not want to make time to nourish and enjoy their relationship? Consider these possibilities:

1)  One or both mates inherited significant psychological wounds,  and they (a) don't (want to) know this, or they (b) deny it to themselves or each other. The worst case is one or both partners are unable to form a genuine bond with the other because of their wounds. This is often called being "emotionally unavailable," and can produce "pseudo (pretended, dutiful) intimacy."

      A common symptom of inner wounds is one or both are unaware of avoiding relentless inner pain by being compulsively busy (i.e. addiction to activity), and rationalizing that - e.g. "I have to, because (some illusion)," or "I can't help it (I'm a helpless victim);"

      This brief YouTube video overviews "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs). The video refers to 8 self-improvement lessons in this site: I've reduce that to seven.

Another common primary reason for too little time together is...

2)  Because of their wounds and unawareness, one or both mates committed to the wrong person, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time - and they don't want to admit that to themselves or each other. One version of the former is choosing a Grown Wounded Child who's intimacy needs are very different than yours;

Another primary reason is...

3) The couple doesn't know how to do effective win-win problem-solving yet, so they avoid time together because they (a) have to pretend they have no significant problems ("Maria and I never fight!"), or (b) they feel increasing frustration at being unable to solve their problems together; and/or...

4)  One or both partners feel overwhelmed by a mix of current problems (unmet needs), and need to avoid time together because that usually increases stress; and/or... 

5)  One or both mates aren't finished mourning prior losses (broken bonds). Incomplete grief can inhibit bonding and intimacy. Possibly the couple may not know how to make a pro-grief home and family that patiently encourages healthy grief among its members; and/or...

6)  The couple is in a financial situation where they both choose to work at jobs that leave little or energy time for their relationship. Where true, this implies they value financial security and lifestyle more than their relationship; and/or...

7)  One or both mates fear something about being alone together, like exposing secrets, excessive guilts, and/or discovering serious relationship frustrations over sex, love, trust, or other, and they're unable to face that fear; and/or...

8)  The couple has not sought effective help to overcome problems like these, or they have chosen ineffective consultant/s; and/or....

9)  Some combination of these factors. This is probably the norm among America's millions of divorcing couples.

      Premise: "We can't find enough time for ourselves as a couple" avoids the pain of admitting "I or we really don't care enough about our relationship to (a) make time for it, and to (b) patiently learn how to admit and resolve our problems together as committed partners."

      Couples who tolerate "too little time" to nourish their union need to see themselves as helpless victims of "circumstances" rather than as partners with the option and responsibility of admitting and resolving their mix of the factors above. The lone exception is they cannot undo making wrong commitment choices. This is specially tragic if they're responsible for raising minor children.

Reality Check

      See where you stand with what you just read. T = "True; F = False, and ? = "I'm not sure," or "It depends on ____ (what?)."

I'm confident that my true Self is guiding me now.  (T  F ?)

I can clearly describe why I'm reading this article. (T  F ?)

I feel one or more of the primary reasons (above) for too little time pertains to my primary relationship now. (T  F ?)

I'm sure _ my partner and _ I have each thoughtfully committed to the right person, for the right reasons, at the right time.  (T  F ?)

I'm _ very clear on my current life priorities now, and _ my actions usually match my words. (T  F ?)

I want my partner to read this article so we can discuss it together in the next week. (T  F ?)

I'm very motivated to learn how to overcome our version of these primary "no time" factors now. (T  F ?)

      Alert: if protective false selves control you now, those subselves will probably cause you to...

  • "lose interest" in reading this,

  • feel vague or uncertain,

  • skip answering the items and move on, and/or to...

  • distort your answers to these items.

      If you feel stymied trying to "find more quality time" together, consider these... 

Solution Options

       Eight of the nine problems above can be prevented or improved if each partner has the will, courage, and resilience to learn how. The order of the options below is important - each builds on the prior ones.

      Underlined links below will take you to a new article. I suggest you finish this one before reading any of them.

      1) accept that to strengthen your primary relationship, each of you mates will have to want to...

  • adopt a long-range attitude (e.g. the next 15+ years),

  • change some basic priorities and attitudes,

  • learn and apply some new ideas, and...

  • make (vs. "find") time to learn and change.

      2)  honestly define your real current priorities and who sets them. I suggest you have the best long-term chance for relationship satisfaction and harmony if you each choose to put your integrity and wholistic health first, your relationship second, and all else third, except in  emergencies. If you can't agree on that, one or both of you is probably controlled by a well-meaning false self.

      Your most impactful long-term option is to evaluate whether you mates need to reduce significant psychological wounds, and to guard your kids  against them. Self-improvement Lesson 1  provides a framework and many resources for this vital healing. Option: invest in this Lesson-1 guidebook  together.

      3) If either of you is compulsively "busy" ("I just can't stop!") wonder if your protective subselves are using that to avoid major inner pain. Learn about identifying and managing addictions in general, and activity addiction in particular. All harmful compulsions signify...

  • that a false self dominates the person and often her or his partner (a co-addict), and...

  • probably s/he and any kids are living in a low-nurturance family.

These have many major short and long-range implications. If either of your daily to-do lists are steadily over-full, discuss this article for perspective, options, and resources after you finish here.

      4) Honestly evaluate whether either of you mates may have made unwise  commitment choices by  reading this and investing time in using and discussing these worksheets. Any conclusion you reach can affirm your choices, or clarify some important relationship and family decisions you need to make for yourself and any dependents. If you feel you did make some wrong commitment choices, that will affect which of these options can help you now.

      More options to fill the primary needs underlying your "no-time" dilemma...     

       5) Read, discuss, and apply these options to improve your communication effectiveness. Self-improvement Lesson 2  provides an organized way and many tools to strengthen your effectiveness. The unique, practical Lesson-2 guidebook is Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2002).To raise your interest and motivation, try digging down below the surface problem of "too little time together" to see what unfilled primary needs are causing your discomfort.

      6) A related option is to map your communication sequences when you do have time alone together. This can reveal unseen communication blocks which may taint your alone-times.

      7) Study Lesson 3  together to test for any incomplete grief. Note that evolving a pro-grief home and family requires you both to...

  • be guided by your true Selves (Lesson 1),

  • be able to communicate effectively (Lesson 2), and to...

  • help each other learn and apply healthy grieving basics.

      If you two choose to invest time and patient effort in the options above, you'll be increasingly able to reduce any of these common relationship stressors that contribute to your "no-time" dilemma. A way to optimize this is to help each other (a) separate relationship problems from other personal and family issues, and (b) stay focused on one or two problems at a time. You're most apt to be able to do that if your respective true Selves are steadily guiding your personalities.

      If one or both of you feel that money or debts are a major reason you "can't" make time to enjoy each other, read and discuss this article (later) and see what happens. Another possibility is that one or both of you are c/overtly disappointed or frustrated with the sexual part of your relationship. If so, read and discuss this (later) for perspective and options. If one or both of you is choosing to have an affair, see if this opens up some options (later)

      Notice several themes in these options: they...

  • treat "too little tome together" as a symptom of some unfilled primary needs;

  • are not short-term quick fixes;

  • all require you to invest significant time together, and be willing to change some important things about yourselves to get some things you want. And these options...

  • don't fault anyone for doing something "wrong;" and they...

  • follow a sequence (build on each other), And the options...

  • are proposed as two-partner efforts, not just for one mate. 


      A common surface stressor in many primary relationship is one or both partners complaining "We can't find enough time for our relationship."  This article proposes that this is usually a false-self delusion designed to avoid facing one or more underlying primary problems.

      The article proposes practical options to help partners identify and reduce their primary problems, and strengthen their relationship over time. Doing this is part of Lesson 4 in this self-improvement Web site.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

 This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 4  /  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact