Thursday, October 27, 2011

{Day 27} Real Marriage Part 4: The Myth of Quality Time

I was not one of those girls who went to college to get her Mrs. Degree. I went to get my actual degrees and it just so happened that I met Mr. along the way. 

It was fine with me if marriage and children didn't come until later, but love hit us like a freight train and we married the summer after college. We didn't try to slow it down or delay life together. We said our I do's and jumped headlong {and clueless} into marriage. 

He knew I was a fiercely independent spirit when he married me, knew I didn't feel I needed a man. We had a few tiffs about it during our courtship. The thing he loved most, my independence, was also one of the things that made him a tad nervous.

He knew I had plans and dreams of my own, plans for more education and plans for career. He knew I appreciated rich friendships and my own hobbies. 

I didn't have a husband who pinned me down, micromanaged, or monopolized. For years now, he's given me freedom to work or not to work. He's kept the kids while I've gone to visit friends and family and even traveled abroad. And all of these years I've thought to myself, What a lucky girl I am to have a husband who allows me the freedom to go and do and be.

He thought he was doing the right and good thing, giving me a break and some freedom when I needed it. I thought it was a good and right thing too. We both took pride in our modern, freedom-granting sensibilities. 

But all of this going and doing and being? It came at a price. Time apart is obviously not time together. It's embarrassing to confess that we never really considered the toll that extreme independence takes on a union. 

It probably goes without saying that individual freedom was both a cause and a symptom of breakdown. Marriage was hard, communication strained. A little freedom seemed like a fine solution, even though it was probably a unconscious decision. 

And it's okay that we all need a break sometimes. Work is tough. Family life can be stressful. Marriage is complicated. 

Even now, we're not against individual pursuits of our unique passions.

But too often, we used our precious "free time" to travel along our own trajectories. We didn't really cultivate activities we could do together. We weren't intentional about setting aside time in the midst of the daily grind for us to connect in simple but meaningful ways.

Without even realizing it, we'd begun to believe the myth of quality time, the idea of creating "better time" to make up for lost time. 

But the occasional date night, vacation, or movie night on the sofa can't make up for conversational intimacy cultivated day to day. The occasional anything can't settle down deep next to habit.

A couple of months ago an older, wiser woman talked to me about this issue and I've been thinking about it ever since. She told me that it takes spending all kinds of time with someone to really know them. All time is quality time. 

It's true. You can't cram the richness of the accumulated mundane into a capsule labeled "quality time," swallow it whole, and then expect a relationship to flourish. 

Relationship takes time together. Not fun time, not special time, not romantic time. Just time.

For us, independence created too much space and distance. It may not be the case for everyone but it did in our situation. 

Though we've endured real crises, we believe that a key battle was lost in the everyday. It's why we've become vigilant about protecting our time together more than ever. 

Yes we can still spend time with friends. Relationships and community are vital. We still have hobbies. But we're spending more time together with others and we're becoming more invested in one another's passions and pursuits. It doesn't mean that we cease to be who we are as individuals. It simply means that we take this "one flesh" thing seriously, creating disciplines and practices so that the theoretical becomes real life. 

We've also become careful about the things we say yes and no to. In the past, we simply didn't consider these realities. Now we know that we can't afford not to. 

This is not the way of our culture. And it's a whole new way of living for us. We're not against pursuing one's dreams. But we're learning that these things all have their proper place and time. One can't say yes to everything in every season. 

But saying yes to the best thing casts a new light on other things. Pastimes and practices that once seemed super fun and important now feel very, very optional. 

As we say yes over and over again to time for us and simple everyday transactions, we marvel at the new connectedness rising up out of ordinary life. We're learning that quantity time makes quality time. 

{Click on the button for the list of all the days 
and topics thus far.}


  1. Oh boy...this one is really hitting a nerve. As new 'empty nesters' we are now finding that it's surprisingly hard to get out of the habit of having our own lives and schedules and making time for each other. Because you're right, it's not easy and it means sometimes facing things we'd rather not deal with....

    Thanks for this.

  2. Wow...that gives me a lot to think about today. Neither my husband or I really cultivate and do things together that the other enjoys. And maybe we spend too much time apart doing our own thing. Probably me moreso than him because I enjoy time to myself to just feel like ME I guess. I never thought about it this way before - how you've described it here. Thanks for disrupting my heart today! I probably needed it!

  3. A good friend of mine had grandparents who were in love until the very end. They loved to do everything together. Not surprisingly, her parents have followed in their footsteps and - in their early 60's - also love to just BE together. I really admire that.

    I am a quantity time girl. I love being with my husband. Probably too much. But I still see ways that I could slow down and enjoy us as a family more. One example is on the weekends when I try to get more than is humanly possible accomplished. It's usually "divide and conquer," when it could be all of us together getting a little done but building relationships at the same time.

    Thanks for being vulnerable and yet writing protectively, too.

  4. Love it! We have always done a lot together, and sometimes I look at other friends, those who DO spend a lot of time doing things without their husbands, and I wonder how it all works for them. So I'm thinking maybe it doesn't? I know it wouldn't for me. Adam loves to run, and I hate it, but I go to all of his races, cheer him on, listen to his running plans, heck, I even read Runner's World! And I do it because I like being involved and being a part of his life.

    "This is not the way of our culture....One can't say yes to everything in every season...
    But saying yes to the best thing casts a new light on other things." Thanks for the reminder that what we're doing is our marriage is right and worth it even if others think it's odd.


  5. I have this little feeling that for every 1 person who posted a comment, there were many others who had their "hearts disrupted" and are processing. You have written an outstanding account of deterioration and recovery. Every married couple needs to keep this one handy.


  6. Oh, boy. You've touched a nerve here, I think. I wonder if we talk so much about quality time--with our spouses, with our children, with God, whatever--because we WISH it were a true thing? Yet it's not, and deep down we know it. Deep down we know that there are many contemporary myths just as there were modern myths and ancient myths--and some of them we really, really want to be true. Yet they're all myths, and we would do well to admit it.

    Thank you for issuing this call to admitting it. You did it the right way--by going first. I appreciate you.

  7. AMEN! for us it's actually finding the time to cultivate it on a daily basis - so easy to get distracted and off track with the daily living details...

  8. Scooter,

    A great post. Very perceptive.

    I've always thought that the "quantity" vs. "quality" time is a bunch of hooey as far as children are concerned.

    You've made a good argument that the same holds true for marriage. I agree.

    I believe that having time apart can help remind us of who we were before marriage and children and responsibilities. I also believe that spending lots of time together as the "one flesh" God intended for us to be is indispensable to the health of a marriage, and as a consequence, the family.

    Bless you.


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