How much conversation and together time should I expect?
August 6, 2015 10:37 AM   Subscribe

How much conversation time or "together time" should I expect in my marriage? Do I have unrealistic expectations of what a healthy marriage is?

My wife and I have been married for almost 10 years and I worry that we don't spend enough time talking about life, the universe and everything. That we don't do enough together. Sure we watch some TV shows together and we are physically together all the time - but often not doing things together. We are reading separate books or on our phones, etc. Sometimes it feels as if we have run out of things to talk about. We also don't get to go out and add to our joint adventures due to the 2 year old child who has killed the ease of going out. I am not really unhappy I just worry that it means we have lost our connection. Or are we fine? Do I have unrealistic expectations of what is healthy. I don't go just play video games by myself. I generally actually wait to read until she falls asleep. Is that crazy?

What is your experience? How long every day/week do you find yourself actually talking to your spouse about things (not did the dishwasher get turned on but some conversation - even if its silly)? How much time do you spend doing something fun together?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I think that parents of young kids often have this feeling of a lack of connection, and that it is something important to pay attention to. It is more important to spend enough time together to not feel that way than it is to spend X hours together. Have you talked to your wife about it? You should. You may not get to go out, but talking about it is the kind of connection you may feel you are missing.
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

Plan ahead and make time to go out together and do something fun for a few hours without the kid at least once a week. If you do not already have a trusted babysitter ask neighbors and friends for recommendations.
posted by mareli at 10:47 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been married for going on 5 years and one thing we figured out was that it's important for our sanity and marriage that we both have time to go out individually so that we actually have things to talk about. We have two small children (a 3 year old and a two month old) so I understand how hard getting out can be but we make it a point to do it. Right now we rotate so he goes out one Friday to do his thing (usually Magic: The Gathering) and the next Friday I go out (usually just go grab wine and dinner with a friend, this week I'm seeing my favorite band though so I'm really stoked!) and the next Friday we go out together and leave the kiddos with grandma or a sitter*. Going out alone gives us time for our hobbies and to decompress and going out together gives us time to connect. Don't be surprised if the first couple of times you go out alone you talk about kids and family stuff all night. Eventually you learn to relax and the conversation shifts back to things you used to talk about pre-kids. Also, they don't have to be fancy dates, when we were first married and finishing college many dates consisted of $1 Ikea coffee and walking around the store (it's hot here!) or walking along the greenway when the weather was nice, it's about spending time, not money.

*We just use the girl across the street but we have several friends that used and loved it.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 10:54 AM on August 6, 2015 [12 favorites]

How much time do you have together at home, when you're both awake? And what do each of your work days look like? For my wife and I, home time is both personal time and family time, and sometimes either of us will want more personal time to not talk to other people for a while, after talking for much of the day at work.

Of course, taking care of your child also shifts the equation of time, because there is a significant amount of time at home that has to be family time, or rather taking care of and playing with your child (we have two young boys - one 4 year old, one 7 month old). Sometime when your child is asleep, spend some time with your wife to hear about and discuss what you both expect, want, and will put up with in terms of work/ family/ couple/ personal time. Then make a conservative plan for how to achieve some more of what you each find to be missing (I say conservative, because anything involving young children is never as reliable or orderly as you hope).

Make a point to get out as a family once a week, or once a month, or whatever works for everyone's schedules and keeps you happy as a family. Carve time out for you each to do your own things, if you have separate interests (as mentioned above). And set up date nights for just you and your wife. Go somewhere you wouldn't go with your child, and have fun as a couple, and try to talk about things that aren't related to your child (which can be hard, I know).

Relationships change, with age and with additions to the family more-so. Make sure you are both sharing your thoughts, views and feelings on a daily basis, because letting those things slide can make it hard to communicate. Talk about work so you each know what you are doing at work, so if you need to vent or bounce ideas off the other person, you don't have to provide a lengthy backstory. And this way you can share silly little anecdotes from the day, just to keep each-other connected to the life you live at work.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on August 6, 2015

About five times a week my spouse and I go for a walk in the neighborhood. Phones get left at home, and for half an hour or so we have a chance to talk about anything. Much of the time the conversation is about the gardens, houses, and pets we see as we walk along. We also talk about near-term and longer term plans and projects, and things that need to be done.

It is a good and healthy way to get exercise and connect. It is harder when there are young children in the house. You take them along, and let them enjoy the walk as well.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

I, um, will be reading this thread with great interest because I do not have a magic bullet, but man oh man, do I feel you.

I will say that making the extra effort to get a sitter and go out really is good for reconnecting. We didn't actually accomplish this until our kids were 4 and 1 (learn from my fail) but there is something different and joyous about getting out of the house without kids for a few hours, even if it costs a goddamn fortune in babysitter fees. Still worth doing once every couple of months or more often if you can swing it. I would make finding an occasional sitter a very high priority.

Another thing I notice is that that lack of connection feeds on itself - you lose connection, so you stop doing the little affectionate gestures that make each other feel loved, and then you feel resentful because your partner's not making any little affectionate gestures, lather rinse repeat. A bit of free time together does wonders for resetting this. I also suggest setting up your evenings so that there's some time that's meant for shared time, and some time that's meant for individual time. We usually have 30-45 minutes after kids go to bed that is designated as time to be spent together, and after 9pm or so either of us is free to "migrate" to elsewhere in the house to have some alone time. Having that explicit agreement that there will be individual free time helps save you from the trap of both sitting on the couch watching a TV show you don't really want to watch both thinking about how you really want to get up and go do your own thing. So it helps you be more together during the together time.

In addition: speaking from the working mother side of this, I expend so much mental energy on keeping two complicated small children alive and tending to their needs that I don't always have much left in the tank.

I do NOT want to go all blame-the-victim here, or be sexist - These are sincere questions to which the answers may well be 'yes'. It's just that, this is the root of a lot of the problems in my marriage. Do you know your kid's clothes sizes? Do you know which clothes that are in the dryer right now are outgrown and need to come out of rotation next time they're folded? Do you know your kid's medication and doses? When the next doctor's appointment is? What day the babysitter needs to be paid, and when she's going on vacation next time and where the backup care will come from? Do you regularly plan, shop for, cook dinner, and clean up? Have you stored in your mind that your kid dropped a treasured lovey behind the couch this morning and there will be hell to pay at bedtime if someone can't produce it? Which three foods your kid will deign to eat this week? I say this because doing these things robs me of a massive amount of mental energy, to the point that I am often surprised by the length of my toenails and I don't always remember to brush my teeth and hair. Of all the things I do, it is being the Repository of All Knowledge that is most exhausting.

And I am NOT PROUD AT ALL of the fact that there have been times in the past two years where I have been simply unable to give a flying fuck about my husband's emotional needs because I am just. tapped. out. I've tried to explain to him but I think he genuinely doesn't comprehend how much of my processing power all of the above takes up.

I think you should read some of the emotional labor threads that have been flying about here lately, and use them as a starting point to have some discussions with your wife. Not in a way that blames either of you, but in a - hey - taking care of each other is important, how can we rejigger our priorities to make that happen? There have been some really good ideas being kicked around - especially the self-assessment and checklist that was put together as part of a recent Ask.
posted by telepanda at 11:09 AM on August 6, 2015 [74 favorites]

I dunno, some days we talk a lot about heavy things -- lately we've talked about some deaths in my husband's family, for example -- and some days we don't really talk about much but the animals and TV and how our days went. It's good to get out periodically with each other, and if that just doesn't fly right now my suggestion would be walks or some scheduled time to chat at the table with coffee/tea when your child has gone to sleep.
posted by bearwife at 11:09 AM on August 6, 2015

How long every day/week do you find yourself actually talking to your spouse about things (not did the dishwasher get turned on but some conversation - even if its silly)?

But you should talk about whether the dishwasher was taken care of (ideally, you're letting her know that you did it). You may not feel that household chores are a worthy topic, but don't assume she feels the same way. And you may need to start there, with the small day-to-day topics, before you can enjoy a "silly" conversation or one that's as profound and abstract as you might want.

Take some of that emotional work off her plate--help out a little more than you feel you should (think of the 60/40 rule, wherein you do 60% of the work and expect only 40% in return) and put effort into making life a little easier for her. She may reciprocate, and you may both find yourselves with more energy and attention--and appreciation--left at the end of the day for each other.
posted by witchen at 11:31 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I felt this way because of young kids. Strangely, the thing that helped the most was reconnection on a physical level and the thing that helped with that reconnection was The Fantasy Box. (No connection to them other than being a loyal customer; that isn't a referral link). I feel like discussing why is a total tangent, but if you want more information send me a message.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:32 AM on August 6, 2015

Even when kids aren't in the picture, if there are other stressors in your life (mental illness, crappy jobs, whatever) this can happen. My view, for whatever it's worth, is that it's okay for short periods of time - sometimes you just want to tune out and disappear into crappy TV when times are tough - but it's worth the extra effort to make sure it doesn't become a permanent situation.

In my relationship, we spend some time pretty much every day talking about silly stuff (sometimes that silly stuff is about the dishwasher, though) and we're certainly not talking about Big Important Stuff every day, but we are definitely talking and enjoying each other's company every day.

We try ("try" is the operative word here) to do at least one thing together every week that is outside of our house, and is not a chore or an errand. Sometimes that's a real date of some sort, often it's just "let's go for a walk in a nearby neighborhood and chat about the architecture and cute cats that we see." Doesn't have to be a big planned date. But something outside of our usual routine, where we're interacting outside of our usual ways. We definitely don't succeed at actually doing that every week, but the act of attempting to do so reinforces that it's important to us, and makes it not such a big deal if one particular week plans fall through because life happened.

I also make a concerted effort every day to be present. I mean that literally - it's in my daily to-do list, "be present at home." By which I mean when I suddenly realize that I am poking at my phone while my partner is talking to me, or that I spaced out and have no idea what he just said, I put down the phone and stop drifting off and really tune in to the conversation we are having. Even if it's about the dishwasher. I don't know if he's aware that I do this, or if he does anything similar, but it makes me feel the time we do spend together is better and more enjoyable for me. Doesn't happen for every conversation - sometimes I want to check my damn Twitter feed, so please shut up about that thing you saw on the internet - but at least once a day, every day, I try to stop and be present in the moment we are having together. Even if it's about chores or which cat is most like which member of Hall and Oates.
posted by Stacey at 11:43 AM on August 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'll also join the chorus of folks acknowledging that this is pretty par for the course when you have young children. Hang in there. The school years were such a relief.

I tend to operate with the idea that if I want something more from my relationship than what I'm getting, the best first step is to try giving the thing that I want. I sometimes think the love languages thing can be a little overdetermined, but I do think that I like "words of affirmation" a lot in my relationship. And when I'm feeling like I need them, I try to giving them first. It sounds like you might be a "quality time" kind of person? If so, try giving that quality time to your partner first, before waiting for them to give it to you. It might feel like you're dipping into your emotional savings to do so, but I bet your partner will reciprocate. If not, that's a different discussion.

I also say that with the emotional labor discussion on the blue and elsewhere here on the green that bearwife is referencing (and bearwife's post is so spot on about this) in mind. I recommend the following: Don't say, "Hey, how about we get a babysitter and go out for a nice dinner?" Book the babysitter; find a good restaurant on your own time; make the reservation. Don't say, "Can we spend some time just talking and having a cocktail dinner instead of watching a show or disappearing into our phones?" Tidy up the living room; volunteer to do the dinner cleanup; plop the washing in the dryer; light a candle or whatever; make the cocktails. I also wish that in those first five years of parenting, that my ex and I had been more creative about finding ways to spend some downtime alone together in our house -- if you have parents or other near relatives close by, consider letting them take the kiddo for a night so that you and your partner can make a meal together, pop out if you want for a movie or a drink on a whim, and just hang out in your space without the taxes on your cognitive ecologies that even a sleeping kiddo will make -- an evening when you can take a break from the part of your brain that is always with the kiddo and therefore can't be devoted to your own needs or those of your partner.

But to answer your questions: I feel like my partner and I have meaningful conversations probably most days out of the week because we tend to take time in the evening post kiddo bedtime to talk and have a cocktail together. These aren't always super deep conversations or anything - they're about our work, about our friends/relationships, about things in the news, about stuff we've been reading/thinking about. We pretty consciously do this instead of watching tv, which we might do together once or twice a week. We go to bed together at the same time and read before going to sleep. We maybe go on a date/adventure together twice a month, but we do have the luxury of having work schedules that mean once a week on most weeks we grab a coffee or breakfast or a lunch together just us. I also think it's really important to cultivate some discussion topics -- to actively ask your partner questions that invite them to disclose their inner life. We had a fun time recently working through, with some irony, the "36 Questions that Lead to Love."
posted by pinkacademic at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Honestly, we don't have a ton of life/universe/everything conversations*. We do generally spend the post-work hours together, though usually one of us is preparing dinner for a while, and then we watch some TV and also poke at our computers, and we chat about stuff and what we're watching and show each other youtube videos and interact. My job is deathly boring and his is sometimes super cool, so if we talk about work it's generally his, though if I have worries I talk about those. Sometimes one or both of us has to work, but we try not to let that get out of hand.

*[With the exception of emotional labor issues] We have a general life syncopation thing that I think might be fairly unusual for the amount of time we don't spend talking about it. We have made major (and minor) life decisions in 60 seconds, where one person says, "I've been thinking about X" and the other says, "Yeah, me too, let's do that." We don't have to hash out a lot of things.

We do try to put the phones down and actually be present, like Stacey says, at least for a little while every day. And we try to do some of our mindless zoning out as a couple (usually involving the TV) rather than retreating to separate quarters. We don't actually go out much, maybe once or twice a month and usually to an event with other people.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:16 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

we are physically together all the time

This may be part of the problem - you might benefit from more time apart! Spending time apart and doing different things at least some of the time is a way to help keep a relationship vital. When one of you goes off and has an adventure or learns something new or visits a friend, they will have lots more news and reflections to share with you when you are together. Being interesting to oneself is really the first step in being interesting to others, and having new ideas to introduce into conversation.

I'm satisfied with the balance of "meaning of life" conversations and general quiet chatter. I personally like to have a little mental downtime where I don't have to talk and react and be exciting and original, in part because my work draws on that part of my brain a lot, so it's restful not to have to "perform" at home. But we do stay connected through regular chats, especially when we can go out, and sometimes at bedtime. We also take evening walks on a fairly regular basis, which make for a good time to talk. Car rides are good for that, too. If conversation flags, try a "book of questions"-type conversation starter. There is always something new you can learn about one another.
posted by Miko at 12:35 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mr. Makenpace and I are more than happy to spend hours in the same room reading our own books, being on our own computers, and watching television without saying much of anything to each other. We are comfortable with ourselves enough that we don't have to have "meaningful conversation" to feel connected. Mr. Makenpace actually needs several alone hours a night so that he can de-stress, and I am perfectly okay with that. Then again, we're both introverts, so I suppose we are not common in that aspect. My point, however, is that every marriage is different. There isn't a set number of hours one must spend in meaningful conversation every day in order to be "normal". Only you can know what you need and want from your marriage.

The posters above have a excellent point. If you're feeling disconnected, what have you done to reconnect? Are you leaving it up to your wife to create this connection? I tend to require more conversation than Mr. Makenpace, so if I feel the need to talk to him, I cannot simply sit and wait for him close his computer and start a conversation with me. How will he ever know I wish to talk to him that way? No, I need to put down my book and say, "Hey, let's talk about life and the universe for a while." Works every time.
posted by MildredMakenpace at 12:37 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

For all those saying it gets better at some point (I.e. once they go to school, etc): for some of us it never did, regardless of how much emotional labor we did in the relationship.

Having children destroyed my marriage. I recently had a conversation with my ex wife, and she said "I put the kids ahead of our marriage, and I would not change that decision, even if I had the power to go back in time and do it over again."
posted by The Blue Olly at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having a baby gave my marriage a really hard punch in the solar plexus, but we got through it. I'm the mom. Sometimes my choices were just triage -- the baby needed my assistance to survive and my husband could make his own sandwich.

Yes, lack of talk could be the first sign of the death of affection, but I expect it's more probable that your partner needs more time to pursue individual interests and [maybe get more] rest and sleep. I know it seems far away, but a five year old is generally miles easier than a two year old. Hang in there.
posted by puddledork at 4:51 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Personally I think I have more fun than my husband because he has a harder time letting go of his very specific idea of fun (unsurprisingly it does not include toddlers). I'm able to better embrace fun in our regular life. There's lots of fun stuff that can be done with a two year old in tow. If your missing fun, think about what you consider fun, and work on expanding your definition.

Also, think about what your expectations are for investing your time in getting to the fun. If you expect it to always be easy, or be done by someone else (i.e. your wife), then, yeah, you won't have as much of it. Take charge of your (personal and joint) fun! Make it happen, don't just sit passively waiting for fun to hit you like a truck. Which brings me to this:

I don't go just play video games by myself. I generally actually wait to read until she falls asleep. Is that crazy?

Why? What is this? If you want to do something with your wife, ask her ("hey you want to play a game? watch a movie? whatever?), if she's not interested, do something else you want to do. Don't just sit around moping and feeling sorry for yourself (if you are, you might not be, but it sounds like a possibility). Take responsibility for your own fun.

Personally, we have two small children, so yeah, we don't have a ton of just sit around and shoot the shit time. And most days after work, I don't want to talk, I just need to veg for a bit because I am exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Is that normal? I don't know, but it's normal for us and it honestly doesn't worry me. What worries me is when (and this doesn't happen a ton, and we're working on reducing that) my husband implicitly expects me to do all the emotional labor of entertaining him. I think kids can be hard on a marriage when there's an expectation that one partner is doing most or all of the emotional labor for the entire family. There might be enough bandwidth for that without children, but when you add in kids, it's just too much work for one adult, and the other partner has to get used to having a different level of responsibility for themselves.
posted by pennypiper at 5:04 PM on August 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Father of a 3 year old, married about as long:

1. Dates

You have to go on dates. Babysitters are a must. A goddamn requirement, if you can't afford one, change your budget till you can.

I'm starting to see a lot of divorces and those folks all did the "just the three of us" lifestyle. It's not healthy it's not how humans are wired socially.

2. Projects

Find common projects. Learn to paint, read the same book and discuss, start a blog, take a glass blowing class, become workout fanatics, whatever it is: do it together.

Being a team and having a rich connection is not effortless. Drifting slowly toward divorce is effortless.
posted by French Fry at 7:46 AM on August 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know couples who make Tuesdays their "absolutely no other plans / distractions / cancellations" date night - one couple with kids, the other who are insanely busy entertainers. Even when I beg my friend to go out on a Tuesday night she is "Absolutely not... it's date night".

I have found going on nightly walks together with my beau to be a very nice way to catch up either on daily life, the news, plotting things to do, discussing our surroundings. No distractions, no awkwardness of staring face to face...
posted by hillabeans at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2015

Seconding the idea of date night and creating space to get out of the house together in an enjoyable surroundings, with nothing to do but talk to each other. My partner and I don't have kids, but even so, we find our weekly "date night" essential to having *real* conversation and loving, focused attention on each other. I find that we just don't tend to have the same kind of conversation/connection while at home and distracted by chores, tv, computers. Sitting across from each other at a restaurant or bar for a couple of hours and enjoying a drink or a meal together (where we're not doing the cooking or tidying up) creates time and space to focus on each other's company and reconnect with why you were likely drawn to this person as a partner in the first place.
posted by amusebuche at 7:02 PM on August 8, 2015

Just coming back because I feel like my initial response was a little, um, negative, and since this ask got me thinking I've been paying attention to my husband and I's conversations. Turns out we have more shoot the shit conversations than I thought. I also observed that (for us at least) these often start with the did the dishwasher get unloaded topics and then morphed into something broader and more amusing/interesting. Not sure if this is helpful, I think other's advice about date nights (amusebuche is right that they give you space for a different kind of conversation), and learning/trying new things are probably more to the point. And French Fry is right on about drifting.

But maybe rather than dreading the dishwasher topics, think about them as conversational foreplay, as an important and necessary starting point to clearing the mental decks enough to go further afield, and talk about more interesting things.
posted by pennypiper at 2:11 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

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