When do parents get time out? Between the long work-hours that define the Hong Kong lifestyle and even longer child-care hours, parents become exhausted, irritable, and estranged from their spouses. When you finally get a free minute to yourself, it’s usually used to shut down, distract yourself with your favorite pastime, or put your mind in neutral to stop the world for just one moment. Then it all starts again. Times-out like this are restful but not restorative. It’s the difference between six hours of fitful sleep and a peaceful, uninterrupted, dream-filled slumber. It recharges the battery but fails to restore that attitude of calm purpose, appreciation, and joy.
When kids are out-of-control, adults give them a time out. When adults are overwhelmed, we have to give it to ourselves. That may be the biggest difference between kids and adults; no one is going to tell us it’s time to rest. The problem with leading a fulfilling life is that life is just too full! When was the last time you had a date with your spouse? When did you last check-in on your relationship, appreciate the work he does to hold things together, or just enjoy her company? Such time needs to find a way into the weekly calendar. Otherwise, it gets tossed to the bottom of the priority list like laundry that can wait until you’re down to your last clean shirt. That’s a hard way to care for quality of life, and it’s very inefficient. To really reconnect with a spouse, one needs to be available to listen and to share. That’s hard to do when all you can think about is recharging the battery.
At work, you strive to make time pay. How do you make the best use of time-out with your spouse? Well, resting and really being available seems key. Setting the mood so you can share undivided attention with each other shows respect to yourself, your spouse, and your relationship. Finally, talking about the things that matter, the things you share, is most restorative. We all need time to vent our frustrations with the world and each other. When that is done, then what do you talk about? Do the things that connect you get equal time as those that divide you? It’s easy to forget the gifts in a relationship when your days are filled with problem-solving.
Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the things you agree on. Sometimes it helps to have new ways to approach the things where you disagree. For this, I like a tool called the Couple Check-up. It’s easy and inexpensive, and it’s like taking your relationship in for an annual check-up with your doctor. When you see where you stand with your spouse, you may be surprised at all the strengths you have in the relationship. Realizing that may be the true, restorative rest you really need.
Jim Bierman, PhD