Fall in Love, Stay in Love

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Before you were married, you and your spouse probably spent the majority of your leisure time together. And the time you spent together was probably the most enjoyable part of every day. Spending time alone with each other was your highest priority, and you may even have canceled other plans when you had an opportunity to be together. You probably tried to talk to each other every day. If you couldn’t physically be together, you talked on the telephone, sometimes for hours. And when you were together, you gave each other your undivided attention.

But after marriage, like so many other couples, you probably find that you can be in the same room together and yet ignore each other emotionally. What’s even worse, you may find that you are not even in the same room very often, particularly after your children arrived.

One of the more difficult aspects of marriage counseling is scheduling time for it. Counselors must often work evenings and weekends because most couples will not give up work for their appointments. Then they must schedule around a host of evening and weekend activities that take a husband and wife in opposite directions.

But finding time for an appointment is easy compared to arranging time for the couple to be together to carry out their first assignment. Many couples think that a counselor will solve their problem with weekly conversations in his office. It doesn’t occur to them that it’s what they do after they leave the office that saves the marriage. To improve marriage, couples must schedule time together — time to give each other their undivided attention.

It’s incredible how many couples have tried to talk me out of their spending more time together. They begin by trying to convince me that it’s impossible. Then they go on to the argument that it’s impractical. But in the end, they usually agree with me that without time for undivided attention, they cannot re-create the love they once had for each other.

And that’s the point. Unless you and your spouse schedule time each week for undivided attention, it will be almost impossible to meet each other’s most important emotional needs. That’s because other less important objectives will crowd out the time that it takes to meet those needs.

You and your spouse have identified your most important emotional needs and you have agreed to meet them for each other. Now you must take a step that will make it all possible — you must clear space in your schedule for each other. You must make time to be together.

For most men romance is sex and recreation; for most women it’s affection and conversation. When all four come together, men and women alike call it romance and they deposit the most love units possible in each other’s Love Bank. That makes these categories somewhat inseparable whenever you spend time together. My advice is to try to combine them all.

To help you achieve the essential but difficult objective of spending enough time together to meet each other’s needs, I encourage you to follow the Policy of Undivided Attention.

The Policy of Undivided Attention Give your spouse your undivided attention a minimum of fifteen hours each week, using the time to meet his or her need for affection, sexual fulfillment, conversation, and recreational companionship.

This policy will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes in marriage — neglecting each other’s most important emotional needs. I will try to clarify this policy for you by offering three corollaries: privacy, objectives, and amount of time.

Corollary 1: Privacy The time you plan to be together should not include children (who are awake), relatives, or friends. Establish privacy so that you are better able to give each other your undivided attention.

It is essential for you as a couple to spend time alone. When you have time alone, you have a much greater opportunity to meet each other’s emotional needs and make Love Bank deposits. Without privacy, undivided attention is almost impossible, and without undivided attention, you are unable to meet the emotional needs of affection, conversation, and sexual fulfillment.

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Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright © 2003. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission of Baker Book House Company.

Corollary 2: Objectives During the time you are together, create activities that will meet the emotional needs of affection, sexual fulfillment, conversation, and recreational companionship. After marriage, women often try to get their husband to meet their emotional needs for conversation and affection, without meeting their husband’s needs for sexual and recreational companionship. Men, on the other hand, want their wife to meet their needs for sexual fulfillment and recreational companionship, without meeting her needs for affection and conversation. Neither strategy works very well. Women often resent having sex without affection and conversation first, and men resent talking and being affectionate with no hope for sex or recreation. By combining the fulfillment of all four needs into a single event, however, both spouses have their needs met and enjoy the entire time together.

Corollary 3: Amount of Time The number of hours you schedule to be together each week for undivided attention should reflect the quality of your marriage. If your marriage is satisfying to you and your spouse, schedule fifteen hours each week to be together. But if you suffer marital dissatisfaction, plan more time until marital satisfaction is achieved.

How much time do you need to sustain the feeling of love for each other? Believe it or not, there really is an answer to this question and it depends on the health of a marriage. If a couple is deeply in love with each other and finds that their marital needs are being met, I have discovered that about fifteen hours each week of undivided attention is usually enough to sustain their love, as long as they use the time to meet each other’s emotional needs. When a marriage is this healthy, either it’s a new marriage or the couple has already been spending that amount of time with each other throughout their marriage. Without fifteen hours of undivided attention each week, a couple simply can’t do what it takes to sustain their feeling of love for each other.

Learning to Set Aside Time for Undivided Attention It should be obvious to you that it will take time to meet most of each other’s emotional needs. Unless you schedule that time, you simply won’t get the job done. Time has a way of slipping away if you don’t set it aside for important objectives. And what objective is more important than you and your spouse being in love with each other?

To help you plan your week with each other’s emotional needs in mind, I encourage you to meet with your spouse at 3:30 Sunday afternoon to look over each other’s schedule for the coming week. That’s the time for you to be sure that you have provided for each other. And while you’re at it, try to plan a little extra time just in case an emergency arises that prevents you from being together the full fifteen hours you originally plan.

Neglect of emotional needs not only withdraws love units, it also turns out to be the single most important reason that women divorce men, and they divorce men twice as often as men divorce women. If you want to keep your wife around, men, listen up. She needs your undivided attention, and if you don’t give it to her at least fifteen hours a week, not only will you lose her love, you risk losing her.

You and your spouse fell in love with each other because you met some of each other’s most important emotional needs, and the only way to stay in love is to keep meeting those needs. Even when the feeling of love begins to fade, or when it’s gone entirely, it’s not necessarily gone for good. It can be recovered whenever you both go back to being experts at making Love Bank deposits.

Meeting important emotional needs is only half of the story, however. While that’s how couples make the most Love Bank deposits, they must be sure that they’re not depositing into a sieve. They must also avoid making Love Bank withdrawals.

You’d think that causing pain and suffering would be the last thing a married couple would want to do to each other, and yet it’s done instinctively and habitually all the time. Unless you protect each other from your destructive habits and instincts, you will hurt each other so much that eventually your Love Bank accounts will be in the red — you will hate each other.

If you don’t know how to protect each other, you may destroy opportunities to care for each other.The two go hand in hand — without protection, care is not possible.

Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright © 2003. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission of Baker Book House Company.

Check out Love Busters and read more from Dr. Harley at MarriageBuilders.com.

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