The average American adult works 47 hours per week, but in comparison to other developed nations around the world, workers in the United States put in 34 more hours per week, per capita, than any other country. Interestingly, that statistic may theoretically correlate with the 2017 Divorce Rate Ranking, provided by the United Nations, which indicated that the United States is fifth in the world, with 3.6 divorces per year, per 1,000 inhabitants.
We appear to be working harder, and achieving other benchmarks like improved education, longevity and financial well-being, while our most important relations may have bared the brunt of our capitalist pursuits. Are we prioritizing affluence over harmony in our households? Share your opinion with us, by leaving a comment below.
While there are many factors that contribute to relationship isolation, and threats to intimacy for partners, we would like to discuss four of the most common themes we see, in clinical practice.
1. The Impact of Long-Distance Commuting
The equation is a familiar one for most families. High-paying career opportunities and technical skilled labor jobs are more plentiful in urban centers, and large cities. Unfortunately, the cost of living in these urban centers makes affordability an issue for many families. The solution for many Americans, is to live in the suburbs, while commuting long-distance for work, daily.
Those that commute regularly, know how exhausting it can be to fight traffic, for an hour or more, after a long day. It can disrupt the family schedule, if one or more parents returns home later, after a lengthy commute. Adults that commute also experience increased stress and cortisol levels, that can nix personal energy levels; when they do get home, there may not be much interest in talking, or engaging socially, or intimately with their partner.
Normal daily activities, like household chores, helping with homework, exercising or spending time with family pets are also impacted by a commuter’s schedule. Those necessary things tend to compound and flow into the weekend, which becomes a period of ‘catch up’ involving errands, laundry and more work, allowing for little relaxation and social time, with those we love. Fatigue becomes a way of life, that impacts our ability to communicate, and participate fully in important relationships.
2. Technology Makes Communication Faster (But Not Qualitatively Better)
Never in our social history, has it been easier or faster to communicate with family members, friends, children and our own partners, thanks to digital technology. Emailing and texts, and social media updates give the illusion of emotional transparency; we’ve become good at keeping everyone in the loop, and running our days through a myriad of electronic devices. This now includes virtual assistants where we live and work, like Alexa or Google Home.
The smart technology, while adding aspects of convenience and organization to our daily lives, also separates us from face-to-face communication, body language and other important biological cues that help connect us to our loved ones.
One of the most harmful impacts of digital communication, is that it removes the filters of etiquette and the impact of witnessing the true emotional response, to what you are saying to another individual. Messages by email, text or through messenger devices on social media, can be blunt, uncaring and even appear malicious, as we are not able to decipher tone or intention, in typed responses. In the heat of the moment, it is easier to say something callous and insensitive, that you would otherwise not say in person.
3. Over Commitment to Sports Teams, Lessons and Events
It is healthy of course, for children to be involved in activities that help them learn to develop cognitive, creative and social team building skills. But sometimes as parents, our eagerness to provide these opportunities for our children, can come at the cost of exhaustion, due to an over committed weekly schedule.
It’s not only about being the official ‘taxi’ service for your children, but other disruptions that excessive overscheduling can have on your household. For instance, a formal meal at the family table, is often replaced with take out, instead of home cooked dinners mid-week, when couples are busy. The importance of sitting down at the table to talk (without a barrage of electronic devices), was a normal and healthy part of family life. It now seems almost antiquated, and impossible to achieve, despite the powerful connection in creates by offering structure, and valuable communication time as a couple, or extended family.
Slowing It Down for Healthy Intimate Relationships
The absence of true downtime for most busy career professionals, and married couples with children, means that the opportunities for uninterrupted and focused nurturing interactions, are minimal to none. It is not surprising that many couples who seek counseling, reveal that they feel distanced from their spouse or partner. That the connection they once felt, is no longer there.
Without that focused private time together, relationships may begin to feel more platonic, than romantic; two individuals connected by finances, and sharing the perfunctory activities like child care and other obligations of daily living. While true quiet time together, or a special date that allows couples to simply focus on each other, intimacy can be neglected, or even difficult to achieve.
What can busy couples do, to create mandatory rest, relaxation and reconnection in their household? Here are a few practical ideas:
- Implement a technology cut-off time each day. By eight o’clock for instance, insist that all devices (including smartphones) are set aside, to allow space for authentic social interaction.
- Evaluate your schedule, including commitments for sports, volunteering and other activities. Are you exhausted by your weekly schedule? Audit your time, to create opportunities for relaxation and fun.
- Use your calendar to schedule interesting activities, in advance. Create new routines in your week, and block off those time periods for uninterrupted sharing with your partner. You don’t have to leave the house, or travel somewhere expensive to enjoy a small escape. Find a way to have the house to yourself for the weekend, and indulge in focused romantic time together.
Invest in the quality of your intimate relationships, by allocating time and focus to the needs of your partner. Try new things together, continue to have the same adventures that you enjoyed before you entered your long-term commitment, and fuel the warmth that keeps you connected in a mutually loving and nurturing life together.