If I asked you to list all the most important things in your life it’s a safe bet that personal relationships and family would come high, if not top, of your list. In terms of satisfaction and general well being our intimate contacts with people who are close to us rank top in terms of enhancing our sense of general well being.
Yet, if you actually add up how much time per week you actually spend nurturing and enjoying those relationships, as you can do with our questionnaire (below), you may well be surprised, even shocked, at how low down they actually come.
There is plenty of evidence that neglecting our most intimate times with those close to us can have a detrimental effect of our sense of well being, and even on our mental health.
In the 1950s a psychologist called Harry Harlow found that for baby monkeys physical contact is even more important than food – monkeys deprived of affection became withdrawn and anxious and were unable to engage socially with other monkeys or form adult relationships.
Recent research has shown that physical touching gives immediate benefit to women in terms of reducing stress levels. Hugs and cuddles reduce cortisone levels in the brain and reduce heart rate increase in response to stress. Affectionate physical partner interaction thus has a positive health advantage. In contrast men in general showed more benefit from verbal social support.
In my work as a sex and relationship therapist, I find that many couples still care about each other but complain of the spark being lost, sex has diminished, a sense of irritation and frustration with each other. There is also the importance of role modeling to your children that adult relationships are fun and affectionate, not just about doing chores.
Often, after the first couple of years of a relationship we can begin to take our partners for granted and not spend enough time on giving and receiving affection – so what can we do about this?
There is not just one simple answer – the key is that a good relationship is not just about shrugging on a pair of comfy old slippers, it’s putting on your dancing shoes.
So how do we find the time/energy/motivation to do something about it. Sometimes we need to take some time out to examine our relationship, to appreciate that we want to prioritise it because it is important, and to think of ways to re-engage with each other, recapture that magic you felt when you first meet your partner.
Above all, it is about taking time and care over your relationship, and giving it the attention it needs and deserves. A first step could be to complete the questionnaire below to see how you are allocating your time.
In the first column are our major weekly activities – add more if you wish
In the Hours Per Week column write the amount of time on average you spend each week of each of these activities – aim to reach a total of 168 hours.
In the Rank column put the activities in order, write number 1 against the item you spend the most time on to number 20 the activity you spend the least time on (if you have added more activities then rank the items up to the number of activities).
Are there any surprises?
What does it tell you about your priorities?
Do you feel you want to change any of these priorities?