Think of your monthly budget.
You have fixed costs like your rent or mortgage, car payment, loan and credit card repayments, groceries, and so forth.
Fixed cost payments are non-negotiable; they must get paid every month if we want the benefit of what they provide.
We don’t often think of something like date nights or romantic getaways as fixed cost line items. But suppose we did. What benefit would it be to your marriage or relationship if you allocated funds to it every month the same way you pay rent or the light bill?
INTIMACY REQUIRES INTENTIONALITY
It’s easy to get so caught up in the daily management of our lives that we forget to nurture our relationships with the people we’re closest to. We justify neglecting time with our spouse, partner, or children because it’s assumed they’ll always be around while others need us now. Yet that time rarely gets recovered.
Most of our clients have demanding careers that require not just time but also mental and emotional energy in order to perform well. It’s hard to be “on” for a long shift and then stay “on” for a few more hours at home. It’s not just work, though. Pausing to simply be together might feel like a waste when there are so many looming projects, responsibilities, chores, and items on our to-do lists. When your relationship is only about productivity and getting things done, you become business partners or roommates rather than an intimately connected couple.
Intimacy matters - emotionally, physically, relationally, and mentally. Without intimacy, it’s easy for resentment to creep into any relationship. And resentment in our relationships is just like an infection in our body - it can be fatal if steps aren’t taken to avoid it.
Intimacy is the antibiotic that staves off resentment because intimacy opens up space for empathy, and when you can see the world through your spouse or partner’s eyes, it’s really hard to resent them for who they are and what they do.
INTIMACY IS PREDICTABILITY
Our brains have mirror neurons that respond when we see a predictable sequence of behavior. If you watched me hold up a glass of water to my mouth, you would predict on a synaptic level that I intend to take a drink. And then your mirror neurons would signal your cortex to figure out if your body is thirsty as well. It’s why we suddenly crave an ice cold soda when we see somebody drink one on TV. It’s why yawning is contagious. It’s why we automatically yell, “Bah, bah, bah!” when someone sings “Sweet Caroline.”
These synaptic connections are one of the many ways our brains keep us safe. When behavior is predictable, our brains relax and we are free to get out of the subcortical fight-flight-freeze systems and into the more complex areas where human interactions take place. The greater intimacy you have with someone, the more predictable they are. And when they’re predictable, you are free to let down your guard and be your truest, most vulnerable self.
My wife and I have been married since 2001, and one of the hallmarks of our intimacy is that we know how to take care of each other like no one else on the planet. And I’m not talking about physical needs like when we’re hurt or hungry; I’m talking about our mental, emotional, and relational well-being.
She knows exactly how to respond to me when I’m angry, sad, happy, or melancholy, When we’re out with friends, she knows when my introverted-self is done being with people and ready to go home. I often feel things before I have words to put to the feelings, and she knows how to help me figure out what I’m feeling and why. We usually end our day watching re-runs of old TV shows. She loves to say, “You’re smiling, aren’t you?” when someone on the show says something I think is funny.
In the same way, I know her better than anybody else. I know when she needs to be “done” parenting our 8 kids and check out with a good book for a while. I know when we’re sitting beside each other she will eventually want to tuck her foot behind my leg. I know when we stay in a hotel the main thing she wants to do is watch TV and eat a bunch of snacks on the bed. I know if she finds a shirt or dress she likes, she’s going to order a bunch of them in different colors. I know when she’s stressed she needs to go stare at her planner for a while and somehow that makes her feel better.
These aren’t monumental insights, but they are the small things about our personalities that add dimensions and layers to our intimacy. And we have this deep, intimate connection because of the investment we’ve made into our relationship.
HOW TO BUDGET FOR INTIMACY
In our almost-18 years of marriage, we have learned that there’s no shortcut to intimacy and relational depth. It’s the result of purposeful time together. Our oldest children are now teenagers, so we are fortunate in that we can leave the house without finding a babysitter first. But purposeful time for most people requires planning and, often, budgeting. If you’re busy and need to stick to a strict schedule, use that to your advantage and add your spouse or partner to your calendar. Is it as romantic as spontaneous getaways or surprise date nights? Maybe not, but it’s definitely more practical and it’s a great place to start.
If you struggle to make time for each other, I recommend the Once a Day/Once a Week/Once a Month/Once a Year strategy.
ONCE A DAY
This one is easy. Make a point to connect once a day for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t matter when - in the morning before you leave the house, in the evening when you get home, at night before bed, etc. Just give yourself at least 15 uninterrupted minutes each day. Put away your phones. Tell the kids to turn on a cartoon. Lock yourself in a closet if you need to. But for 15 minutes simply be together and talk about your day, tell them something that made you think of them, talk about something you saw on the news, anything you want to share. Go longer than 15 minutes if you want, but not less. 15 minutes is the right amount of time to get past the business, task-oriented stuff we often feel compelled to address first. If you can, avoid making this about business issues altogether and just be a couple.
ONCE A WEEK
This is where the planning and budgeting kick in. Make space in your budget for time outside the house together once a week. It can be a date night at the movies, breakfast on Saturday morning, or anything else that allows you to be together for an extended amount of time. If you need to hire a babysitter, work that into the plan and the budget. Don’t let small obstacles be the reason you avoid investing in each other. Planning overcomes a multitude of stressors.
ONCE A MONTH
Get away together overnight every month. It can be a hotel down the street from your house or a nearby AirBnB or a tent out in the woods. But carve out time and money each month to spend one night together away from the house. This is especially important if you have kids. The evening and morning routines can be a total energy drain, so if you know that once a month you don’t have to put kids to bed or get them ready the next day, the thought alone can be a major energy boost!
One helpful tip is to plan several months in a row so that you don’t have think about where to go, what to do, and who will keep the kids every few weeks. Again, if plans are already made, it’s easy to just slide in and enjoy the experience without stressing over details.
ONCE A YEAR
Plan a vacation together - just the two of you - every year. Make it as simple or extravagant as you want. The point is to get away from the town and the daily life you live to connect, share a cool experience, and enjoy things you don’t typically get to do. We’ve written about the benefits of a vacation fund in the past. If you have a vacation fund, it is wise to allocate at least part of it for vacation time as a couple without kids or additional family members. Plus one of the psychological benefits of setting up a vacation fund is that we are far more likely to actually take a vacation if we’ve set aside money for it already. This especially applies to getaways with your spouse or partner.
WE MAKE TIME FOR THE THINGS WE WANT
I’m terrible about calling my extended family. I rarely called my parents in college. I forget birthdays and anniversaries. Several years ago my grandmother called me out of the blue just to see how I was doing. As our conversation ended she said,
“It would be nice to hear from you every once in a while.”
I said something about how I stay pretty busy but would try to call more.
She replied in the way only a grandmother can: “We make time for the things we want, I guess.”
Ouch! As much as it stung, she was exactly right.
When it comes to financial investments, you no doubt want maximum returns and, I would assume, enough money to live comfortably into retirement and pass along to your children. To achieve that, you have made intentional choices about how to save, spend, and invest your money.
It works the same way with your relationships. If you want a marriage or relationship in which you are deeply and intimately loved - and in which you deeply and intimately give love - it only happens with intentional choices about how to allocate your time and energy.
We make time for the things that matter.
So if you find yourself scrambling to make time for each other, make your loved one part of your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedule. Budget for date nights and frequent getaways. Grow your intimacy and, in turn, reap the benefits of a strong investment.