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This Math Might Change Your Marriage

habits priorities stress Apr 13, 2022

 

Inspired by Oliver Burkeman's recent book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, we've been rethinking our relationship to time in relationships.

One of his most provocative insights arises from the title itself: Four Thousand Weeks.

That's the number of weeks we have to live, assuming that we're fortunate enough to make it to around 80 years old.

This means that, if you're in your forties, you have somewhere around two thousand more weeks, fifteen hundred if you're in your fifties, and around one thousand if you're in your sixties.

If you have kids, here's another helpful way of framing it. If you have a five year old, you have thirteen summers left with them at home, eight summers with a ten year old, and only three more with a fifteen year old.

What's the point of reflecting on this thoroughly depressing math? For one thing, it's a reminder of just how little time we have left to do the things that matter. For another, it points to a radically different way of thinking about time.

When we're managing our time in relationships, we mostly make decisions based on a patently false assumption. It's the idea that when it comes to work, everything is urgent. But when it comes to time spent together, as a couple or as a family, we have all the time in the world -- that we're working with a vast stretch of temporal real estate that extends off into infinity.

This makes it easy to postpone date night or the trip to Costa Rica or the family game on a Thursday night for more "important" and "pressing" matters. We don't have to do these things now, we think, because we'll have plenty of time for them later.

But have you ever noticed that later never seems to come? And, as we've just seen, the amount of time remaining isn't endless. It's actually quite short.

How can we use this math to rethink time in relationships?

 

Tools

 

1. Revisit your values.

Every couple has values. Some take a step back from the chaos of life periodically to reflect on them and make them explicit. Others simply live according to a jumbled and tangled up web of unconscious values that shape everything from the hours they spend at the office to the amount of time they spend together.

It seems obvious but having a conversation about your values as a couple is often one of the most life-changing moves you can make. 

It's also the key to making the most of the limited time you have together. To do this, you can revisit the in-depth process we outline in Chapter 8 of The 80/80 Marriage. Or consider this short cut: have a conversation tonight about the values that matter most to the two of you, write them down, and then put them up somewhere where you can see them each day. 

 

2. Find freedom through structure.

One of the great myths of modern relationships is the idea that freedom requires the antithesis of structure. It's the idea that amazing moments together only arise from 17-year-old style spontaneity, from magical life accidents untainted by the logistical weight of calendar matching and advanced planning.

This simply isn't true. In fact, it's a myth that causes many couples to miss out on these moments. In the midst of life's craziness, creating structure is often the only way to live your values and ensure quality time together.

So today, we're giving you permission to schedule weekends away, to block off time for a ditch day together from work, or even to schedule moments of intimacy.

If you don't block off this time, someone else will claim it.

 

3. Make friends with time.

If time were a person, most of us would have a restraining order filed against us. We resist it. We fight against it. And we try to control it like a some sort of deranged, power hungry, despot.

But what if time isn't the enemy? What if our resistance to time is the true source of our stress, anxiety, and suffering? What if time is actually our friend?

The legendary self-development author Gay Hendricks calls this alternative "Einstein Time." In The Big Leap, he tells us that we can radically shift our experience of time in two ways. First, go on a "time complaining" diet where you give up talking about not having enough time.

Second, begin to see that time isn't a thing. It's more like a story in your head. And you can shift this story by thinking, "What if I have all the time I need?" It's a radical shift from time scarcity to time abundance. 

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