Every relationship has a perpetual problem. Sometimes there are many. We can get hung up on finances, how to divide household chores, boundaries with friends and family, parenting, whether to get more pets, whose turn it is to wear the prize concert t-shirt, where to spend the holidays, whether one of us actually snores or not, and a billion other things. Sometimes what used to feel like a romantic relationship starts to feel more like having an extra sibling. "You started it!" "Who ate the last of the ice cream?" "It's your turn to unload the dishwasher!" "Nuh-uh!" The longer we're together, the harder it can be to initiate a discussion about relational economics. Done right, it can be fun. It can even make being together more like having your best friend over for a slumber party.
What is up for negotiation? High Quality Leisure Time. (HQLT). The goal is for everyone involved to have the biggest possible block of time for total relaxation and fun. This is a win for everyone. You get to do what you want, other people in the household get to do what they want, nobody wastes time squabbling, and you all start to see each other as natural allies.
What would the McBickersons do? Do the opposite of that.
As an example, I love seeing my husband stretch out to take a nap on the couch. The dog jumps up next to him, and they'll sleep for an hour. I have a whole album of adorable nap photos. I can't take naps because of my sleep management, but I don't begrudge him (or Spike). While they're napping, I can do whatever I want, guilt-free. I can read, go for a walk, play Words With Friends, maybe even watch a movie if it looks like a long nap. I also like seeing him in the middle of an 800-page book, because I like to read monster-huge books, too. Neither of us would dream of interrupting the other under these circumstances.
What gets in the way of HQLT for all is when we want ours, but we have "reasons" for them not to get theirs. I can read my new book, but you need to clean out the garage. I can do it later, but you need to do it right now. I'm holding my end up, but you are abdicating. We let resentment accumulate. Many a relationship has died a slow death because we hoard up these grudges and resentments, rather than risk a confrontation, until they choke off what used to be love. Anyone who starts keeping a dossier of private resentments is the villain here. Be honest, let it go, or move on. Don't be the accountant of grievances. The only way that will work is if you keep a tally of your own personal failings and try to be kinder and more generous in consequence.
That's what this is all about, after all. Kindness and generosity. Respect and dignity. Love and friendship. If one of my best girlfriends came over for the weekend, I'd want her to have such a good time that neither of us could wait for our next visit. I would have run around cleaning before she got there, because I'd want her to feel welcome and to see that I'd made an effort. She's my friend, and I want her to feel special. Why should it be any different with the man I married? If we share a roof, a bank account, and a bed, "honored guest" should be the absolute bare minimum standard of courtesy that I show toward him.
The reverse is true, of course. I share my life with the man I love because he's worth it. If not, I would have carried on living alone. I'm a great roommate to myself, and anyone who lives with me had better be a value-add.
As a matter of policy, I like to be ahead of the curve on spontaneous acts of hilarity. My husband laughed until he nearly cried when I walked half a mile home with a 15-pound watermelon for him. Always go first when there's a chance to surprise and delight. The internal ledger should be aligned toward banking extra bliss credits. It gets to be a game, trying to astound the other person or make him collapse with laughter. The giver probably gets more entertainment value out of this game than the recipient. It does tend to motivate the other player to reciprocate.
This is how to open negotiations for more High Quality Leisure Time.
1.Respect a window of time for homecoming. When someone walks in the door, there should be at least ten minutes for using the bathroom, putting things away, flipping through the mail, checking messages, changing clothes, and sharing any news from the day. It is rude and unfair to barrage someone with complaints or negativity the moment they open the door. You have no idea what kind of day they've had until they tell you.
2.Pull back your own demands first. Go first, always go first. Demonstrate the respect and courtesy you wish to receive.
3.Do that thing you keep not doing. If you've been slacking on a chore, be a real samurai and get it done. Do it in secret. Do it without expecting a ticker tape parade. Be impeccable in your agreements and commitments. Hold your end up.
4.Apologize. The appropriate format for a sincere apology goes like this: "I am sorry that I [was rude to you] [was unfair] [was selfish] when I [did the thing I wouldn't want you to do to me]." An apology that begins with "I'm sorry if" or "I'm sorry but" is incorrect. Start over. "I'm sorry I slammed you with complaints about my job the minute you walked in the door." "I'm sorry I interrupted you during your game."
5.Offer suggestions. Most likely, one or both of you has given up an activity you used to do when you first met. Make a list of those things and offer to facilitate your partner starting them up again. There's no earthly reason why someone should quit doing an honest, wholesome leisure activity. Usually this is something that could be even more fun with the participation of a child. Adults need adults-only time, too, and if you're parents, trade off alone time. "I was thinking about when you used to play league hockey. I found out there's a local team that meets Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'll cook on those nights if you want to go."
6.Explain the concept of High Quality Leisure Time and what you're trying to accomplish. "I want to make sure you're having fun and doing stuff you want to do. Also, there's a class I'd like to take."
7.Remind your partner of memory highlights. This is especially important if you now have children. "I loved it when we..." "You made me laugh until I snorted that time you..." "I really liked when you introduced me to..."
8.Set up a formal appointment for household business. We have a breakfast meeting on Saturdays, and it's become one of our favorite times of the week. We save up any conversations about finances, travel plans, insurance, bills, family visits, equipment upgrades, household maintenance, errands, or adjustments to our chore schedule. We don't have to talk about this stuff on weeknights. It's become easier for both of us to introduce awkward topics, because we have a system for resolving them. The goal is to do root cause analysis, make a systematic change, and never have that particular issue again. No blaming or fault-finding. We spend more of our time expressing appreciation that the other person's proposed solution worked for the last problem.
9.Reinforce your partner's fun time. Bring him a pillow. Make snacks. Wear your headphones. Religiously tiptoe around and do your utmost to avoid interrupting or distracting him. Set the boundaries that you want for yourself.
10.Up your game. What would a level-up look like in your relationship? What if your daily routine was as fun as you usually have on vacation? What would vacation have to be like to be an improvement on that?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.