The 5-minute relationship hack that changed my marriage
A FEW months ago, my husband quietly told me that he had never felt more disconnected from me, and it shook me to my very core.
We weren't fighting. It wasn't an ultimatum, or even a sign that the relationship was in dire straights.
It was just a sad admission that this business of working and parenting and logistics and trying to stay on top of it all had subtly managed to drive a wedge straight through the middle of the very thing that made us, 'us'.
Roommates instead of lovers
The night he said this to me, we were in the car. It was early evening, and I'd just returned home from a few days away with work. I was driving Mike, my husband into the city to his own work engagement, the child-minding baton passed on. Our two-year-old son was munching on his dinner in the back seat. OK, he was smearing it all over the carseat. Same same.
Over the past few weeks, we'd barely spoken about anything that wasn't to do with the business of running our household, purely because all our energy was going elsewhere.
"I miss you so much," he told me, "I feel like you're so far away in the same house."
Although we'd always sworn we'd never be 'those' parents, we'd somehow managed to become roommates rather than lovers. We were a perfect team, both of us switching seamlessly between the roles of cook, babysitter, provider, secretary, driver and shopper as needed.
The one role we'd stopped playing for one another, though, was the one we'd signed up for in the first place.
In that moment, I realised just how badly I'd been missing him, too.
Intimacy is about so much more than sex
Research suggests that your sex life takes a dip for as long as you have children under five in the house, to which I know many parents will give a resounding "well, duh."
While the busy nature of mum and dad life can certainly lessen the amount of time you're spending in the sack each week, it wasn't sex that was the problem in our case - it was all the other stuff.
I missed the long, lazy weekend mornings we used to spend figuring out what cafe to have breakfast in. These days, a breakfast outing is a race to the finish line before our little guy cracks it and decides Ikea high chairs are for chumps and starts flinging $9 toast across the room.
I also missed the languid chats we used to have about anything and everything. It feels like these days, we both have a mental list of everything the other person needs to know to keep things afloat for the next 24 hours, so a moment of conversation sounds very much like a verbal to-do list.
I missed the way my husband used to casually hold my right hand in his left, every time we got in the car to go anywhere. One arm resting on the steering wheel, the other resting in my lap, fingers entwined as if it was the only logical place for them to be.
Most of all, though, I missed the version of myself I used to be as a wife. I missed the way I used to see myself in his eyes.
Bringing back the intimacy (in 5-minute increments)
When I asked psychologist Belinda Williams about how to bring the romance back when you were scheduled to the hilt, she had a genius suggestion.
"It's called the micro-moment," she said. "I recommend it to all my clients in the same position."
Basically, Belinda said, life before kids was one long, romantic date. There was time for spooning aimlessly on the couch. Time for silent, Wiggles-free car rides where you idly held hands or just sat listening to music together. There was time, she says, for the relationship to be fed. For the intimacy to grow.
The solution? Bringing back the intimacy in time-sensitive blocks.
"It doesn't have to be big chunks of time for it to be impactful to your relationship," she explains.
"Micro moments are really taking the smallest of opportunities to connect. I encourage couples to find the smallest opportunity to signal to each other that they care and love one another - it may be ensure a proper greeting and farewell, a quick cuddle as you pass in the hallway, holding hands as you fall asleep, saying I love you face to face, an expression of gratitude, a small gift like their favourite bread or tea. The main principle is that if we wait for opportunities of grand gestures, it often means that this is unattainable or too long between opportunities for connection. So take what you can get. Make the most of the small moments."
The effects we could never have expected
Over the next couple of weeks, we both embraced the micro-moments with gusto.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I set a reminder in my phone, each day, to remind me to snuggle up with Mike on the couch and tell him how much I loved him after our son was in bed.
But you know what? It worked.
Instead of our usual routine of cleaning up the trail our two-year-old destructo had left and then starting tomorrow's chores, we began scheduling just five minutes an evening to flop down onto the couch, still in our work clothes, to just sit.
My head on his shoulder, we'd just sit in blissful silence at first, a sacred moment among the chaos of our day where we could just hold each other and breathe for a second.
We also started making our "hellos" longer. This seems so simple, but by switching our quick pecks for a 30-second hug (try it, PLEASE), something weird and unexpected came over us: the spark came shooting back.
It was as though we found each other again in amongst the 17,302 pieces of LEGO in our lounge room, and once we did, we both gripped on for dear life.
Just the other night, we were in the car again, exactly near the spot where he'd first told me he felt disconnected. I turned to ask him whether he felt like things had improved, and I realised he already had my hand in his, one arm resting on the steering wheel, and the other in my lap.
It turns out those micro moments really add up after all.