20 Minutes a Day to a Better Marriage (Seriously!)

Did you know that spending just 20 minutes every day tuning into your partner, inquiring about their day, could make the difference between a stagnant, lifeless marriage and an emotionally connected, happy one? It’s true! To make that easy, I’m going to walk you through the steps of exactly how to do that so it’s super simple.

What Couples Tell Me They Never Do:

  1. They don’t sit in an undistracted space and have regular conversations (hello, kids, phones, television).
  2. They don’t sit face-to-face when they do talk (sitting side-by-side on the sofa does not count, and nor does chatting away in the kitchen while you cook).
  3. They feel semi-uncomfortable when they do sit face-to-face and feel a little bit uncomfortable like they aren’t sure what to even say to each other. Welp, this is where I come in

Strong research shows that couples who sit face-to-face, engage in heartfelt communication, and do this at least 20 minutes per day have thriving marriages. This is harder than you might think! But, with a few tips, I’m going to help you make this way easier.

Simple Ways to Tune In To Your Partner

  1. Create a distraction-free zone. After the kids go to bed, while they’re watching a movie, and after you’ve locked your bedroom door (trust me, the kids will get used to this being your sacred space if you teach them what that means), then you can start your conversation. Turn off the television, and silence the telephones (and, no, they don’t go in your lap). 
  2. Look at each other. That’s right, you actually have to look at each other. Awkward. Well, it may not be difficult for you, but for many couples it is. This is something they just don’t do, but it’s imperative to help your partner feel heard and seen. And if you hear nothing I say in this article, please hear this: your partner craves being seen and understood. We convey that with our body language. This is a huge first step. 
  3. Get comfortable with silence. In the space of 20 minutes (you can go longer if you want, but just aim for at least 20), your partner will talk for roughly 10 minutes, and then you’ll talk for about 10 minutes. That means when you aren’t talking, you should be listening. 
  4. Use minimal encouragers. Okay, super awesome tip here, so listen up. A “minimal encourager” is the little grunts, affirmations, and sounds that emit from your body and mouth the convey you’re tracking with your partner’s words and feelings. They sound like: “Huh,” “Uh-huh,” “I see,” “That makes total sense,” “I can see that,” “Mmm-hmm,” “Right,” “Absolutely!” and “I hear you.” There are limitless possibilities with this, but you get the idea. Tracking with your partner is more than just taking in their words, it’s conveying that you get their meaning.
  5. Don’t take things personally. When your partner is talking, make sure to realize what they’re saying is meaningful to them. That means you shouldn’t make it about you. They aren’t talking about you, so hear their perspective no matter what. Keep with those minimal encouragers!
  6. Keep it simple. For your 20-minute conversations, don’t deep dive into the hard issues. For this exercise, you should focus on being intentional just being in the space of your partner and practicing your amazing listening skills. Remember, your partner wants to be seen, felt, and heard, so your absolute best path here is to stay present, keep the conversation small, keep eye contact, and don’t go into the deep stuff. (Once you get good at small talk, then you can bump up to the harder stuff.)

Having 20 minute conversations preps you for bigger conversations, because it essentially deposits positivity into your emotional bank account. Especially when couples are stagnant, or are not in a good, positive place, you have to get out of the negative red zone. Once you have enough capital in your emotional bank account, making deductions by way of difficult conversations won’t sting as much. 

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com