Mental Health Blog

The Magic Five Hours

Posted by Anthony Liu on

Awhile ago, my wife and I brought my son to the pediatrician for his sixth-month check up. “Your son is in the 90th percentile,” the doctor said with a smile, which made my fatherly pride swell up. Then she added, “in body weight.” I took a breath to absorb what this meant: my son weighed more than 90 percent of other babies in his age range. Gasp!

My anxieties decreased over time though. I learned that chubby babies are not only cute – with their multiple chins and multiple folds in their arms but that they are considered healthy. Their brains are sure to get the nutrients to develop healthily, as they are in-taking more than enough calories. As such, body weight can be considered one of the vital signs for determining a baby's overall health.

In the same way that medical doctors have vital signs to determine a patient's' physical health, one marital researcher identifies critical indicators of the health of marital relationships. Have you ever wondered what the vital signs of a relationship are? If compared to other relationships deemed healthy, how would yours rate? Would it be possible to quantify and objectively look at actions that promote healthy marriages?

These are questions that noted marriage and relationship researcher John Gottman considered when he began decades of longitudinal studies observing and gaining insight into healthy and unhealthy couples. His book, The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work, has been regarded as a classic on the subject. In his follow-up research, Gottman, whose undergraduate degree was in mathematics, observed what he calls, The Magic 5 Hours, among happy and healthy relationships.

If you invest just five hours a week in your regular routine in these five intentional ways, it may help facilitate a stronger connection between you and your spouse.

  1. Partings: Do give warm farewells. A peck on the cheek or a hug goodbye goes a long way. Take the time to know your partner's plans for that day. Is s/he looking forward to a meeting, dreading an important deadline, feeling anxious about budget issues, or experiencing frustration with the kids' school schedule? Estimated time: 2 minutes per work day x 5 workdays = 10 minutes per week.
  2. Greetings and Reconnection: Have a debriefing conversation together at the end of each workday to reconnect and to decompress. Listening builds community. To come home is to not have to be in “performance” mode any longer. Estimated time: 20 minutes per work day x 5 workdays = 1 hour 40 minutes per week.
  3. Admiration and Appreciation: Look for creative ways to compliment or show appreciation toward your spouse every day. What is something that you like, love, respect, admire, or cherish about the other person? Some partners feel that their spouse should know, but the happy couples take the time to make their positive feelings explicit. Estimated time: 5 minutes per work day x 5 workdays = 35 minutes per week.
  4. Affection: Show physical affection for your spouse. Time spent hugging, patting, kissing, and touching is good investment in your relationship. It's been noted that cuddling releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps engender trust and connection. Estimated time: 5 minutes a day x 7 days a week: 35 minutes per week.
  5. Weekly Date: Cultivate the habit of enjoying each other's company to know your partner better. The date does not have to be extravagant or expensive; rather the emphasis is that the time is intentionally set aside for each other. Chat, explore each other's dreams and aspirations, plan, and play together. Estimated time: 2 hours per per week.

If you habitually invest time in your relationship in these five specific ways, chances are you are on your way to having a healthy and happy relationship. Establishing these habits can pay off great dividends in your relationship in the long run.


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