How many times have you heard that the remedy for a disconnected marriage is to spend more time together? Couples are encouraged to carve out as little as 15 minutes per day and viola, that’s supposed to make everything better.
BUT, what if your uncoupling is not a time issue? What if it’s an energy issue?
Think about it: By the time you wrap up work, pick up dinner, and navigate your way through the evening (with it’s errands, chores, parenting duties, etc.), in the end you feel more like crying than cuddling. It’s sheer exhaustion on steroids.
So, when your sweet therapist or the latest “how-to” relationship article advises you to create romantic carpet picnics with your spouse after the house is quiet and you feel a moment of total hopelessness — it’s a fair and entirely normal reaction.
But the question is — why is your mental unraveling worse at home than at work?
The answer: Because there’s an energy sucking strategy we depend on during our conscious hours that slowly drains our mental vigor — Multitasking!
This approach to handling the demands of the day taxes our mental stores so much that once we enter our modern family mayhem, we’re running on fumes.
When you’re at work doing two things at once (like checking your email while attending a meeting) you drain what’s known as your focus fuel.
This is the fuel responsible for supplying the vital physical and mental energy you need to focus on the task at hand. When you juggle more than one task at a time, your stores diminish quickly and dramatically.
Therefore, the more you multitask during your day, the more exhausted you are by the time you get home.
Here’s another nice twist of the knife …
Decision making is also exceedingly demanding on your neural response system. And your mind is in a constant state of decision making when you multitask (way more than you’re consciously aware of).
Therefore, you have two energy depleting systems working together to trash your tolerance to external stimuli, such as kids that whine, dogs that misbehave, or a husband that isn’t a mind reader.
By the time you get home, your focus fuel is well below empty. So any decisions you make once you enter your domestic abode appear bigger and more overwhelming than they actually are.
“Do you want chicken or fish?” — “OMG! Just make something!”
“Mom, please can I play my X-Box, then do homework?” — “Whatever. I can’t even form a complete sentence let alone start a debate.”
“Hey, should we catch up on our show or get a movie?” — “I don’t care. I’ll be asleep by 9pm regardless.”
It’s no wonder we gravitate towards mind numbing activities such as surfing the internet or flipping through the channels, rather than engaging in stimulating connection-building conversations with our spouse.
Once we exhaust our focus fuel, we can literally feel delirious and disorientated and our ability to control our impulses. This can rear its ugly head in the form of nighttime snacking, snapping at our loved ones, or making an unnecessary purchase on Amazon.
So, if multitasking is so bad, why does it seem like it’s our only option to get everything done?
Regardless of how dysfunctional multitasking is, I don’t believe we’ll ever accept the reality that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. We glorify it too much in our culture to ever fully kick the habit.
For whatever reason, we seem attached to the belief that we accomplish more through multitasking, even though research constantly shows that’s just not the truth (and that it can actually damage your brain and your career). In fact, when you do multiple things at the same time, your cognitive ability is greatly impaired and you function at an even lower level of efficiency than someone who’s high on marijuana.
Now that you understand the nerdy science side, let’s look at what you can realistically do to improve how you show up to this recommended chunk of relationship saving “just us” time:
1. Carve out windows to do just one thing at a time
If you’re writing a report, turn off all alerts for your email, phone, IMs, Facebook, and write one hell of a report. When you spend time with your daughter — spend time with her. Don’t run through your mental “to-do” list while you color Dora and Boots. Do one task exceedingly well, rather than three tasks mediocre.
2. Take faux “smoke breaks” throughout the day
No, I’m not recommending that you pick up this stinky habit. However, one thing smokers do that you currently do not is take brief but regular breaks during the day. But instead of puffing on cigarette, use your breaks to walk around a little and take a few deep breaths. Scientists report that diaphragmatic breathing for as little as 30 seconds helps quiet your mind and improves your level of happiness and physical well being.
Experts mean well when they suggest carving out special sweetheart time, but if you don’t have the energy to make it count — what’s the point?
It’s time to spend your daily energy better (and save some for the people you love most). To do that, try single tasking for one day. You WILL feel more energized, less fatigued, and ready to enjoy (rather than endure) a night at home with your partner.