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Wellness Matters: Our relationships, like our cars, need regularly scheduled maintenance

By Marty Seitz
KyForward columnist

In my previous article, Stress coping resources abound, but support from others most potent, I discussed the value of social support. In this article, I discuss the importance of maintaining your most significant relationships — with your spouse/partner, your family, your friends and yourself. I also describe some means for doing so.

These days almost everyone is incredibly busy, so much so that at times I have to spend a whole counseling session trying to help a person or a couple find places in their weekly schedule to squeeze in a few hours for therapeutic activities (e.g., exercising, reading self-help books, practicing relaxation techniques, journaling, praying/meditating, etc.). Given all their commitments, finding time to add anything else seems impossible.

The whys of relationship maintenance

People need to maintain their physical health, their occupational and financial health and their material resources, such as houses, cars, computers and tools. But as I said in my previous post, social support is the single most valuable stress-coping resource. Maintaining supportive relationships is very important for effective stress management, and good relationships require time. Sadly, most of us will do whatever we must to ensure that our yards are mowed, our cars are fueled or polished, our houses cleaned, or our apps updated, but we don’t (or won’t) make time to ensure that our important relationships are fueled, cleaned, fixed or updated.

If your job were in jeopardy, to what lengths would you go to try to save it? If your car needed repairing to run, how much would you be willing to pay to get it fixed? How many breakdowns and repairs might you avoid if you had regularly scheduled maintenance for your car? Our supportive relationships stay healthier if we regularly schedule time to spend on nurturing them.

The how of relationship maintenance

In previous articles, I addressed some of the conceptual tools for relationship health. The Aug. 9, 2012, post (click here), offered tips for keeping discussions from becoming arguments. In my Sept. 27, 2012 post, I discussed a handy model for aiding communication (see here), and on Feb. 1, (see here), I discussed ways to manage anger, which can damage relationships when not managed properly. The Feb. 21 (see here) and March 7 (see here) articles discussed tender and tough ways of demonstrating caring for others.

The when(s) of relationship maintenance

“OK,” you say, “but how can I find the time to employ all these tools to keep my supportive relationships healthy?”

Let me suggest one rudimentary model. Budget at least one three- to four-hour block of time per week dedicated to relationship maintenance. For instance, some couples have a standing date night — one night a week when they spend quality time together, just the two of them. I think having a standing date night is a very good thing, but a weekly date with your spouse/partner does not help maintain your other supportive relationships, at least not directly.

If you can’t afford any more than three to four hours per week to spend on relationship maintenance, I suggest a monthly rotation. During these hours, one week out of each month, spend time with family, whether nuclear or extended. On another week each month, spend time with friends. On a third week each month, spend time with yourself, doing something solitary. And of course on a fourth week each month, have a date night for a traditional date with your romantic partner.

I realize that in using the budgeted time each week in this manner cuts the couple time from once a week to once a month, but I truly believe that we need to attend to maintaining all four categories of relationships for optimum health. It would be even better if we could all afford to budget time for each category of relationship each week. It would be ideal if we could budget time for each type of relationship each day – but most of us are not that time rich. Do what you can given the time you have. Some is better than none.

I also believe maintaining each of these categories is in the best interest of all the relationships. Yes, different people have various needs for or access to the different categories of supportive relationships, so feel free to modify the basic budget I’ve just outlined. But do make sure you budget some regular amount of time for each of the most basic relationships: spouse/partner, family, friends, and self.

Marty Seitz is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Asbury University, where he has taught since 1989. He got his bachelor’s in psychology from Asbury University, studied at Asbury Theological Seminary, got a master’s degree in community counseling and a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. In addition to his teaching, he has practiced as a licensed psychologist in Lexington since 1989, doing individual and couples’ counseling and has been working with the Access Wellness Group since its inception.

Read more Wellness Matters columns here.

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