Find Time in Your Marriage


A busy doctor-churchman talks about why men need to spend priority time with their wives.

One of my friends, a successful merchant, shared with me the greatest secret of his personal success—and it’s not his selling ability. He discovered it one day when the phone rang while he was waiting on one customer with another standing by. The clerk said, “I think it’syour wife, Ralph.”

“Hello honey,” said a voice on the other end. “How are you?”

“Fine, dear, but terribly busy. What’s wrong? Why are you calling me?”

There was a short pause. Then, choking, Betty said, “I just wanted to hear a grown-up’s voice for a change. Sorry I bothered you when you were so busy.”

Ralph loved Betty, he said he loved her more than anything else in the world, but suddenly he realized that Betty was home with four preschoolers chattering, playing, quarreling, but always needing her. She also had customers waiting, and they would see no one else! She was busy too—and frustrated.

Time. … If they just had more time.

Wisely Ralph took time right then to apologize, and tell Betty how much he loved her, assure her she could call him anytime, and invite her to go out to dinner that evening with him.

Ralph’s discovery? “Since Betty is the most important person in the world to me, she also deserves first claim on my time. Since I’ve learned to give it to her, she’s happier, I’m happier, and both of us can do our jobs better.”

I’ve found through my own experience that busy men have to learn Ralph’s lesson or suffer the consequences in personal unhappiness and lower efficiency. As an obstetrician, I spent much of my professional time working with women and many of them have shared their feelings about how their husbands use time.

Bart, like Ralph, is a successful man; but his wife confided: “Bart’s gone all day and I understand that. But he might as well be gone at night too. All he does is come home, eat, and either rush off to a Church meeting or go to sleep in front of the TV. He’s really gone day and night. Maybe it’ll be different when he retires … but that’s ten years from now.”

In contrast is Ruth, whose husband, an energetic entrepreneur, had just opened another in a series of big stores. I asked, “But doesn’t this mean he’ll leave you alone much of the time? Does he ever have time for his family?”

“Al’s on the road a fair amount, all right,” Ruth conceded. “But when he’s home, we have such a glorious time together I don’t mind. He phones me often and he takes me or one of the children along when he can.” She looked up with an expression of enchanted anticipation. “And he’ll be back tomorrow!”

Al’s learned the lesson.

Something else I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t really matter whether the husband is gone because of his business or gone because of his Church assignments. If he fails to take time, the all-important marriage relationship is still neglected.

Another friend of mine, a very kind and understanding bishop, recently said, “Dottie and I are really looking forward to spending some time together when I’m released.”

I know Dottie. She would rather bite her tongue out than complain or make him feel that she didn’t support him, but she was lonely. “What about now?” I asked. “When you finish this calling, the Lord will have another one for you, you know.”

“But there just isn’t time now!” he protested.

I know one stake president who makes time. He estimates how much time a problem or a meeting should take and sets the tiny alarm on his watch accordingly. His counselors and high councilors have learned to follow the agenda and to make their reports brief and cogent. He not only gives them time to spend with their families—he expects them to spend it there. And the wives in his stake appreciate it!

Retirement doesn’t give you more time. It simply takes away one activity. I know dozens of busy, active senior citizens who are as productive during their retirement years as they were earlier, but it’s because they’ve always used time, instead of letting time use them. As a result, they were better able to shift gears smoothly to a new set of activities instead of being overwhelmed at the “blank” time in front of them. The marital companionship of retirement years must, I’m convinced, be built during the healthy, active, busy years of earlier life.

Let me share with you a few suggestions specifically directed to those who find business, church, or civic work eating up their family time:

1. Delegate as much as possible. Being a financial clerk can mushroom into a full-time job if you also try to be the bishop’s appointment secretary, the ward typist, the janitor, and the historical clerk. Do your job—and let others do theirs. The best bishops I know are those who train their counselors so well that either one could replace him.

One efficient stake president advises his high councilors: “Don’t bring problems to our meeting. Bring solutions.” Clearly a discussion of the solution rather than of the problem saves everyone’s time.

2. Organize your time. Part of this job means estimating accurately how long it actually takes to accomplish given tasks. Keeping a time-log helped me judge time better. Can a note or a phone call do the same job as a meeting? Can you cut down on travel time by having people come to your office for interviews rather than going to their homes? Are there some ways you can see problems coming and head them off rather than waiting for them to erupt into emergencies?

I’m a great believer in the preventative interview, not only for bishops and elders quorum presidents, but for Sunday School teachers, home teachers, fathers, and husbands, as well. The kind of heart-to-heart communication that can take place in a properly conducted interview will provide a unity of purpose and a foundation of mutual understanding that will, in itself, eliminate many problems.

3. Reserve certain evenings for the family—not only family home evening, but an evening where you and your wife can renew and refresh your relationship without interruption or intrusion.

I found a rusty old half of a pair of pliers the other day. Several years ago the pliers had been new and useful. Yes, I’d noticed that the nut and bolt holding the halves together was loosening and I fully intended to tighten them. But I procrastinated until the halves fell apart and one became lost. Naturally I lost the use of the tool since one half is worthless without the other. A few minutes would have saved it for me, but I just couldn’t find the time—then. Looking back now, I realize that of course I could have.

I know from the quality of my own marriage that nothing is more important than our relationship, that time invested there will actually save me time—as a parent, as a church worker, and as a professional man.

4. Budget your time. I’m convinced that busy people don’t “have” time—they find time and make time. If we plan two weeks in advance, my wife and I can easily reserve an evening for each other. I don’t have that option all the time on twenty-four hours’ notice.

Planning produces equally fine results for very short periods of time. As a doctor, feeling the pressure of wall-to-wall patients in the waiting room, I could still find two serene minutes to phone my wife. She seemed to appreciate it, and I always went back to work with renewed zest.

Another space of “found” time was going to lunch with my wife instead of seeing my colleagues every day. Again, the payoffs in personal energy that come from that renewed affection and appreciation were professional bonuses that no colleague, no matter how appreciative, could possibly have given me.

5. Compliment each other. Everyone has at least one good point. Building on it will make other traits show themselves. I know that I would strain any nerve rather than disappoint my wife, not only because I want to make her happy but because she so unfailingly makes me happy. The most important words in marriage may be, “I’m proud of you!” And saying it takes less than five seconds.

I remember a vivacious and personable young mother named Sally who had great needs for appreciation. She needed to be assured and occasionally reassured. Her husband knew it, but wanted her to be more “self-sufficient” and deliberately rationed his compliments. Hurt, Sally found herself depending more and more on the positive reinforcement she received from other people until the quality of their marriage was visibly deteriorating. Fortunately, she had enough confidence that she could express her feelings to her husband and he had enough good sense to realize how selfish and manipulative he had been. On a new basis of appreciation, they also renewed the love and companionship of their marriage.

The Book of Mormon reminds us: “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” (Alma 34:32.) As Elder Neal A. Maxwell so aptly puts it: “Time cannot be recycled.” We only have one chance at it.

I know very few men, even the busiest of men, who honestly feel that their wives are less important than their jobs. And I know of very few wives who honestly want as much time as their husbands give their jobs. But they want, and honestly deserve, priority time. The challenge for busy men is to make top-priority time for them. I guarantee that it will never be time wasted.

[photos] Photography by Jed A. Clark

[photo] Take time out of your busy day—and hers—to renew affection and appreciation.

Dr. Lindsay R. Curtis, an obstetrician and gynecologist, is now serving as president of the California Oakland Mission.