Quality time . . . what is it, really? Gary Chapman says it’s one of his 5 Love Languages, but if it isn’t your language, how do you know what it is or how to give it to another person?
Early on in life, most of us learned something called The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It sounds like a good idea, but there is no universal preference that fits everyone. That’s the tricky thing about relationships. What if your idea of quality time is fishing and your wife’s idea is shopping? You might take her fishing, employing the Golden Rule, but she is miserable. The same might be true if she took you shopping. I like to recommend the Platinum Rule®, created by Tony Alessandra: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. This presents more of a challenge because we don’t always know what other people want, so we need to invest some time and ask some questions.
In Choice Theory, we talk about creating a need-satisfying environment for relationships to flourish. Dr. Glasser proposed five basic needs. I have renamed some of them with his original names in parentheses: survival, connection (love & belonging), significance (power), freedom, and joy (fun). When you create a need-satisfying environment for another person, they tend to experience it as that elusive Quality Time.
To ensure you are truly giving the gift of Quality Time, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this person feel safe with me? (survival)
- Does he or she know I care about them? (connection)
- Am I providing my undivided attention? (connection)
- Does he or she know how important they are to me? (significance)
- Am I listening to and respecting this person? (significance)
- Is the person free to do what they want and believe to be best? (freedom)
- Do I encourage independence and creativity? (freedom)
- Are we having any fun, relaxation, or learning/discovery together? (Joy)
If the answer to these questions is yes, then I will wager the person on the receiving end is considering what you are providing as quality time. If the answer is no, you can use these questions to navigate through mending things.
One of the most challenging things about relationships is that people don’t always perceive things in the same way. You can be the safest person in the world and sometimes, because of history, anxiety, or other reasons, the person with you may still not feel safe. You can be having the best, joyful time flying a kite and the person you are with may be miserable, wanting to get inside.
This is one reason communication is so important in relationships. If you want the important people in your life to experience your gift of quality time the way you want them to, then take some time to discuss what quality time looks like to that person. Ask them the eight questions above only with a twist. Ask these questions:
- What helps you feel safe with someone? Are there things that make you feel unsafe? (survival)
- What are some things that help you know someone cares about you? Are there things that lead you to believe a person doesn’t care? (connection)
- What does undivided attention look like to you? Do you like that? (connection)
- How do you know when you are important to someone? What are some signs you aren’t? (significance)
- What helps you feel respected/disrespected? (significance)
- Do you like to feel free within a relationship? (freedom)
- Do you enjoy your independence even when in a relationship? (freedom)
- Are we having any fun or relaxation? Are we learning and discovering together? (Joy)
Don’t ask these all at once, like you were interviewing the person. As the relationship unfolds, take the time to learn about the other person organically. I was recently surprised talking with a middle-aged, female client. She was complaining that her boyfriend wouldn’t answer his phone while they were on a date. If it were me, I would appreciate that, demonstrating that I was important to him. In contrast, she felt insecure, thinking the person calling was someone who liked her boyfriend and he didn’t want her to catch on. I had never thought about it that way. It is important to note that what feels like quality time to one person may not to another. This is true for you and your partner, but it is also true for the array of people in your life.
Take the time you need to really understand how to deliver quality time to the people who are important to you. You won’t be sorry. Quality time can take your relationship to a deeper, more meaningful level.