We make time for important appointments. Making time to be alone with your spouse is very important, writes Father Henry Siew.

QUALITY TIME REFERS to those precious moments a couple have to enjoy each other's company and have meaningful exchanges, undistracted by other preoccupations or interruptions.

Such moments during which both give full attention to each other should be made and treasured. If a spouse is rushing out or even just watching TV or working on the computer or when the children are around playing and yelling - these are not good times for sharing.

A couple living under one roof, eating and watching TV together, and sharing the same bed, may still not make time for "heart to heart" communication. When they do talk, they may just talk about the weather, news, shopping, work or the children - subjects that do not touch on their inner emotions, needs, thoughts or desires.

Ask yourself how much quality time you spend with your spouse. When was the last time you really opened up and freely expressed your feelings and desires to each other?

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Just the two of you

One way to appreciate the meaning of quality time is to think of a time when we visit a bedridden relative or friend alone.

In one of his articles, Father John Powell recalled the beautiful moments during his weekly visits to his sick and bedridden mother. They used the same room for every visit; there were only the two of them, no one else was there. Mother and son talked freely about anything including their innermost feelings.

Most of the times Father Powell would start by telling his mother about issues that had been bothering him. For example, he had lost his temper with his colleague or he had an unknown fear of death. Touched by his openness, she also shared with him her experiences and feelings. She told him that she was not afraid of death but she could not endure physical pain.

Some people claim that a couple who have been married for years would know each other so well that there is nothing new to talk about. However, this is often not so. Couples frequently hide their feelings for fear that expressing them would lead to conflict or rejection, or require change, or cause the loss of the other's love, or hurt the other.

When you take courage and risk rejection to share and your spouse is a willing listener, and when it is done with no time pressure and the environment is conducive, you will be surprised that there is so much to share with each other. The couple will discover issues and emotions that they had consciously or subconsciously overlooked previously and realise that it is now the appropriate time to reveal. Most couples will experience great relief and satisfaction during the quality time spent together. They will also find their relationship taking a leap forward.

On the other hand, if no effort is put into arranging quality time for dialogue, it will be almost impossible to have such an experience of "deep" exchanges. This quality time is not intended to solve a problem or to make a decision. It is simply a time that a couple dedicate solely to each other.

FHS2.jpgTelling another person what has been hidden in our hearts, especially negative experiences, requires a lot of courage even if it is between husband and wife. Therefore, doing it at the appropriate time and place is very important. Besides the privacy of your bedroom, you may choose also to walk along the seashore or in a park where the relaxed atmosphere could encourage effective sharing.

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Dialogue, not monologue

Both parties must be given equal time to share, otherwise the intended dialogue may deteriorate into a monologue.

The event you are going to share may be past or present, but the feelings are lingering. For instance, a month ago you quarrelled about the children (or some other matter), one party felt hurt by what the other spouse had said at that time. To talk about it now when the event is already past and emotions have calmed, could avoid a destructive emotional outburst.

Both parties can gain by knowing each other's views and emotions then and hopefully will result in greater understanding and a stronger bond now. One further step in dialogue is also to talk about how each other feels after the issue to share has been brought up.

If the event is current, the one who shares will say, "What is most pleasant today is…" or "I am grateful to you now in that…" The other spouse listens with eyes in contact and without interrupting. After about 3-5 minutes, the other spouseresponds by sharing feelings about it. Then the first speaker will listen to the other share on the same topic.

Other ways of beginning the dialogue are "I felt most happy during this week when…" or "I like you because…" or "What I long to do together with you is…" When the topic is negative, for example, "This week I felt sad that…" or "When such and such happened yesterday, I felt disappointed…" you should only share the happenings and the feelings and never make any criticism or judgment.

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Writing it down

Couples who have attended Marriage Encounter learn to treasure such special moments. They also learn to use "love letters" as a communication tool.

First they write down their experiences and feelings related to certain topics; after that they exchange their letters during the quality time. They then read them, dialogue about them and use them as the stepping-stones for further sharing.

The desire to make an effort for quality time is usually in direct proportion to the desire to have good communication. However if the couple does not make time for each other, it could be because their desire to deepen their relationship is not strong enough or they simply fear intimacy.

The truth is, once a couple discovers the wonderful benefits of such sharing moments, they will learn to treasure them. Then at times that are not pre-arranged, when an opportunity presents itself, they will know how to take advantage of it and enjoy a special and intimate time together.

FHS.jpgFather Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to the Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.

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