Blog Short #164: 5 Essential Elements to Make Quality Time Satisfying
Photo by Fly View Productions, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Do we need to set aside specific time slots for “quality time” with people we care about?
The answer is not necessarily. It can occur spontaneously in the course of everyday interactions as well as during scheduled time.
What’s more important is whether the time spent includes five essential elements that should all be present in every situation.
- Undivided attention
- Positive regard
Let’s go over them.
1. Undivided Attention
In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman defines quality time as “expressing love and affection with your undivided attention.”
A key phrase here is “undivided attention.”
Quality time requires that you give your full attention to someone while interacting, whether during planned time together or just talking.
It means that you wholly engage and listen when someone communicates with you. This could occur in a five-minute conversation or for several hours together over a long dinner.
Your goal is to make the other person feel heard and understood.
Distractibility’s a big problem.
The whole notion of quality time has arisen in part because our culture has become highly distracted and addicted to multitasking.
Can you sit and watch an entire movie without doing something else?
Maybe you can, but more and more people find they can’t.
I find it hard to give my full attention to anything on one screen without picking up another screen to glance at something simultaneously. Especially that cell phone! What about you? I’m guessing many of you have the same experience.
Our growing distractibility has decreased “quality time” in our relationships.
For example, you talk to your partner while one or both of you is glancing at your phone or looking at the TV.
It’s also not unusual anymore for people to come to the dinner table with their phones or eat in front of the TV.
Go sit in a restaurant and look at the number of people chatting and glancing at their phones at the same time. Or worse, they’re not talking or looking at each other at all but have their faces glued to their phones.
If, for a whole week, you gave your full attention to your partner or your kids when they were talking to you (without a screen), you would significantly increase your quality time without needing to set aside a specific time slot or activity.
If you did that regularly, you’d find the other person wouldn’t pester you for more quality time because they’re getting it.
Now for the next element.
Not only do you need to give your undivided attention to the other person, but you must also show genuine interest.
Genuine interest means being curious, reflective, and wanting to understand what the other person thinks and feels as fully as possible. It requires active listening.
There are four steps involved:
- Listen quietly and attentively without interruption.
- Ask questions to clarify what’s been said, especially how the speaker feels.
- Reflect on what you’ve heard to ensure you understand it correctly.
- Respond thoughtfully and with empathy.
When you listen that way, the speaker will know you’re interested in understanding what they’re saying and what they need from you.
This kind of attentive listening will facilitate the third element.
When others feel understood and valued by you, which you’ve shown by giving your undivided attention and interest, they’ll also feel connected to you.
That type of connection and interchange is quality time, regardless of the circumstances of how it’s happening. It can be a quick interchange or a two-week vacation, but the time taken is of high quality if those elements are there during the interactions.
One other element has to be present for the connection to take place.
4. Positive Regard
In Gary Chapman’s definition, he uses the words “expressing love and affection.” He’s mainly referring to intimate relationships such as marriage, parent-child, or close family.
However, quality time can be spent or given to anyone you regard positively, which generally includes affection on some level. Certainly, intimate relationships are in this category.
Still, you may spend quality time with a colleague you might not profess an abiding love for, but maybe some affection, respect, or a strong liking.
The tone of the interaction is positive overall. This is a must.
Positive doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be about positive things, but that the regard for each other is positive.
You can be riveted on someone while arguing with them or attacking them. That’s undivided attention, but it’s not good attention.
Your attention must be accompanied by respect, positive regard, and, in most cases, affection. Both parties must feel a connection that exudes warmth and pleasure in being together.
This brings us to the last element.
Quality time means being present. Giving undivided attention implies that, but there’s more to it.
Being fully present requires you to be willing to suspend your attention to anything else for the time you’re involved. You need to make eye contact, face forward while talking, relax your body, and engage your mind as you follow the other person’s thoughts and emotions. It’s letting the other person feel your full attention, not just your intention to give it.
I’ve intimated that quality time happens when you’re face-to-face with someone. Is that necessary? I think it’s best.
You can have a quality conversation over the phone or by face-timing, but nothing supplants face-to-face presence.
Even when you can see or hear someone on screen, you lose something that can only be captured when you feel the other person through all of your senses.
Face-to-face contact increases empathy and connection. Even a short 10-minute interaction with full presence significantly impacts the connection.
So, when at all possible, be physically and emotionally present to ensure the interaction is of good quality.
With Covid, we’ve had to make alterations, but there’s been a cost.
Quality Time and Rituals
An effective way to get quality time in is to create rituals with people you care about. Rituals are repetitive, so you can count on them and anticipate them with pleasure because you know they’re coming. They also deepen intimacy.
You can have rituals with your partners, kids, friends, and family.
Here’s an example of my own:
Every Saturday night, my husband and I spend a few hours together chatting. We do this while sharing a drink and listening to classical music playing in the background. We sit facing each other and talk about anything and everything. It varies weekly but is always interesting, stimulating, and fun. We end with dinner.
It’s a ritual and one we both look forward to. More than that, we can count on it, so we might save things to talk about that we didn’t have time for during the week. Either way, this is true quality time that’s reliable and helps to maintain closeness.
If you spend that kind of quality time in addition to being fully attentive to each other in general, that makes for a flourishing relationship.
So, let’s summarize.
- Can occur in everyday unplanned interactions.
- Can also be scheduled.
- Might involve specific activities, rituals, or time to be present together.
- Includes positive regard and affection.
- Is best accomplished in close physical proximity.
- Creates a felt connection that adds to each person’s well-being.
- Can involve just two people, several people, or a group.
- Is the foundation of relationships that flourish and grow.
When done right, quality time sustains and feeds your relationships and keeps you connected to those you love. It’s worth the time it takes.
That’s all for today.
Have a great week, as always!
All my best,