For my next few blog posts I will be doing a series about relationships and time, based on my professor’s book Sync Your Relationship, Save Your Marriage: Four Steps to Getting Back on Track by Peter Fraenkel. While there are many important factors that make up a successful relationship, none are as fundamental as the pace, rhythm, time perspective, and punctuality that you share. Thus, it is critical to “hear the beat” of your conflict in order to change it.

Moving through life at different speeds, couples find it hard to connect, to communicate, or to coordinate their activities and efforts to build and maintain a life together. Oftentimes, one person within a couple is more fast paced, trying to fit as much as possible in a day and constantly moving. The slower paced partner, on the other hand, prefers not to be rushed, savors the moment, and is happy to accomplish tasks more deliberately and carefully.

The partners’ pace and the role it plays in how they handle emotions is one of the key attractants early in the relationship, and we often pick persons whose pace is the opposite of ours. We unconsciously look to our partner to either speed us up (and energize us) or slow us down (and calm us). But somewhere along the journey we get tired of having our partner rush us (if we are slower) or drag us down (if we are temperamentally faster). And there’s the rub that leads to couple conflict. The interesting thing is that most couples don’t realize the root problem of their conflict is the difference in their pace— they complain of “communication difficulties,” “arguments about getting things done,” “different energy levels.” The slow partner describes the fast partner as “neurotic,” “restless,” or “anxious,” while the fast one assesses the slow one as “boring,” “uninspired,” “unmotivated,” or “depressed.”

Being aware of the difference in pace and how that affects a couple’s relationship is the first step in ameliorating the problem. This is the first of the Four R’s — revealing a couple’s rhythms. From there, it is necessary to revalue the rhythms that work, revise the rhythms that need changing, and rehearse the new rhythms. A couple revalues by remembering how a partner’s pace was oftentimes what attracted us to them in the first place, how it compliments our own pace, how we can learn from it and find value in the positive aspects of it. A couple can revise by being more deliberate about whose pace dominates certain activities, by using these moments to learn from one another more actively, and expanding the joint repertoire of speed. Lastly, a couple can rehearse new pace patterns by making a commitment to specific activities that each partner will do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to change and better align each’s pace.