Getting into a relationship and being married with kids can throw your life into a whirlwind. Time previously spent one-on-one with your partner is sacrificed for potty training, trips to the daycare, and way-too-frequent diaper changing sessions. Soon enough, your life holds no resemblance to its former self.
If you aren’t careful, this whirlwind of life can overwhelm you and drive your once flourishing relationship with the woman of your dreams into an interminable downhill plunge.
Date nights grow few and far between, alone time becomes nonexistent, and your relationship is suddenly struggling to stay afloat in the restless sea of parenthood. Scary right?
Unfortunately, this tumultuous life is the ruin of so many couples I have coached over the years. If you aren’t intentional and protective of the time you spend together and alone, you can’t expect to fare any better than these couples.
So, how do you do it? How do you avoid unnecessary conflict and hold your marriage together while facing the difficulties of new parenthood? The 3×3 rule.
Today, we’re going to discuss what exactly the 3×3 rule is, the impact it could have on your relationship, and how to know if you need it in your marriage.
What exactly is the 3×3 rule?
So many couples I have coached seem to have these tiny pet peeves that gnaw away at their relationship:
- “He takes these midday naps and leaves me alone with the kids.”
- “It’s like whenever I’m playing with the kids, she takes it as an invitation to leave the house entirely.”
- “Whenever the kids seem occupied, he slips off to the T.V. for a midday break.”
- “I feel like every time I’m cooking dinner with the kids, she’s on the couch scrolling through Instagram.”
While any real-life relationship comes with issues, so many of the conflicts that my clients bring to me over the years are best described as petty disputes with simple remedies.
If unaddressed, however, these tiny splinters in your relationship are silent cancer that throws the whole thing into mayhem.
These issues breed unnecessary contempt that eats away at marriages and leads to unnecessary broken relationships.
The truth is, so many of these arguments come from partners’ need to spend time apart and to get away from the kids. Without intentionally scheduled “break” time, any time either of you takes apart feels like it is stolen.
The 3×3 rule is a way to intentionally plan your time together as a couple and alone. Every week, you and your wife set three hours aside to spend alone with one another, and another three hours to spend completely by yourselves.
This time can be taken all in one day or split up and spread across the week as you like.
The most important part of this whole arrangement is that the time is non-negotiable.
Whether this means setting up a babysitter every week or shipping the kids off to grandma’s, you must find some way to spend this time together.
Once this time becomes non-negotiable, your relationship begins to heal and you are able to overcome all the resentment and petty arguments and find more understanding in your marriage.
The major benefits of the 3×3 rule in a relationship
Conscious relationships need structure. Without the structure of some sort, they tend to go downhill fast.
Structure in a relationship creates efficiency, predictability, and ultimately, peace of mind.
Having the strict structure of the 3×3 rule in your relationship will transform it into a thought-out, well-organized partnership that will be much more fulfilling than before.
Without some form of structure to your time and how you spend your days, each hour of your life will feel hectic, stressful, and off-balance.
The 3×3 rule provides this sorely needed balance to your life.
Time apart won’t feel fleeting or stolen anymore. You’ll look forward to your dates and your time alone without this feeling of guilt or shunning of responsibility.
And perhaps the strangest part of it all…it often feels as if you actually create time when you structure it intentionally.
2. Easing of Relational Tension
Taking that one date night a week or those precious solo evening strolls can do so much more than you would expect.
So many arguments and so much general discontent can be avoided when you have time apart.
Marriages are about finding balance and the 3×3 rule provides this balance.
So many couples I’ve coached who felt their relationship had genuinely slipped out of their control, found that after about a month of the 3×3 rule, all the resentment left their interactions.
Their minds were more peaceful, their time together was more meaningful, and their time with their children was much more quality.
The time the two of you spend one on one gives you the much-needed opportunity to discuss things that otherwise go undiscussed in your hectic life.
The time you spend on your own gives you the ability and perspective to reflect on your past week and work out how best to approach the upcoming week.
3. You’ll Become a Better Husband and Father
Time alone gives you space to regroup, focus on what it is you consider valuable in life, and ultimately make you a better mom or dad when you return to your kids.
Children can tell when the time you spend with them is more obligatory than voluntary and when each hour you spend with them feels like a drag, they feel less loved.
When you take intentional time away from them to focus on yourself, your return will be much more exciting for you and them.
So many parents make the mistake of thinking that being the best parent is about spending the most time with their child. No, it’s about spending the best time with them, not necessarily the most time.
Time alone means fun. The 3×3 rule has helped so many couples with hectic lives rediscover things that they once loved in their pre-parent days.
Kids bring so much responsibility to your life as a parent and it’s easy to forget what you used to do for fun.
Take those three hours apart each week to do the things that you once did that made you happy.
How To Tell if You Need the 3×3 Rule
Not everyone needs rules in their relationship.
Maybe you’re one of those precious few couples who just seem to be able to coast through life together, unbothered by the conflict that tears others so easily apart.
The likelihood is you’re not though, and the 3×3 rule could massively benefit your deteriorating relationship.
Here are a few signs that you may be able to benefit from the 3×3 rule, or absolutely need it:
1. From One Responsibility to the Next
Do you ever feel like your whole life is spent moving from one responsibility to the next? The moment you’re done with work, you’re back home taking care of the kids and making dinner. And when that’s done, you’re off to bed to get rest for work in the morning.
Even the weekends feel like work. From taking the kids to friends’ houses to preparing meals for the week ahead, you really feel there is no free time.
If this is the case, the 3×3 rule could be a welcome change. Even just a few hours on your own can massively impact your frame of mind.
Oftentimes good parents feel that their family’s schedule should always take priority. While this is generally the case, it is important to recognize the necessity of time away.
2. There’s a Divide
If you feel there is an insurmountable divide between you and your partner, something must be done.
Setting aside those six hours a week can rescue your marriage. When kids come along, your romantic relationship tends to slip gingerly into the backseat.
While you should understand that the life of a parent will never be that of a couple without kids, you need to protect your time together to keep your relationship strong.
You may be thinking, surely three hours a week can’t save my marriage.
Trust me it can. And not just three…six. The time you spend on your own is often just as needed as that spent with your partner.
Relationships bring with them many hardships. It’s your job to turn these hardships into speed bumps rather than brick walls.
3. No Time Together or Apart
This is perhaps the easiest way to tell if you need the 3×3 rule. While it may sound simple to say if you never have time completely alone or with your partner, you need the 3×3 rule.
You’d be surprised by the number of couples who come to me who feel distant from each other. When I ask how much time they spend together each week, they just look at each other blankly.
Recognizing when you don’t get enough time together and apart is the first step to mending your broken relationship.
Finding the right balance with your partner will bring the two of you closer and make you the parents you want to be.
4×4, 5×5, 10×10???
If you’ve read this article closely, you may be asking yourself, “Why only the 3×3 rule? Why not the 4×4 or even 10×10?”
For most couples, taking a total of six hours away from their home life sounds like a daunting task, but a manageable one.
The 3×3 rule is something that is achievable for most people without being overwhelming. It is, however, just a suggestion. If you have the time or capability to take more hours away, by all means, do.
If you and your partner can escape for an evening stroll five days a week, do it.
If you can catch a pick-up basketball game three times a week without damaging your home life, do it.
This rule is just a basic guide of sorts. If you can do better, do it!
As with anything in life, relationships are about managing time in the most effective way.
The 3×3 rule is a tried and proven method of setting time aside for yourself and your relationship so your life will find a healthier balance.
Knowing the benefits of the rule and how to know if you need it is the first key to improving your relationship.
Can I promise that the 3×3 rule alone will save your relationship? No.
But after coaching hundreds of clients, I can promise you that more often than not, this rule and the intentionality that’s behind it can play a major role in taking your relationship, and indeed life, to the next level.
Intentionality really is the key building block to a successful romantic relationship.
If you feel your relationship is lacking intentionality or you yearn for more in your romantic life, I have something for you.
Here at Knowledge for Men, mending and building relationships is what we do. We have experienced coaches who have spent their lives learning what works and what doesn’t in a relationship. What we can promise is that we will be instrumental in reawakening your passion for life and rediscovering your masculinity in your relationship.
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