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How Six Hours a Week Can Build a Healthy, Loving Relationship

CU Department of Psychiatry assistant professor Mandy Doria outlines research-based ways to improve relationships, broken down by the minute

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Written by Kelsea Pieters on February 13, 2024

Mandy Doria, MS, LPC, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says therapy is not just for ironing out the bad wrinkles in relationships.

“Typically we see families and couples coming into therapy with conflicts, eager to unpack red flags and learn how to respond to unhealthy patterns,” Doria said. “While it’s important to address conflict, it’s also important to feel connected in a partnership, increasing our chances of resolving our differences.”

She points to a Gottman-based method therapists employ in strengthening clients’ relationships. “It’s six intentional hours per week, broken down by the minute. Spending six hours per week to come together as a couple can help us communicate and connect when life gets busy,” she said. “This is just 5% of your time awake if you sleep eight hours per night.”

Doria breaks down the six intentional hours per week that can lead to healthier relationships: 


2 minutes per day for 5 working days = 10 minutes per week. This is specific to workdays. Take a moment before saying goodbye each morning, or before going about your separate ways to start the day, to ask what is happening in their day and perhaps something they’re looking forward to or dreading. Asking these questions before parting ways may give you a sense of how to check in later.


20 minutes per day for 5 working days = 1 hour, 40 minutes per week. At the end of the working day, talk to each other about what’s on your mind and create a natural transition from work to personal time. Think of this as completing the stress cycle together, reconnecting to a sense of home, venting if that’s helpful and allowing a shared de-escalation of stress with your partner to help you put the day behind you. Gottman also suggests starting the reunion with a ritual of physical connection, such as the 6-second kiss, which can create a natural reward to look forward to when coming home.

Appreciation and Admiration

5 minutes per day, every day = 35 minutes per week. Think about what you like about your partner, traits you admire or something they have done that you appreciate. Consider using an “admiration journal” to write down things you notice your partner is doing that you appreciate. You can reflect back on these actions and tie them to the qualities your partner has that you admire, leaving more room for what they are doing right instead of what they are doing wrong. Then share these ideas with your partner. Creating this pattern will help you notice them more naturally and help your partner feel valued and seen. (e.g., “I really appreciate that you did extra laundry this week while I was swamped at work. You’re the best.”)


5 minutes per day, every day = 35 minutes per week. End the day on a positive note by showing your partner affection before you head to bed. This could be cuddling, kissing, making eye contact with them and telling them “I love you.” Having a moment of affection as you’re winding down at night can promote letting go of the little things that pile up during the day. A lot of people may do this naturally if they’re watching Netflix and snuggling on the couch or reading in bed together. Notice how physical touch helps you calm down after a long day.

Date Night

2 hours per week. Undivided time and attention nourish a relationship, especially if quality time is your love language. While barriers like time, money and childcare can make this prospect feel difficult, prioritizing this time to connect is vital. Get creative — plan a date night at home, go for a walk, play a game, or make dinner. Remove distractions like television or phone interruptions to take time to tune in and have “we” time. During this time, ask a lot of open-ended questions and come prepared with how you’d like to connect and follow up on shorter check-ins throughout the week.

State of the Union

1 hour per week. Start with five things you appreciate about your partner. Then take time as the speaker and listener to outline current difficulties or conflicts you’d like to express. The goal isn’t to solve all of the problems but to have protected time to put your fears, concerns and stressors on the table and hopefully understand what’s really going on with your partner. If needs go unmet, your partner is likely to feel isolated. The opportunity to simply listen may create natural pathways to feeling empathy for your partner and may lead to a natural resolving of conflicts. See this article for a detailed description of how to hold a State of the Union.

Bottom line: Life is imperfect, and a lot of times we can’t measure the amount of time we put into our relationship. Think about hitting all six areas, identify which needs more attention and celebrate what you’re already doing. Maximize on what’s working in your relationship and consider talking with your partner to decide how you might add some of these components to strengthen your connection and foundation to a better relationship.

Topics: Mental Health,

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Mandy Doria, MS, LPC