12/10/2012 12:53 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

The 10% Rule: Parents, Do Less to Connect More!

We live in an era of super-parenting, a phenomenon that stems from a desire to excel in every aspect of life, from exercise to income to childrearing. Parenting excites, concerns and engages us to, sometimes, obsessive degrees.

We're hyper-vigilant about the choices we make for our kids (e.g., schools) and those they make for themselves (e.g., friends). We monitor what we do or say, or don't do or say to our children, and are sensitive to what they do or don't do, say and feel.

Many parents, myself included, bestow money and attention on children unmatched by previous generations. I read recently that today's parents, including moms working outside the home, spend more time on average with kids than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s.

All of which means super-parenting is super-exhausting. Still, we believe that putting 110% into raising our offspring is well worth the effort, given the payoffs for us (not just them), such as: The satisfaction of giving our all to something so important; remedying deficiencies in the parenting we received; and, hopefully, raising amazing kids.

Yet being super-parents means we often run on empty when it comes to caring for our relationships with spouses, or tending to ourselves, especially if we're single parents.

As a relationship coach who works with parents, and as a parent with a spouse, I grapple with this issue professionally and personally on a daily basis. After watching many an exhausted couple -- my wife and me included -- try to stay connected amidst the demands of super-parenting and the super-efforts we put into other aspects of life, I propose we all abide by what I've dubbed "The 10% Rule":

Forget giving your all to your relationship and start giving 10%.

Don't try hard to reconnect with your spouse? Don't throw yourself into the task at hand with the same energy, commitment and high standards you apply to pretty much everything else in your life, especially your kids?

Nope. Don't. I know this sounds odd. After all, you take pride in your achievements, value hard work and, most importantly, teach your children to do their best.

But when you're already expending 100% on your kids, or at the office, or both, sometimes 10% is your best. Plus, the price you pay for believing you should devote yourself as fully to relationships as to other commitments is often too high:

You try to plan a fancy date-night. You try to book an adults-only vacation. You try to calendar a block of time for inspiring foreplay followed by stupendous sex.

You try, and then you fail. The planning takes so much effort that you lose steam. Or your mega-efforts rarely deliver a mega-connection. Disappointment then blinds or, worse, stops you from fully enjoying and appreciating the more modest -- dare I suggest, realistic -- bond, or even trace of a bond, that actually occurs.

So my motto is: Go for 10%. Put a little effort into your relationship, just a fraction or a smidge. Then sit back and see what happens.

If you expend 10% effort, you often succeed in making a plan happen. If you exert yourself 10%,, you're more likely to embrace the small connection that results or accept its absence in stride. If 10% brings you and your spouse closer -- even if it doesn't -- you're more willing to risk 10% again. String a bunch of 10% efforts together and, before you know it, you're 80 or 90 or 100% connected!

10% examples:

  • Instead of a fancy date-night, throw cushions on the floor, light a candle and dine on takeout at the coffee table after the kids are asleep. Or if that's too much effort, open a bottle of wine and cozy up at the kitchen table.
  • Instead of an adults-only vacation, take a few hours and try something new together (new experiences often enhance connection).
  • Don't have a few hours? Take a 15-minute walk around the block. Feeling cozy? Hold hands while walking.
  • Need to reconnect more before holding hands? If humor's an ingredient in your relationship-satisfaction, or it once was, watch an episode of a ½ hour comedy you both love or tell each other your favorite jokes. 10%. That's it.
  • Still yearn for the mega-stuff? Do that, too! But don't delay connecting a little today for the possibility of a big bonding experience tomorrow, or next month, or next year.

Like life, relationships unfold in the incremental passage of time; in minutes and hours, in fleeting moments. So the next time you feel disconnected from your spouse or yearn for more closeness, store the big romantic plans in a to-do file, and spend 10% effort on making something small, but meaningful, happen. I'm 90% sure you won't regret it.