Q My wife tells me we need to communicate more. I agree, but between jobs, kids, schools and Church work, we barely see each other, much less have time to talk. Any suggestions?

A Unfortunately, you're not alone. A recent nationwide survey revealed that the average amount of time married couples spend each day in real conversation is four minutes. You read it correctly: four minutes!

Is it any wonder, then, why so many marriages are falling apart? We simply must do better. Here are a few commonly overlooked ways to maintain a strong marriage relationship:

DON't fall for the myth of “quality time” when it comes to your spouse (or your children). Quantity matters.

Think back to your dating days; you went to incredible lengths simply to be together, whether it was staying up all hours after a long day at work, or driving cross-country for just one romantic day. No way would you have settled for the idea of quality time then; don't settle for it now.

DON't let technology monopolize your evenings. Ban mindless channel and Web surfing. Decide ahead of time the shows you'd like to watch each week, if any, and don't turn on the TV until then. Set a strict time limit for yourself on the computer. No more Internet widows and widowers!

DO schedule a specific time each week for catching up with each other, but don't stop there.

Scheduled communication time works well when you need to resolve a specific issue — how to best handle a disciplinary problem with one of the kids, for example. For some, it works well when it comes to maintaining your marital friendship also.

For others, staring at your spouse for your allotted 30 minutes saying, “Okay, now let's talk!” is forced, at best. It can also be very intimidating for husbands: “What am I supposed to say?” is a typical male response. With time you might get the hang of it.

DO have fun together!

You'd be surprised at the number of couples we've worked with who can't answer the question “What things do you enjoy doing as a couple?” It doesn't have to be anything elaborate like ballroom dancing, but every couple needs to have a common interest, hobby, or service project — something that they can look forward to doing together.

If volunteering for your parish is a priority, then consider choosing ministries in which you can serve together, like teaching children's liturgy, working with engaged couples, or being RCIA sponsors.

We are both movie buffs, so we love to rent DVDs for a date-night in our own living room. We also have a few favorite TV shows we follow. To avoid taking away from family time, we record them. Then on an evening when the kids are asleep, we watch our shows. A small thing, yes, but we both look forward to it.

And why not meet for lunch, talk on the phone during the day, or plan a date-night once a month? These are the little things that keep us close.

Tom and Caroline McDonald are co-directors of the family life office of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

Reach Family Matters at familymatters@ncregister.com