Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


A Prescribed Schedule Can Affect Relationships

The ticking clock and the pressure of a prescribed schedule.

Key points

  • A social clock involves the prescription of the right time to do something.
  • This clock is socially constructed, it differs from era to era, and is influenced by social media.
  • A social clock can create stress for a person trying to attain what they view as the normal milestones.
Courtesy of Pixabay, geralt
Source: Courtesy of Pixabay, geralt

Jennifer and Tim have been married for four years and are in their late 20s. They have a wonderful marriage and enjoy the time they spend together. Both also have demanding jobs and lofty career goals. Recently both sets of parents, eager to have grandchildren, have begun asking about when they will start a family. Both Jennifer and Tim want children, but a family is not in their five-year plan. Jennifer has also noticed a shift in her social media, the pictures of her friends going to bars and clubs have shifted to Mommy and Me classes. It also seems as if her friends talk only about babies. Jennifer is starting to feel pressure to have a baby, even though she doesn’t feel ready.

A social clock involves the prescription of the right time to do something. People tend to use this term in conjunction with leaving home, getting married, securing a job, starting a family, and other milestones. It is important to realize that not only is this clock socially constructed, and as such, differs from era to era, but it can be influenced by the media (especially social media). Take for example #relationshipgoals, in which people feature perfectly curated photos of their best relationship moments. This can create a lot of stress for a person trying to attain that sometimes unrealistic, filtered depiction of perfection. People may feel they must go on elaborate vacations, have an over-the-top proposal with a flash mob, or post photos of a big, perfectly posed family. However, there are many paths to creating a bright and rewarding future and what is depicted in the media is not reality.

Psychologist Bernice Neugarten, who introduced the social clock theory, shared that age norms can influence both our thinking and behavior. Therefore, people have certain beliefs about when life transitions should occur.

The following may help you remember when the pressure starts to increase

1. Focus on yourself and your relationship.

What is right for one person or couple, may not be right for others. Additionally, what is presented on social media, often does not reflect reality. You and your partner may want to set goals that work for the two of you and then evaluate your progress in meeting them. For example, the two of you may want to prioritize financial security so that you can buy a house. Great. Set up a plan for monitoring your finances. You may want to focus on your careers. Perfect. Come up with individual goals you each have in the workplace and then discuss ways in which you two can support one another.

2. Practice acceptance

Acceptance is not approval but rather the acknowledgment of circumstances as they are. This is a concept in therapy and helps people to relinquish the what-ifs so that they are present-focused. It helps us to understand that something isn’t inherently good or bad but just is. If you and your partner are feeling the pressure mount, address it with one another, and be sure to practice acceptance of your current situation. Focus on what is, rather than what is not.

3. Establish boundaries

When it comes to family members or friends inserting their views of what you should be doing, it is important to set clear boundaries. You can thank them for their interest but be clear, the life you have created with your partner is between the two of you.

Remember that the goals you and your partner have are fine as they are; don’t compare them to the goals set by others.


Neugarten, B. (1972). Personality and the aging process. The Gerontologist, 12(1), 9-15.

More from Marisa T. Cohen PhD, LMFT
More from Psychology Today