In a new twist on the old adage about good things coming in small packages, marriage counselor Holly Birkeland says the secret to strengthening your relationship can come in "tiny bits of time" together.

"I'm talking about 15 minutes here or there," she said. "After the kids leave the dinner table, spend 15 more minutes together lingering over a cup of coffee. Eat breakfast together. Or call up your spouse every now and then say, 'Let's go to lunch today.'"

Birkeland was responding to a recent survey in which 29 percent of respondents said what they'd like the most in their marriages is more time alone. She doesn't know who those folks are, but they're sure not coming into her office at Rekindle Counseling in Edina.

"I'm not seeing that at all," she said. "I'm seeing clients who feel they've grown apart. They need more time together. No one's complaining about not having enough time apart."

Birkeland cites studies recommending that couples spend 5 1/2 hours a week together interacting. The key word is "interacting."

"I don't mean going to your kids' games and watching them play," she said. "I mean talking to each other, really paying attention to each other, the way you did when you were dating."

Couples with crowded calendars often roll their eyes at the notion of finding 5 1/2 hours of free time. That's when Birkeland tells them to think small.

"The notion of finding a block of time can be intimidating," she said. "If you can arrange a date night, that's great. But you also can do this a little bit at a time."