I have heard that people who play together stay together. As I pondered the concept of companionate love which is considered feelings of affection and consistent love between interdependent romantic partners who share their time and activity together, I wondered how much of a role mutually shared extracurricular activities play in keeping long term relationships together. The scientific research on shared leisure time activity and the correlation with strong, long-lasting relationships is very compelling. Adding mutually loved and shared leisure time activities to a romantic relationship can increase the rewards in a relationship, and perhaps increase the network overlap that helps create and sustain a positive relational culture for a couple.
One of the preeminent researchers on marital relationships is Dr. John Gottman. He is one of the Top 10 Most Influential Therapists of the past quarter-century and is the author or co-author of over 200 published academic articles and more than 40 books on relationships. He and his wife Julie are the founders of The Gottman Institute where a plethora of information is available about relationships. In Dr. Gottman’s latest book ‘The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work’, he outlines his decades of research which can be found in summary on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/FrqjIxsapA0
The principles for making a marriage work according to Dr. Gottman are:
- Know partner intimately.
- Nurture your fondness and admiration for each other.
- Turn toward each other with time and attention to form trust and emotional connection.
- Let your partner influence you while working as a team.
- Solve your solvable problems.
- Overcome gridlock.
- Create shared meaning with rituals, goals, and memories.
Shared leisure time activity certainly helps create rituals, goals, and memories in a relationship. As we consider the time and activities spent in a relationship, I believe it is vitally important to have activities that both people in a romantic relationship love to do, and love to do together. Those activities might include playing music, golfing, camping, road trips, sightseeing, traveling, mudding, cooking, gardening, biking, running, sports clubs, boating, gaming, dancing, card games, weight training, building, yoga, adventure dates, martial arts, art classes, karaoke, or even volunteering for organizations you are both passionate about.
In addition to creating shared meaning and memories, these types of activities decrease boredom and sitting around just watching TV. Activity infers better health, and better health infers better sex. Mutually enjoyable activities can spark creativity and passion in a relationship. Mutual activity develops rituals and traditions, boosts general happiness and positive feelings, and promotes cooperation. Finding other couples that share your passion for these activities and participating in them all together creates network overlap and provides additional emotional support for a couple.
Many studies indicate that leisure activity is an important part of the glue that holds relationships together. In a study of 1,187 couples, couple leisure involvement was a very strong predictor of marital satisfaction (Ward, 2014). Other studies indicate that the best predictor of marital satisfaction was satisfaction with leisure involvement (Johnson, 2006), and that the couple leisure satisfaction and marital satisfaction has much to do with our social relatedness need and that the fulfillment of this psychological need is particularly important for relationship functioning and well-being (Amato, 2016). Relatedness refers to the desire to feel loved, feel connected to others, and be meaningfully participating in the broader social world. These scientific studies, combined with the some of the aspects of shared meaning, show how important it is to have a partner that shares a mutual interest in similar leisure activities.
I want to leave you with a final thought from Dr. Gottman: He believes that successful couples are proficient at balancing the positive to negative emotions in a relationship with a 5-to-1 ratio. Conflict is an inevitable part of close relationships and can take a negative emotional toll. Putting these two ideas together shows that even though we may experience some conflict, balancing out that conflict with positive emotions via enjoyable regular leisure activities as a couple may very well tip the scales toward a more positive experience in a relationship, and may be what keeps two people together. So, do people that play together stay together? Most certainly.
Amato, M.P., Lundberg, N., Ward, P.J., Schaalje, B.J. & Zabriskie, B. (2016) The Mediating Effects of Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness During Couple Leisure on the Relationship Between Total Couple Leisure Satisfaction and Marital Satisfaction, Journal of Leisure Research, 48:5, 349-373, DOI: 10.18666/JLR-2016-V48-I5-7026
Johnson, H.A., Zabriskie, R.B., CTRS, & Hill, B. (2006) The Contribution of Couple Leisure Involvement, Leisure Time, and Leisure Satisfaction to Marital Satisfaction, Marriage & Family Review, 40:1, 69-91, DOI: 10.1300/J002v40n01_05
Ward, P.J., Barney, K.W., Lundberg, N.R. & Zabriskie, R.B. (2014) A Critical Examination of Couple Leisure and the Application of the Core and Balance Model, Journal of Leisure Research, 46:5, 593-611, DOI: 10.1080/00222216.2014.11950344