The famous saying "families that play together stay together" could also extend to include "couples that play together stay together." Joint leisure activity and recreation are the fancy names experts use to describe play. In other words, they describe adults having a fun time together. Play is not just for kids. You are never too old to participate in wholesome, fun, recreational activities, and doing so has benefits.
In the past, the majority of researchers looked for a positive relationship between play (or joint family leisure activities) and how satisfied people were with their family life. However, husbands and wives were the participants in those studies, not children, and they felt like family life was much better when the family played together. Digging further, researchers asked couples if spending time doing fun things together increased how satisfied they felt in their marriages. So far, the findings are looking good, and there is a positive connection between couples' playing together and feeling satisfied with their marriages.
These findings tell us that playing and spending fun time with your spouse can improve your marriage. Some of the reasons why this is so are expressed below, as well as types of activities that are beneficial. Regularly hanging out with your spouse, just for fun (literally), can do the following:
- Renew your marriage
- Improve positive communication between you
- Help you develop a stronger friendship
- Solidify your marriage at its core
Why Joint Leisure?
Renew your marriage. If you feel like your marriage could use a good pick-me-up, try hanging out with your spouse and doing recreational activities together. According to family life and recreation scholars, taking time for recreation together will "renew" your marriage. You will relate to your spouse in new ways by playing together in a variety of settings. You will learn to depend on each other for fun..
An older woman invited her husband to garden with her. She had grown flowers for decades, but always by herself. Her husband admired the garden, but considered it his wife's domain. He was delighted and slightly intimidated when she asked him to join her. Week after week she passed on her knowledge, showing him how to use the tools, how to handle bulbs, and how and when to prune. He came with her when she shopped for pots and plants and fertilizer. They worked side by side from season to season. Over time, the couple saw gardening as a major gift to their marriage. Their friendship grew and deepened and they grew more satisfied with their marriage. They had renewed their marriage just by spending more recreational time together..
Decrease boredom. Recreation will also make life more exciting and fight off boredom. Try something new with your spouse. What kinds of activities could you take on together?
- Try a dance class together.
- If one of you is a golfer, give your spouse a lesson or two.
- Read novels together.
- Help someone in need together, and keep it a secret!
- Take early morning walks.
- Go camping together.
The possibilities are endless. Try one out and watch your boredom disappear.
Increase positive communication. Did you know that playing together as a couple is related to positive communication (encouraging each other, being friends)? By playing together you'll increase the friendship in your marriage because of a new common interest. You can talk to each other about your new experiences. Playing together can also make conversation lighter. You'll be able to talk about things that aren't about being a parent or a provider. This will make it easier to relate to each other as friends, and friendship is at the core of a successful marriage.
What Kinds of Activities?
Recreational activities come in a wide variety. Some can be long-term and character building, some light and "just for fun", and other can become part of your routine. The point is that you are doing things together, as a couple. Plan some activities, but also allow yourselves to be spontaneous. Be flexible with each other.
Intentional activities. Intentional activities (activities you plan to do, and set aside time for) are best, because they're much more likely to happen. Intentional activities can be large things like weekend trips, training for a marathon shopping sprees, or they can be small and simple, like playing sports, starting new hobbies, going to cultural or sporting events, or even taking classes. "Be choosy" about how you spend your recreational time together. Make some of it educational. You can even get involved in your community.
Everyday activities. Don't worry about planning out all of your leisure time, however. The unplanned stuff is sometimes the best kind of recreation|whether it's playful or "getting things done." Working around the house counts as recreational if you're doing it together. One study found that extravagant outings were less important to couples than the little, everyday things they did together. In fact, being satisfied with everyday activities played the biggest role in couples feeling satisfied with their marriages.
Be flexible. Make sure that both of you are happy with how you're spending your leisure time together. Couples that are flexible and able to adjust to each other's needs feel more satisfied in their marriages. Find a balance between activities you're both used to and new activities. Talk with your spouse to make sure their needs are being met. Being flexible means listening to what your spouse says, being willing to try new things, repeating old, fun, activities, and changing how much time you spend on activities, when necessary.
In conclusion, couples that will look carefully at how they spend their leisure time together are bound to feel more satisfied in their marriages. Remember, a lot of things can be recreational. Feel free to use whatever activities work for you and your spouse. Some can be work-like and others can be fun and playful. What activities you choose are not as important as just spending time together. Playing together not only helps couples stay together, but it also makes the time that you spend together better. Playing together also makes conversation a happier experience for couples. Making some of the separate leisure activities in your life into shared adventures with your spouse will strengthen your friendship and lead to a more fulfilling marriage.
Written by Staci Albrechtsen, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Baldwin, J. H., Ellis, G. D., & Baldwin, B. M. (1999). Marital satisfaction: An examination of its relationship to spouse support and congruence of commitment among runners. Leisure Sciences, 21, 117-131.
- Duncan, S. F., & Freeman, P. (2005). Protecting and balancing family time. In C. H. Hart, L. D. Newell, E. Walton, & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.) Helping and healing our families: Principles inspired by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" (pp. 264-269). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- First Presidency and Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (November 1995). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign, 25, 102.
- Holman, T. B., & Epperson A. (1989). Family and leisure: A review of literature with research recommendations. Journal of Leisure Research, 16, 277-294.
- Holman, T. B., & Jacquart, M. (1988). Leisure activity patterns and marital satisfaction: A further test. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 69-77.
- Kalmijn, M., & Bernasco, W. (2001). Joint and separated lifestyles in couple relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 639-654.
- Presvelou, C. (1971). Impact of differential leisure activities on intraspousal dynamics. Human Relations, 24, 565-574.
- Shaw, S. M., & Dawson, D. (2001). Purposive leisure: Examining parental discourses on family activities. Leisure Sciences, 23, 317-231.
- Smith, G. T., Snyder, T. J., & Monsma, B. R. (1988). Predicting relationship satisfaction from couples' use of leisure time. American Journal of Family Therapy, 16(1), 3-13.
- Widmer, M. A., Cherrington, D. J., Hill, E. J., & Hill, B. J. (2001), Wholesome family recreation. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 190-201). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
- Zabriskie, R. B., & McCormick, B. P. (2001). The influences of family leisure patterns on perceptions of family functioning. Family Relations, 50, 281-289.
- Zabriskie, R. B., & McCormick, B. P. (2003). Parent and child perspectives of family leisure involvement and satisfaction with family life. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(2), 163-189.