Ty and Andrea met on the tennis court. Every Saturday for months, they secretly watched each other practice and play in an intramural country club league. Finally, Ty asked Andrea to play a match and the rest was history. Eventually they discovered a shared passion for sports, and that became a central hub of their time together.
Once they married, however, the challenge became maintaining their couple fun.
Ty and Andrea are not alone. When Dr. David Olson and I did research for our book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage, we found that many couples struggle to keep alive what we have called the fun factor. For example, blended family couples tend to date each other without the children present; they engage in leisurely activities that facilitate emotional bonding. But after the wedding, when the demands of parenting and work take over, half of these couples struggle to find enough leisure time together.
That’s a real shame. Especially since a regular dose of fun, relaxing time together predicts with 86 percent accuracy whether couples have a dynamic, fulfilling relationship or a dissatisfied one. How much better instead to keep the fun factor working on your behalf.
Making sacrifices for common pleasure
There are some common roadblocks to healthy leisure time spent together. Often spouses’ ideas of what constitutes a good time differ; nearly one-third of couples just don’t agree on what is recreational. Personality differences can also be a factor. Some people are more outgoing and seek social connections while their spouse has less of a need for social interaction.
What’s the answer? One possible resolution is to find a balance, and this might mean making sacrifices which seek a common pleasure.
Ed and Virginia have very different interests. He enjoys golf and restoring his vintage sports car. Virginia, on the other hand, would prefer to window shop every chance she gets.
For two years the couple just went their separate ways, but eventually they decided that if they were going to find time together, they would need to make sacrifices. For example, one weekend when Virginia’s kids were at their father’s house, Ed decided to go shopping with Virginia. Ed didn’t shop because he enjoys it; he did it because it pleased his wife and strengthened their bond. His sacrificial heart brought about a shared smile.
Maximizing your fun factor
Strong blended couples have an active, shared leisure life. When couples naturally have the same idea of what is fun for them, they easily pursue it on a regular basis. When definitions of fun differ, they seek a balance between giving one another the freedom to pursue individual interests and making sacrifices so they can spend time together.
Todd and Jennifer have similar ideas of what is fun or relaxing. Because Todd and Jennifer enjoy gardening together, they talk about it frequently and look forward to the next time they can get in the garden. Jennifer says getting in her garden with Todd is like taking a mini-vacation away from the stresses of daily living. And the anticipation of spending a few hours together extends the shared positive feelings beyond actually being in the garden.
Another strength of healthy couples is not letting individual interests interfere with their differences. For a vast majority of strong couples, leisure time together takes precedence over individual interests.
This is not to say that healthy couples don’t ever have individual interests. They often do. But they respect each other’s unique interests while at the same time finding a balance between leisure time spent separately and together. And they work to ensure that individual time doesn’t come at the expense of the marriage.
Unhealthy couples, on the other hand, feel that one or both of the partners is indulging themselves to the detriment of the relationship. They don’t know how to stay balanced.
All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but that’s only the beginning. It makes Jack and Jill’s marriage pretty dull, too. Fun, friendship, and romance is likely how your relationship got started. Be sure to intentionally keep it an active part of your relationship forever.
Learn to become more intentional with the fun-factor in your marriage.
1. Brainstorm a list of the leisure activities you enjoy together. Be sure to mention “biggies” (e.g., a seven-day cruise) and “little ones” (e.g., playing cards after dinner). A healthy marriage has some of both.
Now discuss which ones are easiest to implement at this stage of your life. Which ones have gotten lost in the stepfamily forest but you’d like to rediscover them?
2. List the leisure activities that you don’t enjoy doing together. It’s okay to have an individual interest or activity that you enjoy as long as investing in it doesn’t steal time from the marriage. Learning to appreciate each other’s separate interests is also respectful toward one another.
3. Implement a “Protect our time together” policy. Too many couples spoil their date night. An example of this is bringing up stressful or difficult issues to discuss. Couples may have matters that need attention, so they jump on the first opportunity they have away from the kids or office to talk. Unfortunately, that quickly sabotages the mood of the evening, and the fun fizzles out of their experience like air out of a popped balloon. Make a deal with each other not to discuss problem issues on date night. Just enjoy the time together.
1. Encourage couples to have a regular dose of play time together. You might even keep the church calendar open one weekend a month to encourage couple time.
2. Encourage couples to serve in ministry together. Many individuals find great reward in volunteering for a ministry, but don’t think to serve together as a couple. Intentionally encourage couples to teach children’s classes, chaperone a student event, or serve on leadership committees together.
3. Once a year organize a couple’s date night. You can provide child care and encourage the couples to have a structured dialogue that will deepen intimacy. I recommend the 10 Great Dates resources by David and Claudia Arp.
Copyright © 2010 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.