Stronger Marriage

Do Couples Who Play Together, Stay Together?

Do Couples Who Play Together Stay Together?
by Glen O. Jenson, Ph.D.
Department of Family and Human Development
Utah State University

Generally speaking, married couples now have more discretionary time than previous generations. Vacation time is more readily available from places of work and couples have more resources available to them to use in financing discretionary time. Financial institutions often encourage borrowing money against the equity in a home to finance a needed vacation. The Federal Government has led the way in declaring additional national holidays and arranging the celebration to coincide with Fridays and Mondays, giving most workers several three-and four-day weekends. Flexible work schedules allow individuals to work longer hours at a time and, in return, have longer periods of time away from work. Retirement ages continue to decline, allowing couples to retire from the workplace at an earlier age. At the same time all this increased time is becoming more readily available, the divorce rate in America has stabilized and in some areas declined. What impact is increased leisure time having on the marital relationship? Do couples who play together stay together?

Dr. Dennis Orthner, one of the leading researchers in leisure time use of marital couples, says, "Yes" and "No" to the question, "Does playing together help couples stay together?" Research findings suggest that playing together in jointly-shared leisure activities significantly enhances marital satisfaction for couples who have been married five years or less and for couples married eighteen or more years; but for those couples married somewhere between six years and seventeen years, how they spent their leisure time did not seem to make a significant difference in their marital satisfaction. The explanation is that couples in the early years of marriage and again after eighteen years are both undergoing significant relationship adjustments. The early years of marriage are full of adjustments to living with each other. Those married eighteen years are more are adjusting to children leaving the home and facing the middle years of their own life.

Leisure time activities apparently give way to pressures of parenting and career demands after the marriage gets launched and the family starts to come. Other studies regarding marital satisfaction indicate that levels of marital satisfaction decline after the fourth or fifth year of marriage and stay at a lower level until the children get to the age of starting to leave the home for college and marriage.

Shared leisure time allocation seems to contribute to enhanced marital satisfaction in the early and later years of life, but there is no reason to believe that it distracts at other times. Couples would be well advised to develop shared leisure activities during the courtship period that will carry over after marriage. Hopefully, the sharing of leisure time activities could become part of the marriage relationship so as children are launched, couples will not have to relearn how to share their leisure time. Even though research findings do not show shared leisure having a significant impact during some of the marital years, it might be, if more leisure time were shared by couples during the child bearing and rearing years. Husband and wife could find added enjoyment and marital strength from participating in leisure-time activities together, or, in other words PLAYING TOGETHER. Shared activities do help couples stay together, especially during times of greatest adjustment.

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