Why does it seem to be so difficult to create time to spend together? We all want to spend more time with our spouse and do more together, but so often it doesn’t fit into the schedule and we don’t quite get around to doing it.

Sometimes the truth hurts. Today we’re going to give you two key strategies for creating more time with your spouse – what you can actually do to create the time together that you want to have. The first one is really helpful. The second one is also very helpful, but it could be rather painful…

The Importance of Making Time For Your Spouse

Numerous studies support the idea that spending time with your spouse is important to the health of your marriage. That’s no shock!

One study looked at 280 couples and how much time they spent together. They came back to those same couples fives years later to see how they were doing. The study found a positive relationship between shared leisure time and marital stability (the marriage enduring to the end of the five years). On the other hand, marital dissolution (divorce or separation) was associated with less shared leisure time.[i]

The two activities most associated with marital stability were recreation (active recreation activities such as bowling, swimming, skating, skiing, fishing, boating, camping, and pleasure drives) and TV Watching.[ii]

The first one I understand, but the last one surprised me! Caleb and I are biased against the consumption of TV. From what we hear listening to other couples though, it seems that some couples get really into the story of shows together and that becomes a point of common interest, discussion, interaction etc. But we don’t know!

What do you think? Do you find that watching TV is a positive, shared point of contact between you? What do you watch? What does that do for you? Let us know here or in the comments below.

Leisure time is also associated with greater marital satisfaction. Another study states that the most satisfied couples spend about 50 percent more waking hours with each other than the least satisfied couples.[iii]

These are just two studies but it is common sense and supported by the research that spending time together makes for a more satisfying marriage.

So What Makes Spending Time Together So Hard?

A study in 2011 looked at just over 4000 households to determine what household characteristics predicted couples’ time together. The results highlighted two areas that were significantly correlated with spending less time together:

  1. long working hours, and
  2. small children in the household.[iv]

Interestingly, they found that the differences between the ability for single-earner and dual-earner couples to spend time together was small – as soon as one spouse has to go to work, it becomes difficult to do things together.

Obviously, we can’t all quit our jobs to spend time with our spouse… so what can we do?

What You Can Do to Spend More Time With Your Spouse

Here are two strategies for you to think about. The first is to look at your roadblocks and then redefine them as opportunities. The second is to do the harder, value-laden work of deciding what is most important to you. That’s where we get to the more painful stuff.

Redefine Seemingly Unmoveable Restraints as Possible to Work Around

Every couple has “restraints” to work around. Restraints being all of the activities they are required to complete in a day – things like work, school, childcare, housework, etc. All these demands can appear inflexible and impossible to work around, but are they?

Fein said that couples can create more leisure time together by…[v]

  1. Postponing housework
  2. Arranging alternative care for children
  3. Taking paid or unpaid leave
  4. Doing nonmarket activities together (work that is unpaid such as housework and childcare)
  5. Reassess who contributes to housework and other household demands
  6. Connecting at different times. For example, Caleb would love to connect after supper, but with little munchkins around that wasn’t possible. We would work hard as team to put the kids to bed (and train them to stay there and be quiet!) so that we could have our together time after the kids were in bed.

Studies suggest that the time spend on housework is gender-specific in terms of how it affects couple shared time. Sorry husbands, but the truth speaks! The researchers found that when husbands increase their share of housework, there is also an increase in marital interaction (frequency of shared activities). The same result was not found when wives increase their share of housework.[vi] Ouch.

Another study showed that men and women vary in how they report shared leisure time with their spouse. Husbands report spending more time with their wives than wives report spending with their husbands and are more likely than wives to report the time they do spend together as a joint leisure activity.

“For example, while husbands may engage primarily in one leisure activity (such as watching television), wives may at the same time also be doing household chores.”[vii] You can see how there would be a difference in viewing that same time as “joint leisure” time!

So, as a couple, one thing you should do is talk to each other about what you consider to be time together and what you each do NOT consider time together, even though you’re together!

For us, gathering with our church is something we love to do together, but we don’t consider it together time. See the difference?

According to Fein, “husbands also report more leisure time overall (separate and joint)”[viii] giving them more time to spend on household chores, freeing up time to later spend as a couple.

Husbands, if you get in there and help your wife, you can probably create that together time just from your added effort. You can imagine how unattractive it is for your wife to know that you’re waiting for her to finish her household chores so that you can make her feel special with together time. Don’t be that guy…

Another thing to consider if your work hours. If your job has long hours and the alternative is less pay, would you BOTH accept a lower standard of living in exchange for a higher standard of marital satisfaction?

To summarize this first strategy: look at your apparently fixed constraints or limitations and figure out how you can work around them. This really is about putting your money where your mouth is.

Prioritize and Choose What is Most Important to You

The first strategy was the most obvious – the whole idea of making time. Here’s the clincher though: although factors such as long work hours to make it more difficult to find time to spend as a couple, studies also show that time restraints such as this aren’t the biggest factor.

Fein states that “in the long run, decisions about the amount of time couples allocate to work and other demands may be influenced by the quality of their relationship and how much time they want to spend together in leisure and other discretionary activities.”[ix]

He believes that the crux of this issue is how much you want to spend time with your spouse and what you are willing to give up to make that happen.

It is about how you allocate your time, choosing to give up other activities for the sake of couple time. How did Fein come to these conclusions? Listen to this quote:

“Although each additional hour of work represents one less hour of potential couple time, the results…show that hours spent working do not necessarily come at the expense of couple time. One reason is that couples may choose to spend an additional hour of time doing something other than being together. Another reason may be that when they lose potential couple hours to work, couples elect to share with each other more of their time in other activities.”[x]

The question needs to be asked then if work is your excuse (or your spouse’s), is that the real issue?

This is the part that hurts. We don’t want you to be hurt, but sometimes we have to confront the truth – that we’re deliberately withholding time from our spouse. Or they’re doing that to us.

I don’t know why that is, or how you got there, but if this is you, and you’re feeling pain, reach out to us. We’d love to hear your story because we’ve had a number of people tell us this is an issue in their marriage, and we’d love to know, in your marriage, what you think the root cause is for not having enough time together?

Is it fair to say it’s not about having small kids or too much housework as much as it’s about the choices you’re making to do other things instead of making time for each other? I don’t want to be harsh but I do want to be a voice of honesty and realism in your marriage.

Priorities Makeover

If this was a punch in the gut and you realize you need to change something, download this worksheet. It takes you through these pieces one by one with some excellent questions to get you thinking about how you can move from where you are today to having more time together and really connecting.

[i] MARTHA S. HILL, “Marital Stability and Spouses’ Shared Time,” Journal of Family Issues – J FAM ISS 9, no. 4 (1988): 427–51, doi:10.1177/019251388009004001.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] David Fein, “Spending Time Together,” Text, mdrc, (July 6, 2012), http://www.mdrc.org/publication/spending-time-together.

[iv] Ignace Glorieux, Joeri Minnen, and Theun Pieter van Tienoven, “Spouse ‘Together Time’: Quality Time Within the Household,” Social Indicators Research 101, no. 2 (April 2011): 281–87, doi:10.1007/s11205-010-9648-x.

[v] Fein, “Spending Time Together.”

[vi] Paul R. Amato et al., “Continuity and Change in Marital Quality Between 1980 and 2000,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, no. 1 (February 1, 2003): 1–22, doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00001.x.

[vii] Fein, “Spending Time Together.”

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

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