Ron L. Deal
President, Smart Stepfamilies
Before marriage most couples spend regular time engaging in fun, entertaining activity together. In fact, that’s how they fall in love with each other. Blended family couples tend to date each other without the children and engage in leisurely activities that facilitate emotional bonding. But after the wedding, half of couples struggle to find enough leisure time together. They are missing the fun-factor.
Ty and Andrea met on the tennis court. Every Saturday for a couple 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 lots of sports which became a central hub of their time together. Once they married, however, the trick for Ty and Andrea—and lots of other couples—became maintaining their couple fun in the midst of their complex blended family.
Road Blocks to Shared Leisure Time
Sometimes spouse’s ideas of what constitutes a good time is a barrier to shared fun. Nearly one-third of couples just don’t agree as to what is recreational . Another block to shared leisure time relates to the personality differences of partners. Some people are more outgoing and seek social connections while their partner has less of a need for social situations.
One possible resolution for couples whose ideas of fun or personality preferences vary is to find the balance between individual recreation and 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 sacrifices would have to be made. For example, last weekend when Virginia’s kids were at their father’s house, Ed decided to go shopping with Virginia. Ed’s willingness to occasionally join his wife while shopping results in a positive marital exchange that is much appreciated by his wife. Ed doesn’t shop because he enjoys it; he does it because it pleases his wife and strengthens their bond. His sacrificial heart brings about a shared smile.
Strong blended marriages have an active, shared leisure life. When definitions of fun differ, partners, like Ed, seek a balance between giving one another the freedom to pursue individual interests and making sacrifices so they can spend time together. Other couples just naturally share the same idea of what’s fun and they pursue it on a regular basis.
Todd and Jennifer have similar ideas of what is fun or relaxing. Because Todd and Jennifer enjoy gardening together they talk about 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 couples experiences. 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; 79% of them respect each other’s unique interests and find a balance between leisure time spent separately and together . But they work to ensure that individual time doesn’t come at the expense of the marriage. However, 44% of unhealthy couples feel that one or both of the partners is indulging themselves to the detriment of the relationship.
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.
Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies, a popular conference speaker, and author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family.
 Ron L. Deal & David H. Olson, National Survey of Couples Creating Stepfamilies. Results outlined in the forthcoming book The Remarriage Couple Checkup.