This deleted chapter from the book The Smart Stepmom offers practical advice for keeping romance alive in your marriage. Read Part 1 here.
In a survey of over 50,000 stepfamily couples Dr. David Olson and I (Ron) found a previously hidden treasure that we titled the Fun Factor [ref. 1]. This study examined 15 aspects of marriage (e.g., communication, sexuality, spirituality, relations with family and friends, etc.). We discovered that among all the factors nearly 20% of what accounted for a highly intimate stepcouple marriage was shared leisure activity. In other words, a regular dose of fun is a huge contributing factor to marital health, stability, and satisfaction for remarried couples.
In one portion of the survey the couples who were thriving in a stepfamily advised other couples in similar circumstances to, “Take time to be together away from the kids” and to “Re-energize your marriage with enjoyable experiences.” The study discovered that the couples who had the strongest marriages respected the spouse’s unique interests and hobbies, but also prioritized shared activities over individual activities. In contrast, the couples with the weakest relationships were three times more likely to be dissatisfied with the amount of fun in their marriage.
When comparing the strengths of first marriages to those in stepcouple marriages, our research discovered that shared leisure time and fun is more significant for stepcouple success than for first-marriage success. The survey did not reveal why this is true but one theory I (Ron) have is that because stepfamily life is inherently more stressful than biological family living, stepcouples need more to ease the tension. The antidote to the stress factor might be the fun factor. Be intentional, then, about engaging in activities that bring pleasure and enjoyment to your marriage.
One key role of the Fun Factor is that leisure time is spent together. In other words, leisure time spent a part doesn’t count. Craig is an avid golfer. He plays a round of golf every chance possible. He also watches golf on TV, and purchases a new set of clubs every two years. His wife, Michelle, enjoys running and wood carving. Each spouse respects the other’s preference and “covers the bases” at home so the spouse can enjoy the activity. However, Craig and Michelle rarely do anything together. In this scenario, the separate activities provide enjoyment and aid physical health. But only shared leisure activities will contribute to the relational health of their marriage.
When dating the excitement of a new relationship ignites the desire to find time to be together, but finding time together after the wedding can be a challenge. At the beginning of their relationship Craig (the golfer) and Michelle (the runner) did share fun times together such as dinner and a movie. But the pressures and the frenzy of family, work, church, kid’s sporting events and other responsibilities have squeezed out this crucial element. If they desire a healthy marriage they would be wise to restore and recover what has been lost.
What activities did you and your husband enjoy together before you got married? It’s possible that there were fewer kids in the beginning or his visitation schedule may have conveniently carved out time to be together. Regardless of the reason it’s important to discuss with your husband ways you can proactively restore those relaxing opportunities. This might require adding a few dollars into the budget for activities or babysitting. If you are serious about creating a solid marriage it’s not a luxury but a necessity. And leisure time doesn’t need to be expensive; it can be as simple as bowling, a trip to a coffee shop, zoo or an art gallery. Even a nearby park can provide a much needed sanctuary. The idea is to spend time alone with your spouse, not necessarily to spend money.
Set boundaries around your couple time. One stepmom and her husband made this decision. “My husband and I have to be protective of our time together. One of his sons is very needy and wants to compete with me for his dad's time. I brought this to my husband's attention, and now we are being more aggressive with our ‘alone time.’ I, too, have children that want more of me. Now the kids know that at it's mama and daddy time, and if we don't get that time alone, everyone will suffer.”
As long as dad is spending some quality time with his kids during the day, it’s perfectly okay to set this type of boundary for the evening.
Ron L. Deal is President of Smart Stepfamilies and co-author with Laura Petherbridge, a divorce recovery expert and women’s speaker, of The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive! Visit www.SmartStepfamilies.com and www.TheSmartStepmom.com.
ref. 1 Ron L. Deal & David H. Olson, The Remarriage Checkup,Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.
"Nothing prepared me for what I have experienced as a stepmother over the last almost 12 years. It has been one of the most challenging, painful, lonely, difficult experiences of my life... It has also been one of the greatest learning experiences I have had—and much of that is due to the hope and knowledge I have received from reading your website, your books, and recently participating in a webinar... I am grateful that you have made your life’s work providing resources, direction, information, and hope for the many people struggling with stepfamily issues. With gratitude I am making a donation to the Stepping Forward Campaign."