Meet, Catch, and Keep

A scientific look at the complexities of romantic relationships

How Much Time Should Couples Spend Together?

5 ways to find balance, and keep from pushing it.

What’s a healthy amount of time to spend with the person you’re dating? We all know those people who seem to dive headfirst into a new relationship, spending 24/7 with a new partner, but this sometimes comes at the expense of their other relationships. Meanwhile, other people feel like they have to fight their way on to their new partner’s schedule.

Where’s the balance? What is a healthy amount of time to spend with a significant other?

If 100 percent of the time is too much, and zero too little, let's try to figure out the sweet spot. Striking a balance is often harder than people might think: People are often strongly compelled to spend time with the new, exciting person in their lives. They crave opportunities to be in each other’s presence, and miss each other in their absence. This time together is healthy and necessary to cultivate a relationship and begin weaving two lives together. 

But work and life demands often impose realistic limits on the amount of time new couples can spend together. From unexpected work obligations on the weekend to sudden business travel demands, one partner’s professional goals and ambitions can impose stress on a relationship if the other partner expects a different level of availability.  

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New couples must also navigate time spent together with time that is typically devoted to friends and family. When people are in relationships, their availability to pre-existing relationships change. For example, studies show that women who more quickly increase time spent with a romantic partner more quickly decrease the amount of time they spend with their best friend (Zimmer-Gembeck, 1999). When friends complain that they never see you anymore, and your family wonders where you’ve been, the tricky nature of finding a balance becomes readily apparent.

Time spent alone can also be important for individuals in new relationships, though, and this alone time is just as valid as other needs. People benefit from time to reflect on their new relationship and time engaged in activities they love to do by themselves. In walking the tight rope between the demands of one’s work, family, and friends, and what the new relationship needs, engaging in self-care is equally important.

The goal, of course, is to find a balance in which both members of the couple are happy with the time they spend together, maintain their outside friendships and family relationships, make progress towards their professional goals, and give the relationship a chance to flourish. That’s a lot to balance. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Acknowledge individual differences. People need different levels of time with their partner.  Classic attachment theory research has shown that individuals oriented towards anxiety in relationships crave a great deal of time with their partners while individuals oriented towards avoidance often prioritize independence (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Don't expect your partner to mirror your needs.
  2. Check in with your new partner. The best way to see if you are devoting enough time to your relationship is to ask. Learn what your new partner needs and create a pace of increasing interdependence that works well for both of you.
  3. Listen to your friends. Friends are not only support systems, their opinions of your relationship predict your relationship success (Sprecher, 2011). Find ways to stay connected with your friends when you start a new relationship. Integrating your new partner into your friend group is a great way to maintain connected with your friends, while giving your relationship a new context in which to grow and develop.
  4. Keep a Date Night on the calendar. When work and other obligations take over the schedule, finding ways to keep your relationship a priority can make a difference. Offer your partner clear expectations for your availability during these windows of increased work pressure and hold up your end of the bargain by looking forward to a special night out or weekend away.
  5. Recognize the ebb and flow. As a new relationship evolves towards a committed relationship, the ebb and flow of different life stressors will translate into an ebb and flow of how much energy at any given time point each member of the couple can give to the relationship. As the relationship becomes the center of individuals’ lives, it becomes increasingly important to seize chances to nourish it with quality time together, while giving each partner the space they need to be the best partner they can in the relationship.

 

Follow me on Twitter for relationship related research articles, updates, and info @theresadidonato

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References

  • Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(3), 511-524.
  • Sprecher, S. (2011). The influence of social networks on romantic relationships: Through the lens of the social network. Personal Relationships, 18(4), 630-644.
  • Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (1999). Stability, change and individual differences in involvement with friends and romantic partners among adolescent females. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28(4), 419-438.

Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and assistant professor at Loyola University Maryland.

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