- Married partners tend to spend 3.3 waking hours alone together a day, but only an hour if they are parents.
- Research consistently finds a link between partners' shared leisure time and relationship health.
- Leisure time alone together benefits relationships more than leisure time together with others.
How do you spend time with your romantic partner? Is it with other people or alone? Are you working (e.g., doing chores, on devices) or are you mindfully interacting?
The hustle and bustle of daily life can make it tricky for some partners to carve out alone time, and when they do, they might not spend it in ways that best support relationship health. Emerging research identifies the importance of leisure for relationship well-being, and reveals common ways (some healthy, others not) that romantic partners enjoy each others' company.
Together Time Can Be Hard to Find
Remember when you first met your significant other? For many partners, the early days of dating are defined by get-to-know-you time, often in the form of shared leisure (e.g., date nights, hanging out, etc.). With time, partners lives become more intertwined and their prioritizing of alone time often changes as well. Such a transition may reflect an important next step in a relationship, but it can, if not given good attention, potentially jeopardize a critically important part of a healthy relationship.
On average, today's married partners spend about four waking hours together a day (data from 2012; Genadek et al., 2016). These four hours represent "total time" together: They could be in the car, with family, at events, etc. Time spent specifically alone together, and not with other people, amounts to about three-and-a-third hours a day—but this number is specific to non-parents (Genadek et al., 2016). Parents tend to have especially busy schedules, filled with meeting the needs of little and not-so-little people. Not surprisingly, romantic couples who are parenting tend to spend much less time alone together: only about an hour a day.
Together Time Predicts Relationship Well-being
Time with a partner might be hard to find, but it's important. Research has consistently shown a link between partners' shared leisure time and markers of relationship health, including satisfaction, love, and stability (Berg et al., 2001; Dobson & Ogolsky, 2022). People might be busy, but partners who take time to enjoy each other are engaging in critical relationship maintenance. Note: It's not "total time" this research focuses on; it's leisure time. Think date night, not time washing dishes or running errands—that is, unless you experience washing dishes or running errands as leisure.
Indeed, one framework for understanding leisure defines core leisure activities as those that are typical, accessible, familiar, and felt as fun, even if they might not be obvious couple leisure time. Core leisure activities might include playful dishwashing or fun times at Trader Joe's, watching TV together, or sharing a nice meal. Core leisure activities are joined by balance leisure activities, which amount to special, planned events like attending a concert, dining out, or vacations (Zabriskie, 2000)—what most people think of as leisure.
Common Ways Partners Leisure
So what do partners do when they want to spend real quality time together, the kind that might bring them closer? According to one study, which asked about 200 New Zealand women to identify a primary leisure activity (Girme et al., 2014), romantic partners recreate together by:
- Going on a get-away (about 25 percent). This received the most nominations as a promising leisure activity, with respondents identifying trips or breaks, like a weekend away, as a key form of leisure for enhancing relationships.
- Engaging in sports (about 20 percent). If you're a couple that exercises together or enjoys the occasional bowling evening, you're in good company. Respondents commonly said engaging in sports is how they leisure with their partner.
- Dining together (about 20 percent). A classic dinner date, at home or out, is a common form of couple leisure.
- Hobby time (about 14 percent). Do you enjoy antiquing with your partner or going ballroom dancing? Many respondents use common interests as a way to leisure together.
- Movies and TV (about 5 percent). Catching the summer blockbuster or binge-watching a favorite series is a primary activity some people leisure with their partners.
- Hanging with friends (about 5 percent). Some people view socializing with others (friends, family) as leisure time that brings them closer to their partner.
- Other activities. Respondents also nominated, if less frequently, other activities like shopping, spending time talking, and working on home renovations as ways they recreate and feel close to their partners.
Healthy Leisure Can Take Different Forms
There's no doubt that going on a desired vacation or getaway has the potential to support relationship health. A strong line of research supports the idea that novel and exciting activities build relational closeness (Aron et al., 2000).
But don't discount everyday core leisure. Recent research suggests romantic partners feel closer when they spend the kind of sedentary time together that includes TV watching (Pauly et al., 2023). TV watching might not be exciting, but it creates an opportunity for relationship maintenance behaviors, like sharing humor, talking on the side about tasks, and offering affection (Yoshimura & Alberts, 2008).
A key idea in leisure science is that being satisfied with how involved you are in leisure, as a couple, is a better predictor of relationship satisfaction than engaging in a specific type of leisure (Johnson et al., 2006). So if you're not a sporty couple or you can't afford getaways, no worries: Simple forms of leisure can be equally helpful if you find them satisfying.
Together Alone Is More Important Than Together
It might not matter what you do for couple leisure, but it does matter with whom. Research shows that leisure with a partner and no one else appears most important in predicting greater satisfaction (Dobson & Ogolsky, 2022).
In other words, socializing as a couple with friends or family is fun, but in terms of supporting relationship satisfaction, couples that spend time with just each other have the edge.
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Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(2), 273.
Berg, E. C., Trost, M., Schneider, I. E., & Allison, M. T. (2001). Dyadic exploration of the relationship of leisure satisfaction, leisure time, and gender to relationship satisfaction. Leisure sciences, 23(1), 35-46.
Dobson, K., & Ogolsky, B. (2022). The role of social context in the association between leisure activities and romantic relationship quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 39(2), 221-244.
Genadek, K. R., Flood, S. M., & Roman, J. G. (2016). Trends in spouses’ shared time in the United States, 1965–2012. Demography, 53(6), 1801-1820.
Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C., & Faingataa, S. (2014). “Date nights” take two: The maintenance function of shared relationship activities. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 125-149.
Johnson, H. A., Zabriskie, R. B., & Hill, B. (2006). The contribution of couple leisure involvement, leisure time, and leisure satisfaction to marital satisfaction. Marriage & family review, 40(1), 69-91.
Pauly, T., Lüscher, J., Berli, C., Hoppmann, C. A., Murphy, R. A., Ashe, M. C., ... & Scholz, U. (2023). Let’s Enjoy an Evening on the Couch? A Daily Life Investigation of Shared Problematic Behaviors in Three Couple Studies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 01461672221143783.
Yoshimura, C. G., & Alberts, J. K. (2008). Television viewing and relational maintenance. Studies in applied interpersonal communication, 287-307.
Zabriskie, R. B. (2000). An examination of family and leisure behavior among families with middle-school-aged children. Indiana University.