The Best Way for Couples to Create Quality Time Together
Research reveals how successful couples maintain the fun and the romance.
Posted September 20, 2019 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Most couples can attest to the value of spending quality time together. This time often includes sharing experiences—participating together in activities both partners enjoy.
But beyond personal pleasure, does shared enjoyment bring couples closer together? And do both partners have input into what activities or preferences they plan to enjoy? According to research, the answers to both questions appear to be yes.
Sharing and Savoring
Katherine A. Lenger and Cameron L. Gordon in a study entitled “To Have and to Savor” (2019), examined the relationship between savoring and relational satisfaction. [i] They defined savoring as the “tendency to attend to and enjoy previous, current, and future positive events.” They further defined three components of savoring as “savoring in anticipation, savoring the present moment, and savoring in reminiscence.”
Lenger and Gordon explain that savoring is different than mindfulness in the sense that it applies exclusively to pleasant experiences. Are you the type that always has to be reminded to stop and smell the roses? Not to worry. They explain that savoring can be improved with practice; this is time well spent, because savoring is linked to a variety of indicators of well-being including self-esteem, life satisfaction, and positive affect, as well as less guilt and depression.
Collecting data from 122 undergraduate students who were in monogamous dating relationships, Lenger and Gordon found that savoring was indeed linked with relationship satisfaction. When it came to specific facets of savoring, total savoring—as well as its three component parts—all predicted relationship satisfaction. But anticipation was uniquely predictive, well above the other two components.
What does that mean as a practical matter? As the authors explain, intentionally experiencing and enjoying the positive emotions associated with looking forward to an event is the sub-component of savoring that is most strongly linked to relationship satisfaction.
Companionship and Compromise
A discussion of sharing and savoring necessarily includes the component of selection. Whether deciding on a movie or a meal, happy couples are likely to consider both personal and partner preference. But in what order? Research reveals the selfless answer.
Ximena Garcia-Rada and colleagues, in an article entitled “Consuming together (versus separately) makes the heart grow fonder” (2019), found that romantic couples prioritize shared preferences over individual preferences when choosing an item to share with a partner. [ii]
They found that when consuming an item together (vs. separately), partners will sacrifice their preference to attain alignment with a partner. They explain that joint consumption creates a shift in motivation from utilitarian (eating to satisfy hunger) to hedonic (creating a pleasant evening).
Accordingly, joint consumption makes consumers consider a partner's affective reactions to specific items, as well as the larger experience, which prompts selections that are less preferable out of a desire to please their partner.
When Selection Involves Sacrifice
As a practical matter, successful relationships often involve similar behavioral routines, particularly when it comes to compromise. If one partner loves action movies and the other prefers love stories, with today's vast movie selection available both on and offline, they stand a good chance of finding a compromise. If one partner prefers Westerns, however, while the other is a Star Wars fanatic, meeting in the middle might be more problematic.
Accordingly, Ximena Garcia-Rada and co-authors emphasize the importance of sacrifice. Many couples share that one of the secrets of their success is to look at the big picture when it comes to single decisions. Parents do this with their kids all of the time (some would say for 18 years). Prioritizing the interests and goals of loved ones fosters closeness, bonding—and ideally, reciprocity.
Yet not everything a couple does is done together. What about personal decision-making regarding personal matters? Obviously, partners make many daily decisions on their own time to satisfy their own needs. Everything from choosing where to go for lunch, what book to read during a bit of down time, or what exercises to do at the gym would fall into this category.
Although we understand prioritizing autonomy when buying personal items, what about when buying a car? Ximena Garcia-Rada and colleagues point out that for couples, some personal decisions impact both parties. They note that purchasing vehicles, appliances, or furnishings for the home involve shared consumption. Accordingly, many such decisions involve joint decision-making.
Proactive consideration of partner preference promotes healthy relationships. From fast food to home finance, from movies to moving, couples making decisions as a team are on the road to relational success.
[i]Lenger, Katherine A., and Cameron L. Gordon. 2019. “To Have and to Savor: Examining the Associations between Savoring and Relationship Satisfaction.” Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice 8 (1): 1–9.
[ii]Ximena Garcia-Rada, Lalin Anik, and Dan Ariely, “Consuming together (versus separately) makes the heart grow fonder,” Marketing Letters, March 2019, Volume 30, Issue 1, 27–43.