When my husband and I first married, we thought we needed to do things together all the time. We thought we needed the same friends, and we thought we should engage in the same activities if we wanted a better marriage.
After a while, things got a little … difficult … as it became clear that sometimes we don’t feel like doing the same thing. I like to travel, but my husband finds it inconvenient and unpleasant. I started resenting the fact that we never went anywhere, and he felt annoyed at my constant nagging for weekend getaways.
We generally have the same taste in movies (action/adventure/comedy), but I don’t understand his sometimes interest in 300-style gore-fests and he doesn’t get my occasional hankering to watch a political thriller. So, while movie night doesn’t usually degenerate into a fight, we do occasionally run into dissatisfaction with the entertainment choices.
At some point, though, we realized that trying to spend all our leisure time together wasn’t working out so well. I stopped waiting for him to feel like traveling, and started looking for ways to go on trips alone, or with my son. Now, when one of us is gone (out with friends or out of town), the person staying home binges on movies and TV shows the other person doesn’t like.
It turns out that breaking the relationship “rule” of doing things together as a couple all the time might actually be better for our marriage.
Building a Better Marriage By Cultivating Your Own Interests
While it’s clear that you want to have a good relationship with your significant other, and you should enjoy each other’s company, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your time together. In fact, there is research that indicates that doing things apart can help you build a better marriage.
According to the research, if you spend too much time doing what your spouse likes — but you don’t care about — dissatisfaction with your marriage is likely to rise. I can see where constantly doing what your spouse wants while not doing what you want to do, can be challenging in a marriage. You’re always unhappy because you feel like it’s always about your significant other. While marriage should be about giving, at some point you also need to feel as though you are receiving.
Even if you “take turns” doing what the other wants, things can degenerate into a tit-for-tat in which you keep score. That’s rarely a recipe for a better marriage.
In the end, you can improve your relationship by cultivating your own interests, and giving your significant other space to do what he or she wants. My husband doesn’t mind that I travel without him, and he encourages me to do so since it makes me happy. At the same time, I don’t get upset when my husband wants to spend time with his friends. While I have met a lot of his friends, my husband nevertheless likes to hang out with them on his own. He doesn’t really care to have his worlds collide.
Does this mean that we never spend time together? Of course not! Most days, my husband comes home and we spend all evening together. On weekends, we frequently go out to eat or watch movies as a family. My husband is around to help our son with homework and we have a lot of interesting discussions about life, religion, psychology, and politics.
Spending some time apart, though, has only helped us build a better marriage over time. We each get some freedom to do what we enjoy, and we are happier for it. My husband can spend a couple days visiting his friends while I stay with my family when we travel West, and I attend conferences twice a year, and take short day trips with my son. We do our best not to let our individual interests completely overtake our “together” time, but we also recognize that we need to respect each other’s space and make room for individual differences and interests.
When you see the other person as an independent entity who needs space, just as you need space, you can create a better marriage.
I love that this article includes a “Seinfeld” clip.
Honorable mention: By the end of “The Engagement,” George has started to realize he has made a mistake by proposing to Susan earlier in the episode. As the closing credits roll, you see George and Susan in bed together, and you hear the “Mad About You” theme. Susan is smiling, but George is definitely not smiling. They don’t say a word to each other. It’s classic.