Why Should a Couple Plan to Be with Each Other When They Are the Happiest?
Introduction: One of the most controversial positions I take regarding marriage is that a husband and wife should be together for their favorite recreational activities. Whatever it is they enjoy doing the most, they either do with each other, or they don't do it at all.
Some feel that I am out to destroy marriage with that suggestion, not save it. After all, how can a husband and wife survive each other in life unless they are able to get away once in a while to have some fun.
"You are meddling, Dr. Harley! I need something to look forward to, and _______ is absolutely essential to my survival," is the response I often hear from spouses when first introduced to the idea. "There are some things a man and woman simply cannot enjoy together, and yet are essential to their happiness."
But my advice is not based on ivory tower speculation. It's based on years of observation. Couples who spend their most enjoyable time together tend to have great marriages, and those who do not, tend to divorce. Furthermore, I have witnessed hundreds of couples who have given up activities that only one enjoyed for activities that they both enjoyed. None went crazy, and almost all of them were very happy that they made the change.
My goal is saving marriages, and I achieve that goal by helping a husband and wife fall in love with each other. They fall in love by being with each other when they are the happiest (depositing love units), and avoiding unpleasant experiences (withdrawing love units) when they are together. Since the purpose of recreational activities is to create enjoyment, it makes sense for a husband and wife to spend their recreational time together. It's one of the easiest ways to deposit love units.
And yet, almost every day I am asked to explain again why it's so important for couples to spend their most enjoyable recreational time with each other. The following letter provides me an opportunity to defend my position from a somewhat different perspective. If my answer persuades you to follow my controversial advice, it may save your marriage.
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband and I just finished listening to the Recreational Companionship portion of the prerecorded Marriage Talk radio programs and I have a question. What if my husband engages in an activity that is VERY important to him, but the group he is with won't allow women to attend. In his case, it is fantasy baseball draft time.
He loves going every year and he stays overnight out of town to participate. He arranges his schedule so he can get off work early to get there in time for the draft. I would love to attend with him, but women are not invited. I don't want to cause embarrassment or put pressure on him, but I do want to be included. He tells me that it is an exclusive male thing. "No Honey - this is just for the guys." Every year I dread fantasy baseball season, first because it is gambling and costs around $1,500, and secondly because I am not included.
I would appreciate any advise that you can give.
You ask a very important question because it gets right to the core of what it takes for a man and a woman to be in love with each other throughout life. But before I answer your question, I would like to review what makes a marriage satisfying, and what makes it intolerable.
It's been my experience that the single most important factor that determines the success or failure of marriage is being in love. When most couples first talk about divorce, the most common explanation is that one or both spouses are no longer in love with the other. But when that love is restored, the threat of divorce ends.
After years of trying to save marriages the traditional way, which did little to restore love in marriage and did not save many either, I decided to change my entire approach. If I really wanted to save marriages, I would have to teach couples to fall in love with each other. From that moment in my professional career right up to the present I have been studying what being in love is, what causes us to fall in love, and what causes us to fall out of love.
As it turns out, falling in and out of love is not as much of a mystery as some literature and music make it out to be. Love is simply an emotional reaction that is triggered by repeated associations of very good feelings with a person of the opposite sex. Technically, we can fall in love with anyone of the opposite sex if we feel particularly good whenever we are with that person.
Courtship usually follows a plan that is intended to create the feeling of love. Each person makes an effort to make the other one happy, and if they are both successful, they deposit enough love units in each other's Love Banks to trigger love for each other. And the recreational activities that they enjoy together are usually an essential part of the plan because it's one of the easiest ways to create happiness.
Sadly, once a couple marry, they usually think that their love for each other will never leave them. They do not understand that unless they continue to associate each other with their best feelings (deposit love units), they will lose that feeling of love that motivated them to marry in the first place. So after marriage, and especially after children arrive, they do not make a special effort to spend their favorite recreational time with each other. Mind you, they usually don't put an end to recreational activities; they simply stop doing them with each other. They squander their opportunity to deposit love units into each other's love banks.
There are some couples, Charlene, like you and your husband, who try to compromise regarding recreational activities. They spend some of their recreational time with each other. But they spend their very favorite recreational time apart. Your husband's participation in fantasy baseball draft is a good example.
My problem with his plan is that it not only squanders the opportunity to deposit the most love units in the shortest amount of time, but it also tends to make the time he does have with you much less enjoyable than it would have been.
Contrast has more of an effect on us than most people think. We can thoroughly enjoy a particular activity until something more enjoyable comes along, and when that happens we're suddenly bored with the prior activity. So when your husband has a terrific time without you, the time he spends with you will pale in comparison. It will not deposit the love units that it should, and his feelings for you will tend to suffer. On the other hand, if you choose to spend all of your recreational time together, particularly the time you look forward to the most, you will maximize the love units you deposit.
Of course, if you and your husband were to have had this understanding at the time you were married, we wouldn't be having this discussion. You would either have joined him in the fantasy baseball draft, or he would never have gone in the first place. But just because he has started down the path of leaving you out of his most enjoyable activities, doesn't mean that you can't correct the mistake.
I'm a firm believer that once you're married, everything you do, whether it's with each other or not, should follow the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). The reason I am so adamant in my support of this rule is that even when you are not together, the things you do are likely to effect each other, depositing or withdrawing love units.
For example, your husband's exclusion of you in fantasy baseball draft hurts your feelings. The entire time he's gone he will be losing love units from his account in your love bank. And then, when he returns home, the contrast effect I mentioned earlier will negatively effect his feelings about what you both do together, which will tend to withdraw love units from your account in his love bank. If you and he were to be together for the draft, or find an alternative recreational activity that you could enthusiastically agree to enjoy together, none of these love bank losses would result. Instead, you would both be depositing love units.
The Policy of Joint Agreement would have prevented you from getting into this mess in the first place. But now that you're there, it can help get you out. By simply following the rule now, your husband should not attend this yearly draft unless he has your enthusiastic agreement. Either he gives up the event entirely, or he includes you in it. If this group of men do not invite their wives, perhaps there would be another group where wives are invited.
When you and your husband were dating, you spent almost all of your recreational time with each other. That's one of the reasons you fell in love with each other. And you married because you were in love.
But after marriage, especially after children arrive, it becomes increasingly difficult for most couples to arrange their recreational time together. You probably followed the common strategy of new parents which is for one parent to stay home with the children while the other escapes from it all.
Marriage, and raising children, can force a husband and wife to be together when they are unhappy, because they become partners in situations that are stressful. So after having children, it's even more important for them to spend their most enjoyable time with each other, than it was when they were dating. They need to compensate for the stressful time they spend with each other raising their children by taking time to escape together.
Sadly, most people do not understand this important principle until it's too late. When you lose your love for each other, then you don't want to be with each other at all. Things go from bad to worse in a deteriorating marriage, because the solution to the problem, having your most enjoyable time with each other, is intentionally avoided. When you are out of love, you would rather be with anyone than with each other.
Right now, you want to spend your leisure time with your husband, but if he continues to exclude you from his favorite recreational activities, you will eventually exclude him from yours. Sooner or later, you won't want to be with him because you will have much more fun without him.
Don't wait until that happens to you. While you are still in love, plan to spend your most enjoyable time with each other because your love for each other is one of the most important things you have in life.
I've written two Q&A columns on the subject of recreational companionship that you should not overlook. They are "What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 1)," and "What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 2)." I have posted these two columns to help you find new recreational interests that you can enjoy together when one of you loses interest in an activity that you may have shared in the past.
The Recreational Enjoyment Inventory is now available through the Marriage Builders® web site. Here is the link:
On a related theme, another Q&A column I've posted wrestles with the complaint, "We Don't Spend Enough Time with Each Other." Neglect not only withdraws love units, but it turns out to be the single most important reason that women divorce men, and they divorce men twice as often as men divorce women. The article, "Why Women Leave Men," gets right to the core of this issue, and hopefully after reading it, your husband will avoid the pain expressed by so many men who now understand the issue, but find that it's too late for them to save their marriages.