Couples Help: The Power of Shared Activities

As a psychologist and relationship therapist, I frequently hear stories of couples drifting apart; couples that were once close and seemed to share in the joys and adventures of life slowly started to look more like roommates with little in common other than an address.

In many of these instances, the marriage or relationship seems to take the following path:

Phase I:

A high level of excitement and interest in each other and in what the other person enjoys (hobbies, various career and recreational pursuits);

A willingness to participate in one another’s interests (directly, by joining or indirectly, by showing support and curiosity);

The shared energy of each partner/spouse is one of adventure, awe and openness—like the wonderment of a child discovering a new playground, couples in this phase seem to freely engage in what each brings to the relationship table.

Phase II:

This shift can be slow or quite abrupt, depending on the couple’s particular relationship dynamics. What was once an eager participation in the other’s interests and enjoyments starts to take greater effort, and a reluctance to make that effort becomes evident;

Over time, participating (and even supporting) the other’s interests can start to feel like a laborious sacrifice. Resentments and keeping score (“Now it’s your turn to do what I like”) may become the norm;

The shared energy of each partner now takes on a reluctant quality: “OK, I’ll do this for you.” Frequently the unspoken implication of the “sacrifice” is: “Don’t ask me to do this too often” and “You owe me.”

Phase III:

When couples enter this phase, a level of disengagement occurs around each other’s interests;

Each person begins to redirect their energies to their own interests, often at the exclusion of the other;

The energy and attitude of the relationship now takes the form of: “You do your thing and I’ll do mine… Maybe we’ll catch up later”; Couples in this phase report feeling lonely due to the level of disengagement. The danger exists that one or both partners can become increasingly prone to getting their intimacy needs met elsewhere.

As couples pass from phase I to phase III, they will experience a dwindling of emotional intimacy and connection. It’s as if you and your partner start to live parallel lives with little that joins irrespective worlds and makes you feel like a team.

Distinguishing Personal Interests, Shared Interests Versus Shared Activities

Some couples have many shared interests (for instance, cooking or music or sports) while others simply do not. Personal interests are what you find psychologically meaningful, whether they involve a hobby, career, creative or spiritual pursuit. In other words, you experience some kind of intrinsic value from the activity, such as enjoyment, being challenged, awe, etc.

We each bring our personal interests into our relationship. Sometimes those interests will mesh with your partner’s interests, or your partner might adopt something that interests you as their own. In either case, the personal interest now becomes a shared interest. But this doesn’t happen to every couple.

When you and your partner do not have shared interests, it becomes important to find some type of activity you both might enjoy or find interest in. These shared activities may not be something you would do on your own (these activities do not necessarily trigger a personal interest), but in the process of engaging in these activities together, the shared experience becomes the priority. These can be silly or creative or intellectual activities–there should be few limits placed on what you try.

Just remember that the togetherness is what’s paramount.

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