I often hear couples say things such as, “I am a golf widow on the weekends”, or “she would rather spend time going out with her friends than with me”. This speaks to me of hurt feelings and the relationship not being prioritized. Stan Tatkin calls this mismanagement of “thirds”.
In a securely functioning couple relationship, there is only room for two. Any other person or entity outside of this relationship is considered a third. Thirds can be wonderful things like children, friends, family members and in this post hobbies. However, when these entities infiltrate the couple relationship and one or both partners feel secondary, there is a problem that can and will very likely snowball over time.
Play, creativity, exercise and having personal hobbies is very important. Otherwise life gets too mundane and focused on work and tasks. It is not the hobby itself that is the problem. However, when hobbies become the soul source of time spent outside of work or too large of a focus with one or both partners, the relationship inevitably takes a back seat.
What are the signs that your hobbies are creating resentment for your partner, causing cracks or even eroding away at the foundation of your relationship?
- You plan or engage in your hobby without consulting your partner first, and they are not okay with this.
- Your partner does not look at you or appear to be listening when engaging in the hobby.
- One or both of you complain to the other that you can never seem to find time together.
- When one partner feels sad, overlooked, angry or defensive when the other partner engages in their hobby.
- When hobbies are used as a regular escape from important things that need to be addressed in the relationship.
- When hobbies are used as an excuse to get away from one’s partner.
- When patterns of addictive behavior with regard to the hobby are noted by one or both partners.
- When partners regularly do not engage in one on one time together because of the hobby.
When you notice time spent engaging in hobbies is taking time away from your relationship and it feels bothersome, it is time to address this with your partner. If you feel upset, I highly recommend speaking up as soon as possible. If this goes unchecked, it will very likely become more difficult with time. How can you address this in your relationship?
Talk about down time in advance of down time. Remember, the hobby itself is not the villain. Hobbies are useful and necessary in our lives and should NOT be abandoned. It is typically the time spent engaging in hobbies that becomes the source of contention with couples.
Talking about how we are going to spend the weekend before the weekend rolls around is a good practice. It is proactive in nature. If both partners feel clear and decide together ahead of time, there will be less reactivity.
Engage in mutually enjoyable activities together. Do you both love to run? Do puzzles? Travel? Doing mutually enjoyable activities together not only creates valuable time to connect as a couple, it actually stimulates dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps us to experience pleasure and develop memories associated that are pleasant.
When hobbies are enjoyed together, dopamine release provides an extra boost that create feelings of positive association, shared experience and well-being for couples. This has great potential to make partners feel closer and more bonded with one another.
Give each other grace and permission to engage in enjoyable activities. We all deserve a break from the grind. We all deserve to play, be creative and have fun. We all deserve to find something that makes our lives feel lighter. When time is negotiated well, both partners are in agreement and the relationship feels tended to beforehand, hobbies can be embraced in good faith and relished.