The 1 Surprising Activity That Can Bring Couples Closer
Experts reveal how sharing this particular hobby can build longer, stronger relationships.
By: Leah Maxwell
We’ve all heard it before: the key to a successful marriage is communication. Talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more. But what happens when all that talking is only ever about stressful topics, like money and jobs and schedules and kids? How do you turn off the noise and find your way back to being two people with shared interests that have nothing to do with family life and don’t make you want to bite your nails to the quick? One answer might be to start a book club ... with your spouse.
“There are many benefits to couples reading the same books,” says Francine Lederer, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. “Firstly, they are dedicating time toward relationship building. Putting forth ‘special’ time in your relationship to read and talk about books can be a bonding experience emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Also, a relationship is much more likely to be successful and long lasting when couples share common interests and hobbies.”
Often, simply putting in the effort to sit down and focus on something far outside the realm of bank statements or the family calendar can bring couples closer. Reading together “has become the thing that guarantees shared time together every night, no matter how tired we are,” says Kevin Sandler, a media expert in the English department at Arizona State University. He and his wife, Kristen LaRue-Sandler (also a member of the ASU English department), have found that reading a book together creates a space for them to escape the chaos of everyday life with two jobs and four kids under age 6.
“It’s the one time of day where I don’t have to strategize, soothe, design, clean, dress nicely, plan, negotiate, or take deep, calming breaths so I don’t yell at my kids or the guy who just cut me off,” Kristen says.
“It’s just our space.” Taking that time together, Kevin explains, “was selfish, a word that never enters our vocabulary anymore, and we were OK with that.”
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Even if couples find it difficult to regularly dedicate special one-on-one time to reading together in the same room, there is still a range of benefits in merely having a book in common to discuss. Therapists often use this method as a tool for helping couples learn to better understand each other’s perspectives and emotional responses to situations, says licensed psychologist and relationship expert Jeannette Raymond. According to Raymond, sharing a book can help partners understand that there are many ways to look at a situation. It allows for another perspective, highlighting the similarities and differences between people, “each having their own mind, without feeling like they must be at one in order to survive and feel secure,” she says. Couples who discuss books together “get to check out and discover how their partners receive the same information, alerting them to the fact that everything is not black and white; it’s the lens through which you look that determines how something is experienced,” -- a lesson with obvious benefits in real-life situations.
Whether a “spousal book club” becomes a type of therapy or is simply a way to momentarily forget your real-world responsibilities, experts emphasize the importance of making it a pleasurable experience rather than one more chore to add to the pile. “Research shows that people can grow closer by revealing and sharing new thoughts, ideas, and fantasies with each other, [and] reading a book and then discussing it is a fun and entertaining way for couples to grow closer,” says Ken Page, LCSW, an internationally renowned relationship expert, psychotherapist, and Psychology Today blogger. “Choose a book that you both are excited about, preferably one that is likely to inspire you both on some level, and then take a walk or a drive, or just cuddle up and talk about the book and your personal reactions to it. Be open and curious about your partner’s response, looking for new insights about their inner lives -- and watch how you both grow closer.”
Do you and your spouse ever read together?
Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.
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