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“Date nights” take two: The maintenance function of shared relationship activities

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One-hundred and ninety-six individuals (Study 1) and 83 couples (Study 2) reported on their shared relationship activities—activities that individuals engage in with their partner to facilitate closeness in their romantic relationships. Couples also reported on the quality of their shared activities and relationships 3 months later (Study 2). Results indicated that shared activities help to sustain relationships, and do so beyond threat-based maintenance strategies (i.e., accommodation). Activities that were satisfying, stress-free, and increased closeness predicted greater relationship quality concurrently and longitudinally. However, positive activity and relationship outcomes depended on the degree to which partners were dedicated to the activity, indicating that shared activities sustain relationship quality only when partners are responsive and want to share relationship activities.
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Shared Relationship Activities 1
Copyright © 2014 by International Association of Relationship Research (IARR).
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This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the final, authoritative
version of the article. The final article will be available, upon publication, via the citation and
doi below:
Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C. & Faingataa, S. (2014). ‘Date Nights’ take two: The
maintenance function of shared relationship activities. Personal Relationships, 21, 125-
149. doi: 10.1111/pere.12020
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Shared Relationship Activities 2
‘Date Nights’ Take Two: The Maintenance Function of Shared Relationship Activities
Yuthika, U. Girme1
Nickola C. Overall1
Sivailele Faingataa1
1School of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Shared Relationship Activities 3
Abstract
One hundred and ninety six individuals (Study 1) and 83 couples (Study 2) reported on their
shared relationship activities activities that individuals engage in with their partner to
facilitate closeness in their romantic relationships. Couples also reported on the quality of
their shared activities and relationships three months later (Study 2). Results indicated that
shared activities help to sustain relationships, and do so beyond threat-based maintenance
strategies (i.e., accommodation). Activities that were satisfying, stress-free and increased
closeness predicted greater relationship quality concurrently and longitudinally. However,
positive activity and relationship outcomes depended on the degree to which partners were
dedicated to the activity, indicating that shared activities sustain relationship quality only
when partners are responsive and want to share relationship activities.
Keywords: relationship maintenance, relationship satisfaction, leisure activities, partner
responsiveness
Shared Relationship Activities 4
‘Date Nights’ Take Two: The Maintenance Function of Shared Relationship Activities
Committed partners engage in a variety of cognitive and behavioral strategies to
maintain their close relationships in times of relationship threat, including ignoring or
downplaying the attractiveness of alternative partners (e.g., Johnson & Rusbult, 1989),
sacrificing personal desires to support the partner’s goals (e.g., Van Lange, Rusbult, Drigotas,
Arriaga, Witcher & Cox, 1997), and accommodating or forgiving negative partner behavior
(e.g., Rusbult, Verette, Whitney, Slovik & Lipkus, 1991). These strategies are important in
protecting the relationship against threat and negativity, and are thus linked to less conflict,
greater relationship satisfaction, and lower probability of relationship dissolution (e.g.,
Miller, 1997; Rusbult et al., 1991; Van Lange et al., 1997).
However, given the central role relationships play in peoples’ lives, individuals
should be concerned with maintaining a close connection with their partner even when there
are no relationship threats. For example, there is evidence that people engage in more
everyday attempts to maintain their relationship in the absence of relationship threat, such as
openness (encouraging discussions about thoughts and feelings), positivity (acting in cheerful
and affectionate ways) and assurances (stressing commitment to the partner and the
relationship; Canary, Stafford, Hause & Wallace, 1993). These relational maintenance
strategies are associated with greater relationship commitment, satisfaction and partner liking
(Dainton & Aylor, 2002; Stafford, Dainton & Haas, 2000), and also predict relationship
persistence over an eight week period (Guerrero, Eloy & Wabnik, 1993).
In the current research, we assessed an additional type of everyday maintenance
strategy the shared activities individuals create to sustain or boost intimacy and closeness in
their relationship, such as regular ‘date nights’, shared hobbies, and leisure pursuits. In two
studies, we asked participants to identify activities they created to increase closeness and
intimacy. We then tested whether these shared relationship activities were successful in
Shared Relationship Activities 5
enhancing closeness and relationship quality, and the role the type of activity and the partner
played in the success of shared relationship activities.
Are Shared Relationship Activities Successful in Maintaining Closeness and Relationship
Quality?
The first aim of this research was to evaluate whether shared relationship activities
were successful in producing closeness and maintaining relationship quality. Some prior
research indicates that more time couples spend together engaging in joint activities is
associated with greater relationship satisfaction concurrently (Kingston & Nock, 1987;
Holman & Jacquart, 1988; Orthner, 1975) and longitudinally (Hill, 1988). Other research,
however, has found no association between time spent together and relationship satisfaction
(Berg, Trost, Schneider & Allison, 2001). However, the majority of these studies have
focused simply on the amount of time couples spend together, and have not directly targeted
the type or quality of activities that couples share.
In contrast, work stemming from the self-expansion model (Aron, Aron & Norman,
2002; Aron, Norman, Aron, McKenna & Heyman, 2000) suggests that activities that are
novel and arousing will boost satisfaction. The self-expansion model suggests that shared
activities that are exciting and novel generate new experiences and replicate the positive self-
expansion that occurs during initial relationship development, overcoming inevitable
relational habituation. Accordingly, Reissman, Aron and Bergen (1993) reported that couples
randomly allocated to spend more time together engaging in activities only experienced
higher satisfaction than couples assigned to no special activities when couples were engaging
in expanding “exciting” activities rather than non-expanding “pleasant activities. Other
studies have also shown that couples experience increases in satisfaction when randomly
allocated to participate in novel and arousing joint activities versus alternative mundane or no
special activity conditions (Aron et al., 2000; Carson, Carson, Gil & Baucom, 2007).
Shared Relationship Activities 6
These experimental studies demonstrate that it is the quality and outcomes of couples’
shared activities that should determine whether relationship activities are successful in
enhancing or maintaining relationship satisfaction. However, despite the advantages of an
experimental approach, the studies examining self-expansion processes did not capture the
shared activities that couples themselves create. In contrast, the studies reviewed above that
found no associations between couples self-generated activities and relationship satisfaction
did not assess whether those activities were successful in offering an opportunity for
satisfying interactions or building closeness and intimacy. In the current research, we asked
individuals (Study 1) and couples (Study 2) to identify activities that they themselves create
to spend more time with their partner, and assessed whether the quality of shared relationship
activities was concurrently and longitudinally associated with relationship quality.
Based on Aron and colleagues (2002) theoretical model, and a broader
interdependent perspective that highlights the importance of the frequency, diversity and
strength of interconnected activities between intimates (e.g., Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto,
1989), a key marker of relationship activity success should be the degree to which shared
activities foster closeness and intimacy. Closeness drives positive interpersonal processes,
such as self-disclosure, feeling understood and satisfied and fulfilling relatedness needs (see
Clark & Reis, 1988 for a review). Closeness also involves self-expansion processes as
individuals incorporate their partner and their relationship into their identity (Aron et al.,
1992). And, closeness facilitates relationship maintenance and longevity perhaps because
close partners are more able to work together and thrive both in routine life and when
encountering difficulties (Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989). Thus, our central prediction
was that shared relationship activities would boost relationship quality to the extent that
shared activities were successful in creating closeness and intimacy.
Shared Relationship Activities 7
Due to the inherent interdependence required between intimates engaging in shared
relationship activities, these activities could also provide an opportunity for disappointment,
dissatisfaction and tension in the relationship. For example, couples might have competing
activities they wish to engage in, different motivations for engaging in shared activities, or
one partner may not be as committed to engage in the activity as the other partner. Indeed, the
degree to which relationship activities are successful or experienced positively may depend
on (1) the type of shared activity, (2) the motivation behind activity generation, and (3) the
partners commitment towards the activity. We discuss these possibilities next.
Does the Success of Shared Relationship Activities Depend on Activity Type or Motivation?
A central element of the self-expansion model is that activities that are novel, exciting
and arousing are likely to boost closeness and relationship quality more than activities that
are relatively routine and pleasant (Aron, Aron & Norman, 2002; Aron, Norman, Aron,
McKenna & Heyman, 2000). Given the importance of self-expansion processes, we tested
whether shared relationship activities that were relatively more self-expanding (fun, novel
and exciting versus routine, relaxing and pleasant) were associated with greater boosts in
closeness and relationship quality. However, we also thought there might be a downside to a
focus on self-expansion if participants were motivated to engage in shared activities for self-
oriented reasons, such as their own enjoyment and fun. For example, a focus on one’s own
enjoyment and growth, such as playing tennis or organizing a holiday that fits with one’s own
preferences and goals, may do little to promote closeness and satisfaction if the partner does
not also enjoy the activity or it does not fulfill the partner’s needs.
Indeed, a foundational theme across relationship research underpinned by an
interdependence perspective is that relationships benefit to the extent that individuals focus
on their partner’s needs and the needs of the relationship rather than their own interests and
desires (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003). Thus, activities that are generated to support the
Shared Relationship Activities 8
development of the relationship or couple as a unit may have more relational benefits, at least
in terms of promoting closeness, building intimacy, and providing opportunities for satisfying
interactions that foster interconnectedness between partners. Thus, in addition to examining
whether the type of activity was related to relationship success, we also examined whether
participants’ described motivations for creating and engaging in shared activities shaped
activity outcomes. We predicted that shared activities that were oriented toward the partner
(e.g., to provide an opportunity to better understand the partner) or the relationship (e.g., to
create positive memories together), and thus involved attempting to enhance or develop
togetherness, would be more successful in maintaining relationship closeness and quality
compared to self-orientated or self-expanding motivations (e.g., the activity is fun, or because
the individual enjoys it).
What Role Does the Partner Play in the Success of Shared Relationship Activities?
The interdependent nature of relationship activities also highlights the important role
the partner is likely to play in the success of shared relationship activities. If Sally organizes
date nights with Harry to increase intimacy in their relationship, these will only be successful
if Harry enthusiastically participates. Research on leisure activities demonstrates that
individuals’ leisure activities are related to relationship satisfaction when partners are
supportive of the desired activity. Leisure activities desired by husbands, but disliked by
wives, are associated with wives marital dissatisfaction (Crawford, Houts, Huston & George,
2002). In contrast, when partners support individuals leisure running activities, this boosts
marital satisfaction (Baldwin, Ellis, Baldwin, 1999). Research on self-disclosure another
important maintenance behavior demonstrates a similar point. Disclosing one’s thoughts
and feelings facilitates intimacy and closeness only when the partner is responsive and also
self-discloses (e.g., Laurenceau, Barrett & Pietromonaco, 1998). Finally, relationship
improvement attempts only lead to more positive relationship evaluations if partners co-
Shared Relationship Activities 9
operate and also put in effort to change targeted aspects of the relationship (Hira & Overall,
2011; Overall, Fletcher & Simpson, 2006).
Thus, because people can only sustain their relationship if their partners are receptive
to relationship maintenance efforts, we predicted that shared relationship activities would be
more successful and individuals would be more satisfied with their relationships when
individuals perceived their partner was committed and dedicated to the individuals’ desired
shared relationship activity. When partners are less responsive and committed, however, we
expected that shared relationship activities would be less successful, and low partner
involvement and commitment would be associated with lower relationship quality.
Current Research
The current studies explored the use and success of shared activities that intimates
create to increase closeness and intimacy, and thus maintain their relationship. We asked
individuals (Study 1) and couples (Study 2) to identify an activity they do to spend more time
with their partner, describe their motivation to engage in that activity, rate the degree to
which that activity facilitated closeness and intimacy, and report on their overall relationship
quality. Our primary question involved whether shared relationship activities are successful
in maintaining closeness and relationship quality. We tested this by examining the degree to
which shared activities were associated with closeness and intimacy (Studies 1 and 2),
satisfying interactions and stress or tension within the relationship (Study 2), and the degree
to which these activity outcomes were associated with relationship quality both cross-
sectionally (Studies 1 and 2) and longitudinally over a 3-month period (Study 2). We
predicted that activities that facilitated closeness and intimacy would be associated with more
positive relationship evaluations concurrently and across time. In addition, in Study 2 we also
tested whether the quality of shared activities sustained relationship quality independently of
the most widely-studied relationship maintenance strategies accommodation, which is the
Shared Relationship Activities 10
tendency to inhibit negative behaviors and behave constructively in response to negative,
hurtful partner behavior (Rusbult et al., 1991). If shared relationship activities have a positive
impact on relationships over and above accommodation, this provides good evidence that
shared relationship activities are important in sustaining relationships.
Our second question involved whether the type and motivation of shared activities
was related to the success of relationship activities and relationship quality. Based on prior
research examining self-expansion processes, we assessed whether shared activities that were
self-expanding (or novel and exciting) were more likely to enhance closeness and
relationship quality. We also tested whether relationship-oriented motivations to engage in
shared activities, such as to spend time together and grow as a couple, were more successful
in building closeness and intimacy than self-oriented motivations, such as wanting to engage
in the activity because it is fun and exciting, or for one’s own enjoyment.
Our final question involved the role of the partner’s participation in determining the
success of shared relationship activities. Shared activities by necessity involve and rely on the
partner’s participation and the goals of shared relationship activities, such as spending time
with the partner, generating intimacy, and sustaining a close connection, can only be
achieved if the partner is also engaged and responsive. Thus, we predicted that individuals
would experience better activity outcomes, such as increased closeness, satisfaction and
relationship quality, when their partner also desired and was committed to the activity.
STUDY 1
Study 1 represented an initial exploration of the types of shared activities intimates
create to maintain their relationships. Participants first identified activities they engaged to
spend quality time with their partner. Participants then reported on their motivations for
engaging in that activity, how dedicated they and their partner were to the activity, and how
successful their activity was in creating closeness. We also gathered global relationship
Shared Relationship Activities 11
evaluations to examine whether successful shared relationship activities were associated with
greater relationship quality.
Method
Participants
One hundred and ninety six (108 female) individuals involved in ongoing romantic
relationships were recruited from a New Zealand University through fliers, posters, and email
announcements. Participants’ ages ranged from 17 to 58 years (M = 23.07 years; SD = 6.96
years). Respondents’ relationships were relatively long-term (M = 28.94 months, SD = 49.83
months) and 60% of participants reported their relationship as serious, living together or
married, 30% reported their relationships as steady, and 10% as casual. Participants were
reimbursed NZ$10 for their participation.
Procedure and Materials
Participants first provided background information, and completed the following
measures in addition to other scales not germane to the current study.
Relationship Quality. Relationship quality was measured using the short version of
the Perceived Relationship Quality Components (PRQC) inventory (Fletcher, Simpson &
Thomas, 2000), assessing satisfaction, commitment, intimacy, trust, passion, love, and
romance (e.g., ‘How romantic is your relationship?’; 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely). The seven
items were averaged to provide an overall index of relationship quality ( = .84).
Shared Relationship Activities
Participants were asked to identify an activity they do with their partner to spend
more quality time together that is motivated (at least in part) by a desire to increase closeness
and intimacy within the relationship. Participants were then asked to describe what motivated
them to do the activity. These open-ended descriptions were coded according to whether
participants’ shared activities were motivated by a desire to sustain the relationship versus for
Shared Relationship Activities 12
purely self-oriented enjoyment reasons (described further below). Participants then rated a
series of items regarding the activity they identified.
Dedication to the Activity. Participants rated the extent to which (1) they desired (1 =
no desire to participate, 7 = strong desire to participate) and were committed (1 = not
committed at all, 7 = extremely committed) to engage in the shared relationship activity, and
(2) the degree to which their partner desired and was committed to participate in the activity.
Ratings of own desire and commitment (r = .60) and ratings of the partner’s desire and
commitment (r = .72) were highly correlated and so these items were averaged to provide
separate indices of (1) own and (2) partner’s dedication to the activity.
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes. Participants were asked to indicate the extent
to which engaging in the activity brought them and their partner closer together (1 = does not
bring us close at all, 7 = brings us a lot closer) and provided meaning and satisfaction (1 =
does not provide satisfaction at all, 7 = provides a great deal of satisfaction). These items
were averaged (r = .60) to index the degree to which the activity created closeness in the
relationship.
Results
We first wanted to detail the types of activities individuals created to maintain their
relationships. The types of activities participants reported were independently classified into
ten categories by two of the authors (96% agreement, with discrepancies resolved by
discussion). As shown in Table 1, the principal activities participants reported included
travelling, holidaying or getting away together, playing sport or participating in recreational
activities, dining together and joint hobbies (representing 77.6% of activities). Smaller
categories included watching movies or television together, going shopping, talking, working
around the house or garden, and other social activities. We first examine the degree to which
Shared Relationship Activities 13
participants’ reported activities were successful in maintaining closeness and relationship
quality, and then consider whether activity type was related to activity success.
Are Shared Relationship Activities Successful in Maintaining Closeness and Relationship
Quality?
Descriptive statistics and correlations across rated variables are shown in Table 2. The
average ratings of shared relationship activity outcomes reflect that shared relationship
activities were generally successful in producing closeness and meaning. More importantly,
the more the shared relationship activity created closeness, the more participants evaluated
their relationship positively. This association indicates that individuals who were creating and
engaging in shared relationship activities were reaping the benefits from their attempts.
Does the Success of Shared Relationship Activities Depend on Activity Type or Motivation?
Activity Type. As evident in Table 1, many of the activities that participants identified
were fun, novel and exciting (e.g., going on holiday, attending concerts, or dance lessons)
and thus likely to facilitate self-expansion and counter relational habituation. To assess
whether relatively more self-expanding activities were more successful, two coders
independently rated the extent to which relationship activities were fun, novel and exciting
versus routine, relaxing and pleasant (1 = not at all self-expanding, 7 = very self-expanding).
The coders’ ratings were reliable (r = .77, p < .01) and averaged to index degree of self-
expansion. On average, the activities reported were moderately self-expanding but there was
variation across participants (M = 3.27, SD = 1.63). However, the extent to which shared
activities were self-expanding was not significantly associated with activity-related closeness
(b = .02, se = .04, t = .34, p > .05) or relationship quality (b = -.05, se = .04, t = -1.24, p >
.05).
Activity Motivation. Participants reported reasons for engaging in the activity were
first grouped independently by two of the authors (95% agreement) producing 11 common
Shared Relationship Activities 14
motivations, which are shown in Table 3. Motivations were then assigned into three broader
categories capturing relationship-, partner-, or self-orientated motivations (95 % agreement,
discrepancies resolved by an independent judge). The majority of participants were motivated
to engage in their reported activities simply to be with their partner and spend more time
together, out of common interest/enjoyment, and to improve their relationship. Thus, an
overwhelming majority of the motivations reported were relationship orientated, with 85% of
reported motivations classified as relationship- or partner-orientated (see Table 3).
We ran ANOVA analyses to test whether these reported motivations predicted
activity-related closeness and relationship quality. Motivation type predicted differences in
activity-related closeness (F(2, 191) = 3.16, p = .04) and relationship quality (F(2, 191) = 3.43, p =
.01). In particular, relationship-orientated motivations (M = 5.95, SD = .87) were associated
with more activity-related closeness compared to self-orientated motivations (M = 5.45, SD =
1.25, p = .04), and partner-orientated motivations (M = 5.98, SD = .76) were associated with
more relationship quality compared to self-orientated motivations (M = 5.33, SD = 1.03, p <
.01). Thus, shared activities arising from concerns about the relationship or partner (rather
than the self) appeared more successful in promoting closeness and relationship quality.
To further distinguish between self- versus relationship-orientated motivations,
participants’ described motivations were rated by two independent coders (rs = .75 and .62)
according to the extent to which motivations were related to: (1) self-expansion or creating
novelty, fun and excitement and breaking out of the routine (1 = not at all motivated for self-
expansion, 7 = very much motivated for self-expansion) and (2) interdependence or to provide
opportunities for couples to share, experience and grow as a couple (1 = not at all motivated
to promote interdependence, 7 = very much motivated to promote interdependence). Activity
motivations were relatively low in self-expanding (M = 1.82, SD = 1.30) and interdependence
(M = 2.79, SD = 1.49) reasons, however there was considerable variation. The extent to
Shared Relationship Activities 15
which activities were motivated for self-expanding reasons was not associated with activity
related closeness (b = .01, se = .05, t = .18, p > .05) or relationship quality (b = -.02, se = .05,
t = -.41, p > .05). In contrast, the extent to which activities were motivated to promote
interdependence was associated with activity related closeness (b = .14, se = .05, t = 2.92, p <
.01), but not relationship quality (b = .03, se = .04, t = .81, p > .05). 1
What Role Does the Partner Play in the Success of Shared Relationship Activities?
Because individuals’ own dedication to their shared relationship activities was
positively associated with their perceptions of the partners’ dedication (see Table 2), to
answer this question we ran multiple regressions with participants’ own and perceived
partners’ dedication as simultaneous predictors of (1) the success of shared relationship
activities in producing closeness, and (2) evaluations of relationship quality. Both own (β =
.46, p < .01) and partners’ (β = .25, p < .01) dedication to the activity were independently
associated with producing greater closeness and intimacy within the relationship. However,
consistent with our argument that maintenance success will depend on the partner’s co-
operation, only perceptions of the partners’ dedication (β = .28, p < .01) was independently
associated with relationship quality, whereas own dedication was not (β = .08, ns).
Discussion
Study 1 provided exploratory data on the types of shared activities that intimates
engage in to maintain their relationships, ranging from going away on holiday together to
working around the house or garden together. Initial cross-sectional evidence also suggests
that when shared relationship activities were successful in increasing closeness, participants
evaluated their relationship more positively. These positive activity outcomes did not depend
on the type of activity but there was some evidence that activity outcomes were shaped by
participants’ motivations to engage in the activity. Open-ended descriptions of the
participants’ motivations to engage in the activity indicated that most participants engaged in
Shared Relationship Activities 16
shared relationship activities for relationship and partner-oriented reasons, such as spending
more time together or to become closer and better understand their partner. Moreover,
activities motivated for relationship or partner-orientated reasons, and specifically to boost
closeness and shared experiences (or interdependence), were associated with greater activity-
related closeness and relationship quality in comparison to more self-orientated and self-
expanding motivations (e.g., fun and excitement). Finally, as predicted, the success of
relationship activities depended on perceptions of the partner’s participation. When
participants perceived their partner had low desire and commitment to engage in their chosen
shared relationship activity they experienced less closeness and reported more negative
relationship evaluations.
STUDY 2
In Study 2 we extended Study 1 by gathering longitudinal data from both couple
members to test whether shared relationship activities actually maintain relationships (i.e.,
sustain satisfaction over time). After assessing information on shared relationship activities as
in Study 1, we followed up couples 3-months later to test whether the success of participants’
shared relationship activities and the partner’s involvement predicted changes in relationship
quality. In addition to creating closeness and intimacy, we added two additional markers of
the success of shared relationship activities, including how satisfied participants were with
their relationship when engaging in the activity and, to assess potentially negative elements
of shared activities, the level of stress and tension in the relationship when engaging in the
activity. We assessed activity-related stress in particular because the results of Study 1
highlighted that relationship orientated motivations and the role of the partner are important
in determining activity outcomes. If partners’ motivations and dedication towards shared
activities conflict, then engaging in shared activities may be associated with relationship
stress and tension, and thus poor relationship outcomes. Furthermore, we measured
Shared Relationship Activities 17
accommodation one of the most widely-researched maintenance strategies to manage
relationship threat to test whether shared relationship activities predict positive relationship
outcomes over and above maintenance strategies activated within threatening contexts.
Method
Participants
Eighty-three heterosexual couples involved in ongoing romantic relationships were
recruited from a New Zealand university through fliers, posters, and email announcements.
Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 45 years (M = 22, SD = 4.24). Respondents’
relationships were relatively long-term (M = 31.11 months, SD = 20.76), with 56.7%
cohabitating or married, 37.3% defining their relationship as serious, and the remaining
reporting their relationship as steady.
Procedure and Materials
The questionnaires were collected as part of a larger project investigating relationship
communication which involved an initial laboratory session (when the above demographic
information was gathered) followed by four follow-up questionnaires completed by post at 3-
month intervals. The questionnaires analyzed here were included in the first (3-month) and
second (6-month) follow-up phases. Partners were posted separate questionnaires, containing
the scales below, along with a postage paid reply envelope. Fifteen couples of the initial
sample were removed from the analyses because only one couple member completed the
relevant section or returned their questionnaire, leaving the 83 couples identified above.
Participants first reported on their Relationship Quality (men’s = .78, women’s
= .81) using the same measures as in Study 1.
Accommodation was measured using 16 items from Rusbult and colleagues (1991)
Accommodation Scale, which assesses four types of responses people exhibit in response to
negative partner behavior, such as ‘When my partner is upset and says something mean ….”,
Shared Relationship Activities 18
including exit (e.g., “… I consider breaking up), voice (e.g., “… I talk to my partner about
what’s going on to try to work out a solution”), loyalty (e.g., “… I forgive my partner and
forget about it), and neglect (e.g., “… I do something else for a while and avoid dealing with
the situation; 1 = never do this, 7 = constantly do this). As is typical, exit and neglect items
were reverse scored and averaged with voice and loyalty (men’s = .76, women’s = .72)
so that higher scores represented greater accommodation.
Shared Relationship Activities
As in Study 1, participants identified an activity they do with their partner in order to
spend more quality time together and described what motivated them to do the activity.
Participants also indicated how much time per week they spent engaging in the activity, and
then rated the following items regarding the activity they identified.
Dedication to the Activity was measured using the same two items as in Study 1 to
assess men and women’s own (rs = .59 and .70) and perceptions of their partner’s (rs = .68
and .73) dedication to the activity.
Creating Closeness. The two items used in Study 1 were repeated, and participants
also rated the extent to which the activity made them feel accepted and valued (1 = do not
feel accepted/valued at all, 7 = feel extremely accepted/valued) and close and intimate (1 =
do not feel close/intimate at all, 7 = feel extremely close/intimate) when engaging in the
activity with their partner. These items were averaged to reflect the general level of closeness
and intimacy the activity brought to the relationship (men = .77; women = .91).
We also assessed the degree to which the activity produced stress and tension in the
relationship (1 = no stress or tension at all, 7 = extreme stress and tension) and assessed
general levels of satisfaction in their relationship when engaging in the activity (1 = not at all
satisfied, 7 = extremely satisfied).
Shared Relationship Activities 19
Follow Up Questionnaire
Three months after the initial measures were gathered, participants were sent an
additional questionnaire reminding them of the shared relationship activity they had
described three months previously. Participants rated the same items assessing dedication to
the activity, activity outcomes, and relationship quality.
Results
Two independent coders independently classified the activities into the categories
identified in Study 1 (98% and 99% agreement for men and women). As seen in Table 1, the
types and popularity of activities paralleled Study 1.2 On average, men and women reported
spending 8.92 and 8.62 hours a week respectively engaging in their shared relationship
activity (see Table 4) indicating that couples were dedicating nearly two days a week to joint
activities.3 As in Study 1, we first consider whether the outcomes of shared activities are
related to relationship quality, and then consider the roles of activity type and motivation and
the partner’s participation. We do this first by examining cross-sectional associations and in a
second section consider associations across time.
Cross-Sectional Associations
Are Shared Relationship Activities Successful in Maintaining Relationship Quality?
As shown in Table 4 (see section labeled shared relationship activity outcomes),
average ratings indicate that shared relationship activities were generally successful in
producing closeness, fairly low in creating stress, participants were highly satisfied with their
relationship when engaging in the activity, and these variables were associated with
relationship quality in predicted directions. However, to account for the dependence inherent
in dyadic data, we ran a series of Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM; Kenny,
Kashy & Cook, 2006) analyses to model the focal associations for both partners
simultaneously while controlling for the associations across partners and to test for both actor
Shared Relationship Activities 20
effects (e.g., is Sally’s activity-related stress associated with Sally’s relationship quality?) and
partner effects (e.g., is Sally’s activity-related stress associated with Harry’s relationship
quality?). There were significant differences in the effects across men and women (2LM (1, N
= 83) = 4.00 to 12.41, ps < .05) and so we report the resulting coefficients separately for men
and women in Table 5 (shown with subscripts W = women, M = men).
First, focusing on the actor effects, the more participants reported their shared
relationship activities created stress in their relationship, the more they reported lower
relationship quality. In contrast, when participants’ activities produced higher levels of
closeness, intimacy and satisfaction, the more positively they evaluated their relationship.
These effects were significant for both men and women, although stress was more strongly
associated with men’s relationship quality whereas closeness was more strongly associated
with women’s relationship quality. We also wanted to demonstrate that the links between
activity outcomes occurred above and beyond relationship maintenance reactions to threat
i.e., accommodation. Levels of accommodation were strongly associated with relationship
quality for both men and women (see Table 4). Nonetheless, the positive impact of successful
shared relationship activities on relationship quality was not substantively reduced when
levels of accommodation were controlled (shown in parentheses in Table 5). This pattern
indicates shared relationship activities promote relationship quality above and beyond
relationship maintenance behaviors enacted during threatening contexts.
There were also significant partner effects. Recall that dyad members described their
own shared relationship activity so that partners’ activity outcomes typically regarded
separate shared relationship activities. Nevertheless, if intimates’ shared relationship
activities are successful then the activity outcomes might also have positive effects on their
partners’ relationship evaluations. Shown in the right half of the table, significant partner
effects indicated that when intimates’ relationship activities produced stress in the
Shared Relationship Activities 21
relationship, this was associated with lower relationship quality for, particularly female,
partners. In contrast, when intimates reported their shared relationship activities produced
greater closeness and relationship satisfaction, partners reported greater relationship quality.
These partner effects were significant for both men and women, but stronger for male
partners suggesting that women’s relationship quality is strongly influenced by the success of
men’s desired shared relationship activities. However, all but one of these associations were
removed when controlling for accommodation (see coefficients in parentheses), whereas
individuals’ own accommodation continued to significantly predict the partners’ relationship
quality (zs = 2.89 to 4.47, ps < .05). This pattern indicates that reacting positively to partners
transgressions (i.e., greater accommodation) may be more strongly associated with the
partner’s relationship quality than shared relationship activities.
Does the Success of Shared Relationship Activities Depend on Activity Type or Motivation?
Activity Type. As with Study 1, the extent to which relationship activities were self-
expanding (novel and exciting versus pleasant and routine) was independently rated by two
coders (1 = not at all self-expanding, 7 = very self-expanding) and ratings averaged to index
degree of self-expansion (r = .76, p < .01). On average, the activities reported were
moderately self-expanding but there was variation across both men and women respectively
(M = 2.63, SD = 1.38; M = 2.42, SD = 1.28). To test whether novel and exciting activities
were more successful, we ran a series of APIM analyses predicting activity outcomes by the
level of self-expansion each activity involves. There were no significant gender differences in
any of the effects so coefficients were pooled across men and women (2LM (1, N = 83) = .11
to 2.61, ps > .05). The extent to which shared activities were rated as self-expanding was not
significantly associated with activity-related closeness (b = -.04, se = .05, z = -.72, p > .05),
satisfaction (b = -.06, se = .06, z = -.99, p >.05), levels of stress or tension (b = .16, se = .09, z
= 1.78, p > .05) or relationship quality (b = -.06, se = .05, z = -1.28, p > .05).
Shared Relationship Activities 22
Activity Motivations. The reasons participants’ reported for engaging in their desired
shared relationship activity was independently classified by two independent coders as in
Study 1 (99% and 93% for men and women respectively, discrepancies resolved by
discussion), and then further grouped into three broader categories capturing relationship-,
partner-, or self-orientated motivations. As shown in Table 3, and consistent with Study 1, the
majority of participants were motivated to engage in their reported activities for relationship-
oriented and partner-oriented reasons (81.9% and 73.5% for men and women). Whether
participants’ reported motivation was self-, partner- or relationship- oriented did not produce
differences in activity-related closeness or satisfaction, or overall relationship quality (ps >
.05), but did predict differences in activity-related stress (F(2, 160) = 4.53, p = .01). In
particular, activities motivated for more self-orientated (M = 2.84, SD = .19) compared to
relationship-orientated (M = 2.15, SD = 1.33) motivations were reported as creating more
stress and tension in the relationship.
As in Study 1, to further distinguish between self- versus relationship-orientated
motivations, participants’ described motivations were rated by two independent raters (rs =
.78 and .68) according to the extent to which motivations were related to: (1) self-expansion
or creating novelty, fun and excitement and breaking out of the routine (M = 1.91, SD = 1.32;
M = 1.56, SD = .98 for men and women), and (2) interdependence or to provide opportunities
for couples to share, experience and grow as a couple (men: M = 2.70, SD = 1.47; women: M
= 2.69, SD = 1.28). As before, we ran a series of APIM analyses predicting activity outcomes
by degree of self-expansion and interdependence motivation (in separate analyses). There
were no significant gender differences in any of the effects so coefficients were pooled across
men and women (2LM (1, N = 83) = .00 to .3.58, ps > .05). The degree to which activities
were motivated for self-expanding reasons was not associated with satisfaction (b = -.01, se =
.07, z = -.16, p > .05), stress (b = -.01, se = .10, z = -.05, p > .05) or relationship quality (b =
Shared Relationship Activities 23
.01, se = .06, z = .02, p > .05), but was associated with lower activity-related closeness (b = -
.13, se = .06, z = -2.13, p < .05). In contrast, the extent to which activities were motivated to
promote interdependence was not associated with activity-related stress (b = -.08, se = .08, z
= -1.01, p > .05) or relationship quality (b = .01, se = .05, z = .31, p > .05), but was
marginally associated with greater closeness (b = .09, se = .05, z = 1.84, p < .07) and
satisfaction when engaging in the activity (b = .10, se = .06, z = 1.82, p < .07).
Overall, the pattern across activity type and motivation suggests that activity type
does not determine the degree to which activities facilitate closeness and relationship quality,
but provides some evidence that activities motivated by self-orientated or self-expanding
motivations may create stress or tension in the relationship and impede closeness, probably
due to the self-focused or activity-focused nature of the activity. In contrast, activities that
were focused on fostering closeness, intimacy and shared experiences with intimate partners
were associated with better activity outcomes.
What Role Does the Partner Play in the Success of Shared Relationship Activities?
Table 4 displays the relevant correlations between partners’ dedication to the shared
activities and relationship evaluations but, as before, to appropriately account for dyadic
dependence we ran a series of APIM analyses in which both own and the partner’s desire and
commitment were simultaneous predictors of shared activity outcomes and relationship
quality. These analyses tested whether, for example, individuals evaluated their relationship
more positively when they perceived their partner as more dedicated to their nominated
shared relationship activity, controlling for individuals’ own dedication to that activity.
The resulting coefficients are shown in Table 6. There were no significant gender
differences in any of the effects (2LM (1, N=83) = .01 to 3.10, ps > .05) so coefficients were
pooled across men and women. There were only two significant actor effects for own desire
and commitment; when individuals were committed to their activity, they experienced greater
Shared Relationship Activities 24
closeness and satisfaction when engaging in the activity. In contrast, when individuals
perceived their partners to be more dedicated to their shared relationship activity they
experienced more closeness and intimacy, greater satisfaction with the relationship when
engaging in the activity, and greater overall relationship quality (actor effects shown on the
right hand side of Table 6). These analyses illustrate the importance of perceived partner’s
participation for shared relationship activities to facilitate relationship quality.
Longitudinal Analyses
Next, we conducted a set of longitudinal analyses to predict shared relationship
activity outcomes and relationship quality reported three months later. Eight couples’
relationships dissolved over the three month period and nine couples did not complete the
follow-up questionnaire, leaving 66 couples for these analyses. Examining differences across
intact versus dissolved couples, men from dissolved couples reported lower desire and
commitment to participate in shared relationship activities at the initial measurement phase
(M = 5.25, SD = .96) than men who remained in the study (M = 5.94, SD = .90; t(1, 72) = 2.04,
p = .05). This provides good evidence that dedication to shared relationship activities is (a)
important to keep relationships going, and (b) is a good indicator of the degree to which
couples are actively working at and committed to their relationship.
Table 7 displays the means and standard deviations for all measures across time 1 and
2 for the longitudinal sample. Although the measures were positively correlated across time,
indicating across-time reliability (see Table 7, r across time 1 and 2), the size of these
associations for shared relationship activity variables indicated reasonable levels of change
over time. Mean differences across the two time points indicated that own and perceptions of
the partner’s dedication to the activity decreased over time. Men also experienced less
closeness due to their shared relationship activity and reported lower accommodation across
the 3-month period.
Shared Relationship Activities 25
Are Shared Activities Successful in Maintaining Relationship Quality Over Time?
A critical test of whether shared relationship activities enhance relationships is
whether engaging in shared relationship activities predict positive relationship outcomes over
time. Thus, we tested whether the outcomes of shared relationship activities at time 1
predicted relationship quality 3 months later. Using the APIM approach described above,
models were run where shared relationship activity outcomes reported at the initial testing
phase (e.g., activity-related stress, closeness and satisfaction when engaging in the activity)
were predictors of relationship quality at time 2 (the dependent variable). All paths were
calculated controlling for relationship quality at time 1, which meant any associations
between activity outcomes and time 2 relationship quality represented changes in relationship
quality over and above existing relationship quality at the initial phase. There were no
significant differences between men and women for any of the effects (2LM (1, N = 66) = .00
to 1.92, ps > .05) and so paths were pooled across gender.
The resulting coefficients are displayed in Table 8, which provide good evidence that
engaging in shared relationship activities play an important role in relationship maintenance.
Significant actor effects indicated that higher levels of activity-related stress at time 1 was
associated with lower relationship quality across time, whereas the more participants’
experienced closeness and satisfaction when engaging in their shared relationship activity at
time 1, the higher their relationship quality 3 months later. As before, we also wanted to show
that the positive relationship sustaining effects of shared relationship activities occurred
above and beyond accommodation. Shown in parentheses in Table 8, when controlling for
accommodation the longitudinal associations between shared relationship activity outcomes
and later relationship quality remained significant or marginally significant (ps < .07). In
contrast, levels of accommodation was not independently associated with relationship quality
across these analyses (bs = .58 to .85, ps > .05). These results provide strong evidence that
Shared Relationship Activities 26
shared relationship activities that are stress-free, satisfying and create closeness help to
maintain relationship quality above and beyond relationship-maintaining reactions to conflict.
As before, there were no significant partner effects, indicating that the degree to
which people found their shared relationship activities rewarding did not also boost the
relationship quality of their partner. Accommodation was also not independently associated
with partner’s relationship quality (zs = 1.22 to 1.53, ps > .12). Nevertheless, as the cross-
sectional analyses suggested, the partner’s involvement in shared relationship activities might
be critical in determining whether shared relationship activities have positive outcomes.
Does the Long-Term Success of Shared Activities Depend on Activity Type or Motivation?
Activity Type. We conducted longitudinal analyses adopting the analytic approach
described above to test whether the degree to which activities were self-expanding was
associated with activity-related outcomes and relationship quality at time 2. No significant
associations emerged (b = -.03 to .07, z = -.72 to .87, p > .05).
Motivation Type. Analyses examining whether activity outcomes and relationship
quality at time 2 differed according to whether participants’ reported motivation was
categorized as self-, partner- or relationship- oriented also revealed no significant differences
(ps > .05). Similarly, longitudinal APIM analyses also revealed that the degree to which
activities were motivated for self-expansion (creating novelty, fun, excitement and breaking
out of the routine) and interdependence (opportunities for couples to share, experience and
grow as a couple) reasons did not predict activity-related outcomes and relationship quality
reported at time 2 (b = -.07 to .10, z = -.60 to 1.41, p > .05).
What Role Does the Partner Play in the Long-Term Success of Shared Activities?
We ran another set of APIM analyses to test whether the partner’s desire and
commitment was associated with activity outcomes over time, controlling for own dedication
to the shared relationship activities. Mimicking the analysis in Table 6, own and partner’s
Shared Relationship Activities 27
desire and commitment were modeled as simultaneous predictors. All models controlled for
the reported activity outcomes at time 1. There were no significant gender differences in any
of the effects (2LM (1, N = 66) = .00 to 3.12, ps > .05) so coefficients from these analyses
were pooled across men and women.
As shown in Table 9, individuals who were more dedicated to their shared
relationship activity experienced greater closeness and greater satisfaction with their
relationship during the activity 3 months later. Similarly, the more partners were perceived to
be dedicated to the activity, the greater satisfaction individuals experienced during the
activity as reported 3 months later. Thus, these analyses provide some support that successful
shared relationship activities involve the ongoing commitment of both partners.
Discussion
Study 2 extended Study 1 by examining the effects of shared relationship activities
across time. As in Study 1, participants engaged in regular activities (average 8 hours a week)
to maintain their relationship, such as dining together or taking up common interest activities
together. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal associations provided evidence that successful
shared relationship activities help to maintain relationship quality. First, couples who
dissolved across the 3-month study period involved men who reported lower desire and
commitment to participate in shared relationship activities. Second, shared relationship
activities that were associated with less stress, greater satisfaction, and greater closeness were
cross-sectionally associated with greater relationship quality. More importantly, the more
shared relationship activities were stress-free, satisfying and generated closeness, the more
positively participants evaluated their relationship three months later. This latter test is crucial
because it provides longitudinal evidence that shared relationship activities are maintenance
tactics that do work to sustain relationship quality.
Shared Relationship Activities 28
Moreover, the positive associations between shared relationship activity outcomes
and own relationship quality were not substantively altered when controlling for
accommodation supporting that shared relationship activities help to maintain feelings of
closeness and relationship quality beyond maintenance efforts that are triggered by conflict or
negative partner behavior. In contrast, individuals’ own levels of accommodation was a
stronger predict of the partner’s relationship quality than successful activity outcomes,
suggesting that successful shared relationship activities help to keep the relationship
evaluations of the individual buoyant whereas maintenance behavior that constitutes a
positive reaction to partner’s hurtful behavior facilitate the partner’s positive relationship
evaluations. Nonetheless, shared relationship activities, and not accommodation, was
associated with more positive relationship evaluation three months later illustrating the
importance of shared activities in sustaining relationship quality.
As in Study 1, the degree to which shared activities benefited closeness and
relationship quality did not depend on the type of activity but were related to the motivation
to engage in the activity. The majority of shared relationship activities were motivated by
relationship (e.g., to spend more time or be together) or partner (e.g., increase understanding
of partner) orientated reasons, suggesting that shared activities are motivated out of
relationship maintenance concerns. In addition, activities that were relationship-orientated or
motivated to build closeness and shared experiences (interdependence) were marginally
associated with more closeness and satisfaction with the relationship when engaging in the
activity. In contrast, activities motivated for self-orientated (e.g., own enjoyment or to relieve
own boredom) or self-expansion (fun, excitement, novelty) reasons created greater stress and
tension in the relationship and impeded closeness. These associations however were only
evident in cross-sectional, and not longitudinal, analyses.
Shared Relationship Activities 29
Finally, as in Study 1, the partner’s dedication to the shared relationship activity,
rather than one’s own dedication, was more important in creating stress-free and positively
experienced shared relationship activities. In addition, although perceptions of partner’s
dedication did not directly predict relationship quality over time, the set of findings together
indicate that when individuals perceive their relationship partners to be dedicated to the
maintenance of their relationship, they experience greater closeness, intimacy and
satisfaction. Rewarding shared relationship activities, in turn, have a lasting positive effect on
relationship quality over time. These results extend prior research by examining the
interdependent nature of shared relationship activities and highlight that shared activities
require commitment from both partners to successfully boost intimacy and satisfaction.
General Discussion
This research documented the shared activities that intimates create to promote
closeness in their relationships, such as date nights, sporting activities and common interests.
Two studies provided evidence that successful and satisfying shared relationship activities
play a unique role in sustaining and boosting closeness and satisfaction. Shared activities that
were satisfying, stress-free and increased closeness predicted more positive relationship
evaluations concurrently and over time. Moreover, in Study 2, the maintaining function of
shared activities was more powerful than the impact of relationship-maintaining
accommodative behaviors on relationship quality demonstrating the importance of these
more routine, every day activities intimates engage to maintain closeness and intimacy with
their partner. However, as expected, the success and positive impact of shared activities
depended on the degree to which partners were dedicated to the activity, highlighting that
shared activities sustain relationship quality only when partners are responsive and want to
share desired activities. We discuss the importance and implications of our findings below.
Shared Relationship Activities 30
Why do Shared Relationship Activities Maintain Relationships?
We think there are several reasons why shared relationship activities have a positive
effect on relationship quality. Prior research stemming from self-expansion theory (Aron et
al., 2000; Aron et al., 2002) has illustrated the importance of novel and fun joint activities to
facilitate self-expansion and counteract relationship habituation. Indeed, many of the
activities that participants identified (see Table 1) were fun, novel and exciting, such as going
on holiday, attending concerts, or dance lessons. Many of the activities were relatively more
routine or perhaps even mundane, such as watching movies or TV together, shopping, talking
and working around the home or garden. Moreover, the degree to which activities were rated
as self-expanding was not associated with how successful these activities were in fostering
closeness or relationship quality. These results suggest a range of shared relationship
activities can help intimates sustain and build intimacy and satisfaction.
Self-generated relationship activities may have positive effects regardless of their
novelty and excitement because interconnected activities between intimates offer a variety of
interactions that should equally foster closeness and intimacy (Clark & Reis, 1988).
Baumeister and Bratslavsky (1999) also argue that spending quality time together in shared
activities might build closeness and intimacy by providing opportunities for self-disclosure
and a deeper understanding of one’s partner. Flora and Segrin (1998), for example, reported
that couples who interacted and talked more to each other during joint activities were more
likely to be satisfied with that activity, and there is good evidence that self-disclosure
increases intimacy and understanding, and, in turn, relationship satisfaction (e.g., Hendrick
1981; Laurenceau et al., 1998). These perspectives are consistent with our findings that
shared activities that were stress-free, experienced positively, and generated closeness, were
cross-sectionally and longitudinally associated with greater relationship quality.
Shared Relationship Activities 31
Importantly, the positive effects of shared relationship activities might not be due to
a single factor and the beneficial mechanism might differ across couples. For example, men
and women may prefer different types of activities to increase intimacy in their close
relationships. In same-sex friendships, women report self-disclosure, communicating and
talking as important aspects in creating intimacy, whereas men report shared activities (e.g,.
playing sports together) as more important (Caldwell & Peplau 1982). Similarly, narrative
accounts of divorced couples revealed that women, unlike men, rely on talking and
communication to increase intimacy with their partners (Reissman, 1990). Thus, men and
women may require different strategies to create and enhance intimacy (Schoenfeld, Bredow,
& Huston, 2012; Wood & Inman, 1993), and shared relationship activities may provide a
balanced medium for couples to simultaneously experience relationship intimacy for both
women (through self-disclosure) and men (through engaging in activities).
Our results also provide some indication that, while a range of activities help to
bolster relationships, the underlying motivation for creating and engaging in shared activities
may determine whether the degree to which shared activities are experienced more positively.
Across studies, the majority of shared activities were motivated by relationship (e.g., to spend
more time or be together) or partner (e.g., increase understanding of partner) orientated
reasons highlighting that shared activities are motivated out of relationship maintenance
concerns. Moreover, they type of motivations increased the success of shared activities, such
that activities motivated to enhance closeness and intimacy and facilitate shared experiences
tended to produce more closeness, and thus relationship quality. We think this is because a
focus on joint and dependent outcomes should help realize the ingredients of shared activities
noted above, such as facilitating self-disclosure, interconnected experiences and mutual
benefits (Rusbult & Van Lange, 2003). In contrast, activities motivated for self-orientated or
self-expanding reasons (e.g., engaging in an activity because it is fun or brings the individual
Shared Relationship Activities 32
enjoyment) may reduce opportunities for self-disclosure or interconnected experiences if the
partner is not considered. Indeed, partners who agree to engage in the individuals self-
orientated activities may feel they are sacrificing their time to be with their partner but are not
appreciated or their needs and own enjoyment not considered. Accordingly, we found some
cross-sectional evidence that shared activities generated out of self-concerns might create
stress and tension between partners, and be less successful in producing closeness.
This latter point highlights a key point. Shared relationship activities take two the
individual and their partner to both be enjoyable and to enhance the relationship. Although
shared relationship activities might be successful via several routes, our results suggest that
the success of relationship activities will hinge on the partner’s responsiveness and
participation in planned activities. A principal finding across both studies was that
perceptions of the partner’s dedication to the shared relationship activity, rather than one’s
own dedication, was particularly important in creating stress-free and positively experienced
shared relationship activities, and thus enhancing relationship quality. These results illustrate
that relationship maintenance requires the dedication and commitment of both relationship
partners. The partner’s responsiveness and dedication to relationship activities might also
have a wider impact on the relationship because it signals that the partner values one’s desires
and goals, and is committed to the relationship. Partner’s responsiveness will also likely
evoke reciprocated involvement in the partners’ activity, creating a cycle of mutual
responsiveness that benefits relationships (see Reis, 2007).
Shared Relationship Activities: Beyond Maintaining Relationships in the Face of Threat
In contrast to the primary focus of prior work on how couples maintain their
relationships within relationship threatening situations, this research examined the day-to-day
activities that individuals generate to maintain closeness in the absence of a threatening
event. We found evidence that shared relationship activities sustain and promote relationship
Shared Relationship Activities 33
quality. Moreover, shared relationship activities had a positive impact on individuals’
relationship quality above and beyond relationship-maintaining reactions to threat (i.e.,
accommodation) highlighting the unique role and importance of shared relationship activities.
Indeed, the different effects across shared relationship activities and accommodation indicate
that reactive maintenance strategies and shared relationship activities may hold different
maintenance functions. First, successful shared relationship activities were associated with
building individuals’ own relationship quality. That is, the success of shared relationship
activities typically benefits the person who created that activity and desired to spend more
quality time with their partner. In contrast, individuals accommodation, rather than their
shared relationship activity maintenance efforts, was cross-sectionally associated with more
positive relationship evaluations made by the partner. This may be because reactive
maintenance strategies, such as accommodation, require the motivation to withhold automatic
defensive reactions and instead respond constructively to negative partner behavior (Rusbult
et al., 1991; Rusbult et al., 2000; Van Lange et al., 1997). The more individuals put their
relationship needs before their own (i.e., accommodate), the more they communicate
commitment to the partner, which builds trust and reciprocal commitment in that partner
(Wieselquist, Rusbult, Foster & Agnew, 1999).
In a similar fashion, it was the partner’s engagement and dedication to shared
relationship activities that was strongly associated with individual’s experience of activity
success and, therefore, the relationship quality enhancing effect of individuals’ own
relationship activities. Thus, as with accommodation, it is the responsiveness to one’s partner
activities, not creating the activities, that communicates partner regard and investment in the
relationship. Thus, reactive strategies may allow individuals to communicate commitment to
their partners, while relationship activities provide an opportunity for partners to
Shared Relationship Activities 34
communicate their commitment to individuals by responding to their desires to spend and
enhance the quality time couples spend together.
Nonetheless, both types of maintenance strategies are likely to operate together to
sustain relationship quality. For example, shared relationship activities might prevent or
minimize external relationship threats, such as time spent with attractive alternatives or
relationship conflict, and allow an opportunity for couples to work towards joint goals,
reducing conflicting goals and desires. Relationship activities might also play an important
role in preparing relationships for future threatening events by promoting closeness and
commitment, and building a stronger foundation from which couples are able and motivated
to deal with relationship challenges. Future research should test whether shared relationship
activities and reactive maintenance strategies work together to foster commitment, trust and
relationship quality across time.
Strengths, Caveats and Future Research Directions
The current research has several strengths. Participants were asked to identify their
own shared relationship activities and freely described what motivated these activities. This
provided rich data that describes the range of activities couples engage in during their daily
relationship life and what motivates this maintenance behavior. Most importantly, we
collected measures across a 3-month period to track the effects of successful relationship
activities across time, and compared the success of shared relationship activities with the
success of a widely-studied maintenance behavior occurring in the context of relationship
threat (i.e., accommodation). These strengths provided critical evidence that relationship
activities do maintain relationships, and do so above and beyond maintenance behaviors
triggered by relationship threat.
There were also several limitations that could be addressed by future research. We
relied on individuals’ reports of their partner’s dedication to the activity rather than gathering
Shared Relationship Activities 35
the partner’s reports. Individuals can often miss important maintenance behavior (Drigotas,
Whitney & Rusbult, 1995; Overall, Sibley & Travaglia, 2010), and therefore might have
under-reported the degree to which their partner was motivated to engage in their desired
activity. However, perceptions of other’s intent often play a more powerful role because
perceptions of the partner’s behavior determine how individuals react to and experience
relationship outcomes (e.g., Gable, Reis & Downey, 2003). As we found here, perceptions of
the partner’s participation determined participants’ satisfaction with their activity and, in turn,
the level of positive impact the activity had on the relationship. Future research should
examine how partners negotiate and motivate each other to share desired activities, and
assess the reasons we believe the partner’s participation influence the relationship, including
bolstering closeness, commitment and reciprocal engagement.
We also know little about how shared relationship activities play out during naturally
occurring interaction. Our results suggest that couples dedicate approximately 8 hours a week
to each other’s respective relationship activities, but the design of this study could not
examine the process and outcomes these activities have for couples on a day-to-day basis.
Future research assessing the development, engagement and outcomes of relationship
activities across the course of participants’ relationships could provide more in-depth
information regarding how shared relationship activities increase closeness and, as we
hypothesize, buffer couples from more negative and challenging relationship events.
Conclusions
This research explored shared relationship activities that couples engage in during the
normal course of their relationship to increase closeness, including documenting the types of
shared activities common across couples, such as holidays, dinner dates, and sporting
activities. While shared relationship activities may seem ordinary and routine, and are thus
overshadowed by the focus on maintenance behaviors in response to relationship threat, the
Shared Relationship Activities 36
results from the current studies demonstrate shared activities play a unique role in shaping
relationship satisfaction, and do so above and beyond relationship-maintaining
accommodating responses to conflict. Shared relationship activities that were successful,
including being satisfying, stress-free and increasing closeness and intimacy, were cross-
sectionally and longitudinally associated with greater relationship quality, and these positive
effects occurred over and above accommodation to negative partner behavior. The relative
success of relationship activities was strengthened when these activities were motivated for
the sake of the partner or the relationship, rather than self-oriented concerns. Moreover,
highlighting the interdependent nature of relationship maintenance, shared activities were
more likely to sustain closeness and relationship quality when the partner was also perceived
to be dedicated to the activity. Together, the results highlight the important impact day-to-day
shared relationship activities have in sustaining relationship closeness and satisfaction, but
also illustrate that shared activities maintain relationships only when both partners are
responsive, actively engaged and want to share relationship activities.
Shared Relationship Activities 37
Footnotes
1 In Study 1 and 2, we also examined whether the degree to which activities were (1)
self-expanding or (2) motivated for self-expanding and interdependent motivations
moderated the links between activity outcomes and relationship quality. No moderating
effects emerged in either study (ps > .05).
2 Although a small proportion of couples (16%) reported the same or very similar
shared relationship activity, the majority of couples (84%) reported different activities
indicating that each individual creates activities that they think will be important to the
relationship. Given the majority report different activities we treat the partners activities as
separate or independent in all analyses. Nonetheless, across analyses, we control for
associations across partners.
3 In a series of additional analyses, all of the cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses
reported in Study 2 were conducted controlling for time spent engaging in shared relationship
activities at time 1. All of the effects in Tables 5 to 9 remained significant with only 3 of the
23 reducing to marginal significance (p .09). This demonstrates that the maintenance
function of shard relationship activities is not simply due to overall time spent together.
Shared Relationship Activities 38
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Shared Relationship Activities 43
Table 1. Description and Frequency of Shared Relationship Activities
Activity Category
Activity Definition
Study 1 (%)
Study 2 (%)
Men
Getaway
Spending time away together, including small breaks together (e.g., a trip to the
beach) or longer holidays (e.g., a holiday to another city/country).
24.0
14.5
Sport Activities
Physical activities regarded as sport or recreation (e.g., go for a run together).
20.9
26.5
Dining Together
Eating and drinking or preparing meals (e.g., go out for dinner).
18.9
14.5
Movies/TV
Watching movies, DVDs, videos or Television (e.g., go out to the cinemas).
4.6
12.0
Shopping
Shopping, even if it did not involve purchasing (e.g., window shopping).
3.1
4.8
Talking
Talking, communicating and exchanging thoughts and feelings (e.g., we meet
to talk).
4.1
2.4
Other Social Activities
Other social events that involve the gathering of other people, such as concerts,
social clubs/organizations, parties, meeting with friends, and going into town
(e.g., go to concerts together).
4.6
2.4
Common Interests and
Hobbies
Activities that interest both partners (e.g., salsa lessons, guitar lessons), involve
learning together (e.g., studying), or joint hobbies (e.g., listening to music at
home together, playing board games).
13.8
13.3
Work around the
Home/Garden
Making changes to, or working on, the house and/or garden (e.g., renovating
the house).
2.0
1.2
Physical Intimacy
Physical acts between the partners (e.g., cuddling, sex)
0.0
4.8
Other
Activities that could not be classified into the above categories.
4.1
3.6
Shared Relationship Activities 44
Table 2. Means, Standard Deviations (SD) and Correlations across Measures (Study 1)
Mean (SD)
1.
2.
3.
Dedication Towards Activity
1. Own desire/commitment
5.99 (0.98)
-
2. Partner’s desire/commitment
5.93 (1.04)
.43**
-
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes
3. Creating closeness
5.84 (0.98)
.58**
.46**
-
4. Relationship Quality
4.76 (0.86)
.20**
.31**
.15*
Note. *p < .05. **p < .01.
Shared Relationship Activities 45
Table 3. Description and Frequency of Motivation for Shared Relationship Activities
Motivation Category
Motivation Definition
Study 1 (%)
Study 2 (%)
Men
Women
Relationship Orientated Motivations
Total %
66
69.9
66.3
Spend more time or be together
So the couple could spend more time or just be together.
31.4
28.9
30.1
Common interest, enjoyment
Both people enjoy or are interested in activity.
14.4
27.7
21.7
Improve partner or relationship,
beneficial for the relationship
For the good of the partner or relationship, or to strengthen the
relationship.
10.3
7.2
8.4
Communicate/talk
To have the opportunity to talk, exchange thoughts and feelings.
5.7
6.0
3.6
Couple or relationship goal
To achieve a relationship goal.
4.1
0.0
1.2
Partner Orientated Motivations
Total %
18.6
12.0
7.2
Increase closeness or
understanding of partner
To be closer to partner, or understand and know partner better.
7.7
1.2
2.4
Partner’s enjoyment or happiness
The partner enjoys or wants to do the activity, or because
individual knows the partner will enjoy it.
7.2
8.4
4.8
Love
Love for the partner.
3.6
2.4
0.0
Self Orientated Motivations
Total %
15.5
18.1
26.5
Own enjoyment
Individual enjoys or wants to do the activity.
10.8
12.0
20.5
Convenience/boredom
Activity is convenient or relieves boredom.
3.1
3.6
3.6
Other
Other self-oriented motivations.
1.5
2.4
3.6
Shared Relationship Activities 46
Table 4. Means, Standard Deviations (SD) and Correlations across all Measures for Men and Women (Study 2)
Mean (SD)
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
Men
Women
1. Log time spent (hours/week)
8.92 (19.92)
8.62 (12.54)
.36**
.30**
.37**
.04
.34**
.18
-.06
.21
Dedication Towards Activity
2. Own desire/commitment
5.88 (0.93)
6.02 (0.99)
.09
.16
.46**
-.25*
.52**
.45**
.24*
.16
3. Partner’s desire/commitment
5.77 (1.00)
5.51 (1.26)
.49**
.30**
.27*
-.21
.36**
.30**
.19
.21
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes
4. Activity-related stress
2.46 (1.48)
2.11 (1.47)
.11
-.14
-.28*
.08
-.32**
-.61**
-.53**
-.44**
5. Creating closeness
5.61 (0.83)
5.72 (0.97)
.24*
.51**
.48**
-.29**
-.03
.53**
.15
.22*
6. Satisfaction with relationship during
activity engagement
5.98 (0.89)
5.98 (1.16)
.21
.47**
.36**
-.41**
.65**
.05
.32**
.42**
7. Accommodation
5.15 (0.70)
4.87 (0.64)
.08
.36**
.33**
-.41**
.55**
.47**
.36**
.46**
8. Relationship Quality
5.94 (0.74)
5.81 (0.98)
.16
.23*
.44**
-.37**
.46**
.50**
.57**
.65**
Note. Associations between men and women are displayed across the diagonal. Correlations above the diagonal are those for men. Correlations
below the diagonal are those for women.
Shared Relationship Activities 47
Table 5. Unstandardized Coefficients Testing the Cross-Sectional Associations between Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes and
Relationship Quality in Study 2
Shared Relationship Activity
Outcomes
Relationship Quality
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
Activity-related stress
-.21 (-.09) M
-.22 (-.15) W
.05 (.05) M
.06 (.06) W
-4.39* (-1.89) M
-3.80* (-2.46*) W
-.32 (-.20) M
-.10 (-.05) W
.06 (.06) M
.05 (.05) W
-5.61* (-3.43*) M
-1.95 (-1.00) W
Creating closeness
.20 (.10) M
.47 (.28) W
.09 (.08) M
.10 (.10) W
2.12* (1.30) M
4.84* (2.87*) W
.26 (.15) M
.17 (.01) W
.11 (.10) M
.08(.07) W
2.27* (1.50) M
2.12* (.18) W
Satisfaction with relationship
during activity engagement
.38 (.23) M
.38 (.23) W
.06 (.06) M
.06 (.06) W
6.88* (4.27*) M
6.88* (4.27*) W
.32 (.06) M
.12 (.06) W
.09 (.05) M
.06 (.05) W
3.56* (1.14) M
2.20* (1.14) W
Note: All paths significantly differed across men and women with the exception of the actor effects of satisfaction during activity engagement
so we listed all effects separately for men (denoted with M) and women (denoted with W). Coefficients in parentheses control for accommodation.
p < .06. *p < .05
Shared Relationship Activities 48
Table 6. Unstandardized Coefficients Testing the Cross-Sectional Associations between Own and Partner’s Desire and Commitment to
Engage in Shared Relationship Activities and Activity Outcomes in Study 2
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes
Own Desire and Commitment
Perceptions of Partner Desire and
Commitment
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
Activity-related stress
-.18
.13
-1.40
-.07
.13
-.56
-.25
.11
-2.37*
-.03
.11
-.31
Creating closeness
.40
.06
6.24*
-.06
.06
-.88
.24
.06
4.40*
-.07
.05
-1.29
Satisfaction with relationship during
activity engagement
.41
.08
5.19*
.03
.08
.33
.17
.07
2.46*
-.03
.06
-.50
Relationship quality
.06
.07
.85
.02
.06
.28
.20
.06
3.62*
.06
.05
1.21
Note: There were no gender differences in the paths so these paths are pooled across men and women. *p <.05
Shared Relationship Activities 49
Table 7. Means (Standard Deviations), Correlation and t-tests Across Time 1 and 2 for all Measures for Longitudinal Analysis (N = 66,
Study 2)
Time 1
Time 2
r across Time 1
and 2
ta across Time 1 and 2
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
1. Time spent (hours/week)
7.27
(9.39)
7.85 (9.25)
8.48 (21.54)
6.26 (7.20)
.61**
.71**
.54
1.76
Dedication Towards Activity
2. Own desire/commitment
5.94 (.90)
5.96 (1.04)
5.18 (1.23)
5.52 (1.38)
.46**
.49**
5.25**
2.80**
3. Partner’s desire/commitment
5.77 (.97)
5.54 (1.24)
5.22 (1.37)
5.05 (1.68)
.40**
.50**
3.37**
2.54*
Shared Relationship Activity
Outcomes
4. Activity-related stress
2.51
(1.48)
2.12 (1.52)
2.68 (1.76)
2.13 (1.43)
.40**
.50**
.91
.08
5. Creating closeness
5.62 (.85)
5.66 (.94)
5.12 (1.20)
5.42 (1.29)
.42**
.61**
3.55**
1.92
6. Satisfaction with relationship
during activity engagement
5.91 (.90)
6.03 (1.10)
5.58 (1.30)
5.97 (1.32)
.36**
.60**
1.95
.34
7. Accommodation
5.13 (.68)
4.84 (.63)
4.99 (.81)
4.83 (.71)
.75**
.57**
2.14*
.10
8. Relationship Quality
5.87 (.70)
5.79 (.98)
5.90 (.77)
5.91 (.88)
.58**
.67**
.08
1.13
Note: a Paired t-tests were conducted to compare means over time. *p < .05. **p < .01.
Shared Relationship Activities 50
Table 8. Unstandardized Coefficients Testing the Longitudinal Associations between Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes and
Relationship Quality
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes
Relationship Quality at Three Month Follow-Up
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
Activity-related stress
-.09 (-.08)
.04 (.04)
-2.32* (-1.88)
.02 (.03)
.04 (.04)
.45 (.84)
Creating closeness
.13 (.12)
.06 (.07)
2.01* (1.84)
.05 (.03)
.06 (.07)
.76 (.49)
Satisfaction with relationship during activity engagement
.16 (.15)
.06 (.21)
2.70* (2.47*)
.03 (.21)
.06 (.61)
.55 (.34)
Note: There were no gender differences so paths presented were pooled across men and women. All associations controlled for relationship
quality at time 1. Coefficients in parentheses control for accommodation. p < .07. *p < .05.
Shared Relationship Activities 51
Table 9. Unstandardized Coefficients Testing the Longitudinal Associations between Own and Partner’s Desire and Commitment and
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes
Shared Relationship Activity Outcomes at
Three Month Follow-Up
Own Desire and Commitment
Perceptions of
Partner’s Desire and Commitment
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
Actor Effects
Partner Effects
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
B
SE
z
Activity-related stress
.00
.13
.03
-.08
.14
-.60
.00
.12
.02
-.01
.13
-.07
Creating closeness
.27
.11
2.49*
-.12
.11
-1.07
.05
.09
.53
.06
.09
.60
Satisfaction with relationship during
activity engagement
.28
.11
2.58*
.04
.11
.48
.22
.09
2.45*
-.03
.09
-.33
Relationship quality
-.02
.06
-.35
-.03
.06
-.43
.01
.06
.20
-.02
.05
-.27
Note: Paths are pooled across men and women. All associations control for relationship activity outcomes reported at time 1. *p < .05
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