This is a post by a contributing author Caryn Statman

The other night, my partner, JB, told me he might not be able to attend a wedding with me next fall because of a golf tournament he will want to watch on TV. I was brushing my teeth at the time, so I thankfully had a few seconds to stifle my initial response of “absolutely not” to something a little more inviting for discussion.

But this interaction is representative of a common issue we deal with in our partnership – balancing our individual hobbies and interests with our relationship needs. I think this is particularly salient for us as we are both in our early thirties and have had these passions and priorities in our lives for a lot longer than we have had each other!

For new couples especially, finding a balance between time together and time apart, as well as how much your partner’s interests become your own, is essential for a healthy relationship. Below are four suggestions for honoring – not changing – your individual hobbies while making them a positive aspect of a partnership instead of a point of contention.

  1. Respect: Our passions and interests make us who we are and our partners as well. When JB entered my life a year ago, so did his love (and I mean, love) of golf. His commitment to early morning tee times, less-than-ideal playing conditions, and the overall frustration one endures in this game astounds me. But it also reflects the dedicated, focused and goal-oriented side of JB that I love so much. I know he feels the same way about my enthusiasm and commitment toward blogging. He sees how happy I feel when I hit the “publish” button and he would never want to keep me from something so fulfilling.

    Mutual respect in all areas is integral for a healthy and satisfying relationship. And showing that you value your partner’s interests is an important display of respect. If you know your partner loves to read on Saturday afternoons for a couple of hours, try not to schedule anything during that time. Of course, respect works both ways. Sometimes, there might be something that just has to be done on that Saturday afternoon. Finding a common ground means that from time to time, the hobby gets put on the backburner for the good of the relationship. I don’t commit to “couple” plans very often that would keep JB away from the golf course on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and JB appreciates that. So when I do ask him to come with me to something at that time, he happily does. He doesn’t take advantage of the respect I show for his passion, and in return, there is no resentment when our relationship needs to be the priority.

  2. Reframe: Golf has provided a built-in balance in our partnership. I look at it as not something that’s taking away time JB could be spending with me, but rather as time I always have to focus on my own interests and nurturing other relationships in my life. Of course I could and do make time for these things aside from just when JB is occupied, but sometimes it’s easy to lose focus, especially in the excitement of a new relationship.

    Having healthy dosages of “me” time in a relationship helps make the “together” time even better. Filling our soul with what we love to do means we aren’t looking for a partner to do it for us. And when you come back together with your heart and mind full from what energizes you (it doesn’t always have to be a passion per se), you have so much more to give to your significant other. So when a partner’s hobby takes him/her away from you, fill that time doing or finding what you love to do.

  3. Share: While time alone is great, one of the best ways to find balance within the relationship is to actually incorporate these interests into your time together. I had never touched a golf club (outside of miniature golf) before I met JB. But we’ve made some great memories on the golf course with him tying to teach my uncoordinated self how to hit a little white ball and us both laughing as we watch that little white ball roll about 2 feet after my “swing.” And the other day, he shyly asked me to help him set up a Google Reader. It’s wonderful to share in something that is so important to the other person. It helps you understand who they are and why they love what they do so much better.

    Despite the spelling, there is most definitely “me” in relationships. This New York Times article discussed various studies positing that happy marriages and partnerships are not necessarily based on putting the relationship first, but making sure your own needs for “self-expansion” — using the relationship to “accumulate knowledge and experiences” — are being met. The more self-expansion, the more satisfied partners are, the longer-lasting the relationship is. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. And learning about someone’s interests, while educating about our own, is a perfect way to have self-expansion in a relationship for reasons other than dining out.

  4. Talk: This is probably the most obvious way to address this issue, but likely the one we forget to do – or forget to do effectively. Communicate with your partner. How will these different hobbies affect your lives? What will be some parameters? What are some compromises (try not to use the word “sacrifices”, it has negative connotations) that each partner is willing to make? And most importantly, let your partner tell you why he/she loves something so much and you do the same. I know that among other things, golf is an outlet for stress for JB and he needs it to decompress. Once I understood it provided that relief for him, I could see it as more than just him playing a game.

With a freshly cleaned mouth, JB and I were able to discuss and effectively resolve the aforementioned wedding/golf conflict. When two people have their own passions and can share them with each other, but also maintain them as individual priorities, the relationship is a happier place for everyone. Commit to picking up the proverbial golf club and embracing your partner’s passion and letting them into yours as well.

Caryn Statman is a 30-something daughter, sister, aunt, girlfriend, friend, and wannabe mother of a dog. Professionally, she helps college students figure out their careers and majors, while personally, trying to find balance in her own life. She blogs about all of these things at Balance Overload


Photo credit: kloppster

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