Eating dinner a few tables away from mine on a restaurant patio in Florence, Italy, a senior citizen couple enjoyed their meal together. They smiled, laughed, gazed into each other’s eyes, and even held hands in between using their hands to eat. They seemed as happy as newlyweds, but after talking with them briefly on my way out of the restaurant, I was shocked to discover that they’d been married for several decades.
Throughout the trip, I observed numerous other mature couples who seemed to be having just as much fun as the longtime spouses I’d met at the restaurant. The joyous connection I saw between Italian spouses wasn’t anything like I’ve seen at home in the United States, where the norm is longtime couples settling into a drab lifestyle together. American spouses often seem to forget about having fun as they tend to the routine business of a shared life – parenting, working, running errands, and completing household chores – as if fun is just a frivolous luxury that they assume they can’t afford when dealing with life’s demands.
Intrigued by the dramatic difference between fun-loving Italian spouses and banal American couples, I wondered whether or not Italian marriages lasted more often than American ones do. The short answer: yes. The divorce rate for Americans in 2008 was 5.2 for every 1,000 people, while the divorce rate for Italians that same year was only 1.3 for every 1,000 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Could there be a connection between spouses having fun together and the success of their marriages? There is, according to a 2008 University of Denver research study that found the more fun married couples had together, the happier their marriages became. Reflecting on that study in an interview for USA Today, Howard Markman, co-director of the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies, commented: “The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time. The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”
It’s worthwhile to regularly make time for having fun together in your marriage – no matter how long you’ve been married – because doing so can make your marriage happier, which will help it last. Here are some ways you can incorporate fun into your marriage:
Play together. Playtime isn’t only for kids. Adults need to be playful, too, to fully engage our God-given creativity. Don’t hesitate to schedule time regularly to play with your spouse, through activities that can range from playing charades or a board game at home to outings such as playing mini golf or going bowling. Talk about what you each enjoyed doing just for fun when you both were children; then consider doing some of those same activities together now to bring a spirit of childlike wonder into your marriage.
Laugh together. Humor is a vital component of a healthy marriage, the American Psychological Association says, because it helps couples keep their lives in perspective and helps prevent boredom and isolation. There are many ways to laugh together, such as: playing practical jokes on each other, discussing funny stories you learn about from the news, watching comical movies or TV shows together, and laughing at the silly antics of your kids or pets.
Enjoy affectionate touch together. Being physically affectionate with each other in non-sexual ways conveys unconditional love and strengthens the bond of friendship that’s crucial to happiness in marriage. Take advantage of the opportunities God presents each day to express affection to each other through touch: from holding hands like the couple I met in Italy, to giving each other hugs and shoulder rubs. Don’t be afraid to playfully tousle your spouse’s hair when the moment is right; that type of fun interaction can motivate your spouse to be more playful with you. Consider going on dates that encourage affectionate touch – from swing dancing to going swimming together.
Cook and eat together. Food can be fun. One of the most common ways I observed married couples having fun together in Italy was simply enjoying meals together. Rather than eating quickly and without much thought, they made the time to savor their food and talk together about what they enjoyed about it. If you and your spouse see food as a good gift from God, the daily process of preparing and eating it can be fun instead of a chore. Plan meals and snacks that feature foods you both like, and cook together whenever possible. It took just a few minutes for my husband and I to make simple pizzas for dinner in Italy, but the process was so fun that it enriched our relationship long beyond that time. When you eat together, don’t rush through the meal, but notice how the food can delight your senses, from aromatic scents to delicious tastes.
Take classes together. It’s fun to learn something new. So go ahead and sign up for classes that interest you both and fit into your schedule (such as weekend or weeknight classes at your local community center). Most communities offer a plethora of different options, such as classes that focus on art, creative writing, computer skills, mechanical skills, or learning a new language. Not only can you have fun together as you learn new skills, but you can also have fun putting those skills to use after the class ends – either at home, or through service projects in your community.
Take trips together. One of the most exciting ways to have fun together is to travel, because trips bring the fun of exploration and adventure into your lives. Experience the beauty of God’s creation in protected natural settings like national parks. Go on spiritual pilgrimages to places that have played important roles in church history or in you and your spouse’s own journeys of faith. Soak in the culture of a place that interests you both and enjoy what you learn about each other in the process.
If you and your spouse make having fun together a high priority in your relationship, you’ll invite God to send joy into your marriage on a regular basis – which can strengthen your marriage for many years to come!
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.