May 29, 2015

“The couple that plays together stays together.”

couple that plays together stays together

This quote conjures images of smiling, happy, sunglassed couples hiking green mountains together, biking together, and having adventures together out in nature. I picture my elderly neighbors down the street, who often work out in the front yard gardening together. It’s so cute. I think about my engineer friends with their gamer wives that team up together and regularly play Starcraft or WoW together. (Nerd points for anyone who knows what WoW is!). This quote probably even applies to the couch potatoes who have a routine of vegging together after work, watching Netflix or Hulu or whatever you call TV these days.

Ben and I do few of those things. He enjoys programming. I cannot. I enjoy baking. He… eats baked stuff. He enjoys biking. I love team sports. I enjoy going out, but he’s one of the biggest (extroverted) homebodies I know.

According to conventional wisdom, it appears that we are doomed.

Yet we are approaching nine years of marriage, and I feel as delighted with him as ever. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one thing we’ve learned over the years is that even if we don’t have shared hobbies, we still love to be together. We don’t always have to be doing the same thing, but there’s something about sharing the same space and just being together that helps draw us closer together.

I used to think we’d have a ton of things to do together. For example, we are both musically trained and play piano and enjoy singing. We even both have perfect pitch. When we were dating, I envisioned us going out to karaoke, serenading each other, or just harmonizing together in the car for fun. We would sit at the piano together and make music. For fun. But in reality, the only one of these daydreams that has actually panned out is the serenading, and that’s because I forced him to on Valentine’s day. (And yes, it was still sweet :)).

Our most recent attempt to find a common hobby was to cook together. But once we became parents, it became increasingly hard to do that together, as one of us would usually hang out with the little one while the other prepared dinner. We still make it a point to have people over for meals and consider that a team effort, but it doesn’t feel like playing together so much as scrambling to get food on the table by a reasonable time.

A few months ago, though, we watched a live marriage conference on DVD called Love and Respect, which I heartily recommend. The speaker comes from a Christian perspective, though if you don’t share the same faith, I still think there are great ideas that would benefit any marriage. This was actually our third time going through this series. We had gone through it as participants in a Newly Married’s Small Group nearly ten years ago, and have led other groups of married couples through it in the years since. It’s a great review for us each time, because Ben and I constantly change as individuals and as a couple, and different parts of the talk have stood out to me each time.

This time around, it was the part on side by side time that struck me. Because after all these years, I was finally ready to admit that my husband and I actually had very few hobbies in common. We could not force ourselves to be that glowing biking couple, and I would not force him to travel the world with me. (Except that I just did. But I mean, on a regular basis. Anyway.) The basic idea is this: men value side by side time. They appreciate spending time together– not necessarily talking or even interacting, but just being in the same space.

The speaker shared an example of a study that was done with females and males from various walks of life. Two female friends would be put into a room with chairs side by side. Almost every time, they would turn the chairs or their bodies toward each other and start chatting. Little girls and older women alike. When two male friends were put into a room side by side, they maintained their positions and hung out like that– facing the same direction, side by side. Fewer words were exchanged, but friendship was still shared.

He concluded that men could be content– even happy– if their wives were just with them when they did things. Not hanging out and chatting with them, but just there. Like sitting on the lawn while he cleans the gutters. Reading a magazine in the garage while he works on the car. Sitting in the car while he drives.

What? No talking?!

That is so. Weird.

Because I love to chat. I love to talk and catch up and get deep and go on tangents! I love to listen and probe and learn and get to know you. I also like to be productive, and sitting in a lawn chair painting my nails while my husband does yard work doesn’t sound like the best way to spend my time. But you know what? That’s what I did. Because Ben had been meaning to cut down that tree for weeks. And so I set out a blanket and baby and I sat outside on the lawn, being there with him while he did that sweaty manual labor all on his own.

How could this possibly be more fulfilling to him than going on a dessert date and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes while reminiscing on memories past and daydreaming together about the years to come?

But here’s the thing. It really did refresh him. After his work in the sun, he seemed energized and happy and spunky in a way that dessert dates never did for him. What on earth?! Was this stuff for real?! Was there really a time when my communicative, chatty, extroverted husband really actually appreciated my silence and simple presence more than face-to-face conversation?

bewilderedThis is me. Feeling bewildered.

What I’d like to say next is this: Upon realizing how energizing it was to my husband for me to just be there and spend time side by side with him, I henceforth made it a point to carve out time to “fill up his tank” in this way. I made an effort to bring out a chair and sit on the deck while he mowed the lawn. I kneeled beside him to help pull the weeds out, and I even hung out and read a book nearby while he cleaned the bathroom.

Except that would all be a lie, because the last time he mowed the lawn, I was inside cooking. The last time he pulled the weeds, I was playing with our toddler in the living room, and the last time he cleaned the bathroom, I wasn’t even home. But I’ve been meaning to. I still mean to. Every time he remarks that the weeds are growing big, I tell myself to make it a point to take our daughter out there and hang out there with him while he weeds… or maybe even help, if our daughter is napping.

I’m working on it. It’s still a little unintuitive to me– this idea that my quiet presence can help draw us together as much as, if not more than, my chatty presence. I think it’s commonly understood that women generally prefer face-to-face time– meeting over coffee to chat or getting lunch to catch up. But there must be a reason guy friends like to do stuff like sit out on a porch, looking out at the street while sharing a beer. Or why they like to go fishing, overlooking the water, while sitting for hours in silence together. I mean, that sounds like a waste of time to me. If you’re going to be together that long, shouldn’t you be having real, deep conversation? What’s the point if you’re just going to sit there and be quiet the whole time?

Yet… it’s a thing. And I’m just going to have to accept that it’s different but good in its own way. My point is this: maybe like us, you don’t always play together, but sometimes just being intentional about being in the same space is enough– maybe even better, in some ways. The goal isn’t always to have a shared experience. Rather, there can be something meaningful about your just choosing to be there, with him, that can be special and re-energizing to a guy.

I hope to make a better effort to intentionally be there with Ben more in the future, and hope you consider trying this out sometime, too!

8 responses to “Side by Side Time”

  1. Curt says:

    This woman is starting to break the Man Code.

    • joellen says:

      Haha I had to double check with husband to confirm that this was a compliment and not that I did something wrong. Clearly I am still very hit or miss in breaking The Code hahaha. Thanks, Curt! Always trying to learn and improve!

  2. Amanda says:


    I love the new look, and I just adore the way you write with a sense of humor! Thanks for sharing this post. We just bought a house with a big yard, and lots of opportunity for weeding, so I’m going to try this! Like you, I’m chatty and I have a hard time not feeling productive…but this sounds like a challenge to be productive in a different way. 🙂

    • joellen says:

      I love that you now think of “lots of weeding” as an “opportunity” :). Make the most if it, right? Let me know how it goes!! I have to admit I missed out on this past Sunday’s weeding opportunity and took my daughter out to Target for errands instead =P But it’s going to happen!!

  3. Dakota says:

    Loved your “Bewildered” picture… too funny! The Engineer and I don’t share many hobbies either, I don’t play WOW or EverCrack (not that he does either, thank goodness, but I had to get that in 😉 ), I cook, he eats… the one thing we started doing before children was ballroom dancing, but that’s much harder to do now as a couple when babysitting funds are limited. We know we’ll get back to it, at least. The “side by side” concept is really interesting, I’ll have to discuss it with him. Usually that kind of thing makes me feel really uncomfortable, like I’m ignoring him in preference to a book or art or something.

    • joellen says:

      EverCrack. Never heard of that one. Points. OOoooh ballroom dancing sounds fun!! I hope you guys get to enjoy that again sometime soon :). LMK what his thoughts end up being on the side by side thing!

  4. Dakota says:

    Evercrack = Everquest. 😀 I talked about it last night with the hubs and a close man friend over dinner and… yeah, totally a thing. I asked “So, when we’re doing stuff, are you feeling like you’re not getting quality time with me because I’m too busy talking?” His yes answer was just a liiiittle too quick. Ouch! Anyway, at least I now know why he likes watching movies and considers that good “together time” and I don’t!

    • joellen says:

      Wow, interesting affirmation of the concept! I also still find it a little hard to believe, so your example helps! Actually just yesterday husband was weeding so I took the little one out to sit on a blanket with me and blow bubbles while he weeded. We hardly interacted, but later that night I asked him how he felt about us being out there, and his smile lit up the room– “It was great!! Yeah it was so nice having you guys out there!!” … haha 🙂 Always nice to learn a better way to love your man =).