Research shows that in normal marriages and relationships, spending more time together does not improve or increase the quality of the relationship. (Gager & Sanchez, 2003; Huston, McHale & Crouter, 1986)
The way in which the couple spends their time together is important. (Graham 2008)
Studies have also be narrowed this down even more, defining that participating in co-joint activities is good but active involvement in exciting activities is even more strongly associated with relationship quality. That means that Saturday date night at the fancy restaurant and movies after is very pleasurable but are not as effective as be involved in more exciting and challenging activities together like sailing or hiking.
Novel, exciting and challenging activities promote self expansion and opportunities for growth. This idea fits in with the self expansion model developed out of research by Dutton & Aron, who were initially researching arousal and attraction.
The Self Expansion Model describes love as a result of the motivation toward growth and self expansion. (Graham 2008)
When a person experiences exciting and challenging new things with a partner, they incorporate and associate their positive self expansion with their partner. This creates a strong and positive connection that promotes intimacy and enduring friendship. The relationship is seen as inspiring and is highly valued.
A new relationship is exciting and challenging as each person has to focus his or her attention in a wide variety of engaging and communicating activities. As the relationship progresses there are less and less challenges and opportunities for growth and boredom sets in. Relationship satisfaction decreases over time. Couples that do say their relationships are satisfying regularly continue to find new ways to engage in exciting co-joint activities that inspire them to exercise skills and grow together.
These couples experience FLOW together. They lose track of time and are totally immersed in what they are doing. They are focused, creative and happy being involved in their project or activity together. They are in the zone together. They challenge and inspire each other. They incorporate positive aspects of each other into their own personality.
A couple that flows together stays together.
Flow is described as the optimal human experience. Flow is a mental state when you are engaged in a highly challenging activity that matches you current skill level. When you completely engaged in an activity experiencing flow, it feels effortless and you feel invigorated and energised. It doesn’t matter what the outcome of the activity is as the activity itself is the reward.
Activities that are intrinsically motivating promote engagement and growth; it is those type of activities that are more likely to facilitate the experience of flow. (Csikszentmihalyi)
When a relationship reaches the point of both people feeling secure and loved, it provides a solid base for even more explorations and growth.