What prevents partners from spending time exclusively with one another: Work? Children?

Let us look at the results reported in a recently published study in the US.

In a recent study the authors analyzed data from the American Time Use survey carried out between 2003 and 2010 looking at the exclusive time married couples shared which each other. Diary entries showed how much time during the week was spend on chores, paid work and exclusively for the partner.

The overall results are as follows:

Concerning work arrangements: Whether both partners worked full-time or part-time, or whether one worked full-time while the other worked part-time had little impact on the exclusive time partners spent with one another.

This need not be surprising because if one partner is working she or he could not share this time with the other partner. There might be more household chores to carry out when both partners are working, resulting in less time available for themselves. However, time available to be spent together in a partnership where both partners are employed was not significantly lower than in those partnerships where only one partner works.

Children make a difference though: Parents spend much less time exclusively with one another than non-parents. Additionally, the age of the child matters: Parents with school-age children (between 6 and 17 years of age) spent the least amount of time exclusively with one another.  The difference is even bigger when one distinguishes between weekdays and weekends, namely parents of children aged 6 to 9 spend 45 minutes less time exclusively with one another during weekdays and 75 minutes less on weekends than parents of children who are in other age groups.

A gender-specific perspective is also present in the amount of time partners spend exclusively with one another: Women report spending less time alone with their husbands than men with their wives.

Time spent exclusively with one another has consequences for partnership satisfaction: The more time couples spend together, the happier they are, feel less stress and experience more meaningfulness and well-being in their partnerships.


What does this mean?

Employment has a lesser effect on the time partners spend exclusively with one another than does the presence of children. Since the amount of time spent with one another raises partnership satisfaction, a decline in this time reduces satisfaction within the partnership.

Is this an argument against children? Does it make sense? A family with children does not consist of the couple alone. To look only at partnership satisfaction and not at mother-child, father-child and parent-child relationships would provide an insufficiently clear picture of the social group.

To play off satisfaction in partnerships against satisfaction in families with children is an unreasonable comparison because different forms are compared: A family is not only the couple, and a couple is not a family. Therefore, it is no wonder that satisfaction has a different meaning in different forms. For instance, seen over the entire life course, married people are more satisfied with life than single people.


Source: Flood, Sarah M. & Genadek, Katie R. 2016. Time for Each Other: Work and Family Constraints Among Couples. Journal of Marriage and Family 78 (February 2016), 142 – 164.

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