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The 4 Quadrant Approach to Leisure Activities

Struggles over the organization of leisure activities come to the surface in couples therapy.

In some marriages, the couple does everything together. In other marriages, the individuals are largely autonomous, "doing their own thing." In still other marriages, one or the other partner sets the agenda, sometimes to the great distress of the other partner. A great concept for organizing activities is a quadrant approach. The concept here is that one quarter of the time, I do things with you that you like because YOU like them. One quarter of the time you do things with me that I like, because I like them. One quarter of the time we do things we have identified that we both like. And one quarter of the time we each do our own separate thing.

Let's say my wife likes to go on long walks with the dog. And let's also say that I really don't enjoy long walks. Well, under this concept, I would accompany my wife because... well... because she likes long walks. My purpose would be to keep her company, but also -- and this is the best part -- to be curious about what makes long walks so enjoyable for her, in part to get to know her better, in a sense, and in part to see whether there is something in long walks for me that I am not yet aware of.

Now the premise here is that for an similar amount of time, my wife will do an activity or activities with me, simply because I enjoy them. For instance, my wife might take up golf so we can play together. Not exactly because she wants to, but because she can see that I enjoy golf and because she knows it will please me. Or she might go to the flea market with me, even though she really cannot quite stand flea markets.

So now we are walking the dog together, and playing golf together. Or going to flea markets together and, perhaps, visiting her family. Nice. Doing something your partner likes just because she likes it will make your partner happy. But of course it has to cut both ways.

The other two quadrants are for activities we both like -- let's say going to movies, or working in the yard -- and for separate activities like reading, for me, or going out to lunch with her buddies, for my wife.

The goal here is to spend similar amounts of time in each of the four quadrants -- I do things she likes because she likes them, she does things I like because I like them, we identify activities with both enjoy, and we do some things on our own, separately. Balance is always great in marriage. Start here.


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