How to Fill Your Free Time (Without a Fight)

When the world slowed down for a few months, many of us got a taste of what it was like to have more free time, albeit free time stuck at home. We learned how to bake new treats (banana bread? sourdough?), organized every drawer and cabinet, and maybe even took on some home improvement projects. But by now, we’re all itching to do the things we postponed or longed for during our days at home. On top of that anticipation, it’s also summer, which usually brings long weekends, vacations, and lots of get-togethers. What were previously “normal” decisions might now be met with a new sense of unease or anxiousness about being with and around others. Combine these factors with the urge to make up for the adventures we would’ve had this spring, and you have a situation that could lead to some heated discussions with your partner about where and how you’ll spend your precious free time.

Suffice it to say, this summer brings some new challenges for your relationship.

Here are three things to consider with your partner as you make decisions around how you spend your free time over the next couple months:

Identify your “social style.”
You likely know your social preferences and have a good idea about your partner’s, but taking time to talk about them can help you acknowledge differences or correct any assumptions. This will help establish a baseline for which options you consider. Are you more of a planner or do you prefer spontaneity? Do you like the extravagant vacation plans, or prefer something more relaxed and lowkey? Or is your social style contingent on context? Maybe you like a plan when you’re at home, but you prefer to live without a daily agenda when you’re on vacation.

Understand what’s important.
This goes for both of you. Think through what you really want to do this summer. Maybe you really want to spend time with your friends because you haven’t seen them since last winter. Perhaps you really want to get out of town because you missed two other trips you had planned this spring. Or maybe it’s really important to you to spend time with your partner because your work situations didn’t allow you to have that much time together during the last few months. By thinking this through on your own first, then discussing with your partner, you can agree on the things you know you need to plan for, for each of you, before you get into specific ideas or events.

Consider projects, too!
Free time doesn’t just have to be social time away from home. We all know someone who did all the things when it comes to home projects during quarantine; however, not all of us were that ambitious. So, in addition to all the parties and patio time you’re planning, reserve time for projects you want to complete, together or individually. Be mindful of overscheduling, so that you’re not unintentionally filling all of your free time with events away from home. If you don’t touch base with your partner, it could be one of those things that turns into an argument this fall when you realize you left no time to begin or finish up a project before your fall schedule starts.

The key to it all
What we’ve implied but haven’t said yet is that this whole decision-making process should be a two-way communication street, full of honesty and active listening by both partners. Without thoughtful conversation about how and where you want to spend free time, you end making a lot of assumptions about what you both want. If expectations go unarticulated, ultimately, feelings might get hurt or resentment might bubble up. It’s important to be honest with each other and keep your mind open to compromise. It’s not all about you, nor is it all about your partner. It’s really about finding a balance that meets both of your needs, by considering your social styles, what’s most important to each of you, and reserving time for things other than just the fun, event-like stuff.

Once you’ve made decisions about where to spend all that free time, here are two key tips to enjoying it:

  1. Lower your expectations.
    There is a lot riding on this summer. We all feel that. So in order to not feel disappointed, just expect less. Go back to what you identified as being most important to you and your partner and focus on enjoying those things.
  2. Be in the moment.
    When you’re enjoying free time with your partner, friends, and family, try to remember what makes free time so special: it’s time without the commitments and obligations of our normal routine, so savor it and be fully present in the moment!

If you need more support in having meaningful conversations, pick up a copy of our Discussion Guide for Couples. This guide will help you navigate many different relationship topics, set the right stage for productive discussions, and ultimately grow closer as a couple. 

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