Marriage Improvement Project: an update

A few weeks ago, I promised Turtle something along the lines of: for every dog-based post I write, I will also write something nice about her. She said it doesn’t even have to be nice, she just likes to know what’s happening in her life.

Sadly, this means that I am not blogging as much as usual. My brain always – always! – has things to say about dogs (my dogs, your dogs, other people’s dogs, dog parks, etc.), but I’m not always feeling long-winded or quippy about our marriage. I’m certainly often enjoying our marriage and often working at our marriage, but “Hey dudes, my marriage is pretty good today,” or “Hi friends! My marriage needs a bit of work in the ___ department” don’t really make for an entertaining blog. Plus there’s that whole thing where I try not to write about the things we’re struggling with until we are done struggling with them.

yep, we're definitely married

But! I promised you all, you know, a month ago, that I would write about my marriage improvement project real soon. (Yes, Turtle, “real soon.” Don’t worry, I said it in a silly accent in my head; I know it’s bad grammar.) Here’s the background:

Television is sort of a weak spot. We both came at it from different perspectives: Turtle has found the television comforting and likes to have it on, often as background noise. In my experience, the TV is something you actively watch; you sit in front of it and it is all you pay attention to until you are done watching, and then you turn it off.

You might see how these approaches don’t exactly fit well together.

it's a battle (that is honestly not really relevant in settings like the one where this picture was taken)

Over the years, we have both adjusted our TV watching. She keeps it off when I’m at home; I have found some shows that I like on most nights. During the weekends while the TV is on a little bit more, I usually work in the study with the door closed. It works.

In the last couple of months, though, we noticed a few things happening: we used to start watching our shows at about 8, but the time was steadily creeping up as we got home from work tired and hungry. It was 7:30, then 7, then 6:30. Do you know what’s on at 6:30? Nothing. It’s pretty miserable. So we were eating our dinner in front of the TV, hardly talking, watching dumb shows from 6:30-10, and then going to sleep. The other part? We were arguing a lot. Nothing big, but a lot of little things. I’m not saying that television makes you argue, but I am saying that living together without taking the time to see each other and say nice things to each other and appreciate each other can take a toll on things, especially when one of you is also leaving out dirty dishes, not replacing an empty toilet paper roll, and insisting on owning two dogs. (Side note: some of those things were Turtle, some were me. I bet you can figure out what at least one of mine is.)

Well, for school one of my projects was to “replace a behavior” with another behavior. And what better to replace than television watching? Turtle agreed to participate in my project, and without getting all technical, here’s what we did: we tracked how much TV we were watching and also tracked the time we spent on any of four other activities, which were reading out loud together, going for a walk, eating at the table, or playing a game.

games! (we're grumpy in these pictures. oops.)




After a week of tracking all of that, we spent a week where we had to earn our TV time. For every 15 minutes we spent on an activity, we got 15 minutes of TV. A pretty low-level trade! The following week we got to do whatever we wanted again. Here’s what happened:

Figure 1. Percentage of time spent watching TV and participating in other activities. Horizontal lines represent the mean percent for each activity in each condition.

The important things to note: First, television watching dropped to 0% in the treatment week! Zero! And other activities spiked. You guys? That week was so fun. Second, though television watching went up again following treatment withdrawal, it’s still lower than it was, and other activities remained higher than they were. (There are only 4 data points per week because we are not home that much, and on days when we weren’t home, everything was 0%, so we only counted days we were home.)

And I don’t have data for this one, but anecdotally, things are staying that way. We are watching way less TV – maybe just once or twice a week? We are cooking together more and playing games and playing with the dogs and going to bed earlier. We are getting more sleep and really just enjoying each other a lot more. Things are really, really good right now.

So here’s what I learned:

  1. Television is no good. It can be fun, but (obviously) in moderation. Also it’s easy to let it get out of control! Tread carefully, my friends.
  2. Behavior analysis can fix anything! It is magical! (This may be a slight exaggeration, but I am damn happy with my career choice these days. Or at least my education choice, since I am fairly career-less.)
  3. My wife is amazing for participating and for being amazing.
  4. I really love making graphs. What else can I measure?

In conclusion? Marriage improvement project = success! If you’re interested in something like this, or in this project specifically, I can send you the whole APA-formatted, citation-filled, researched-supported paper. Happy Friday! May your relationships go forth and prosper (either metaphorically or literally, whichever you prefer).

(Turtle is dissatisfied that this is about our marriage rather than about her. “I only want blogs where I am the star! Why did you make me want to be famous? Stop writing what I’m saying!” I tell you, folks, things are always exciting here. “You’re not going to put your graphic on the internet, are you? Do you want to lose readers?” I’m hoping you guys are the type who will appreciate my graph.)


Filed under Marriage/Wedding/Engagement

14 Responses to Marriage Improvement Project: an update

  1. I always appreciate a good behavior analysis graph! Love the project, and I totally agree with you that television can get out of control sometimes – Corey and I definitely have to be careful about that in our home too!

  2. Sisterface

    Looks to me like you guys just need to spend ALL your time at Camp. Apparently that’s where all the high-quality fun activities happen! And no TV (bonus)!!!

  3. your wife

    1. i love you
    2. no more graphs on your blog – for realz, lady, you are about to lose readers :)
    3. clean the house!

  4. We also watch wayyyyy too much TV. (In our credit, we often play complicated games while having the TV on in the background??) Last night was the first time in ages I actually set dinner down on the kitchen table instead of the coffee table!

  5. Jen

    This is awesome. I should tell my husband to chart our behaviors. I think he’d get behind some of the random things I decide we should try sometimes (no TV! dinner’s at home at the table every night! games! social life!).

  6. graphs! that is awesome. i am clearly precisely the sort of dork you want around here. also, the results look pleasing (i love moderation, although i do not love tv. but i have my own lame pastimes, so it’s just preference, not judgement =)

  7. Anne

    Count this as a vote for the graphs! I also struggle with the TV watching…may have to attempt to recreate your experiment.

  8. I am going to passive-aggressively forward this blog post to my spouse, who believes that meals should always be eaten while facing a screen. Also, I like graphs and always make them when I’m trying to make a change in my life. At one point I was graphing the amount of time I spent at working actually working vs surfing the web. It was not pretty. By the way, I’m at work right now. =/

  9. two French Bulldogs

    ok we got..a blog about us doggies and another blog about the later of the house. Or the other lady of the house, OR alternate every other day
    Benny & Lily

  10. This is just an awesome post. I’m glad the improvement project was a success and I wish you many continued successes :)

  11. ashleymandi

    I love this post… including the graphs. We have made similar changes in the past and currently do not have cable. I love that you write about this stuff!

  12. Ksenia

    This post is amazing on so many levels. I need to try and replicate these results with my boyfriend :) Like seriously. I’ve already discussed it with him.

  13. Jamie

    I stumbled upon your page because I am about to get married (in 2 weeks!) and am writing vows (eek!!). I also love graphs.

    You might love this as much I do :

    Thanks for writing and sharing. I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>