Marital interaction is also declining, say researchers in the 2007 book Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is Changing. Pennsylvania State University sociologist Paul Amato and colleagues analyzed national surveys of 2,034 married couples in 1980 and a similar sample of 2,100 in 2000. Those who reported "almost always" engaging in certain leisure activities with their spouses dropped.
Markman took a less scientific approach in a solo study he began in the early 1990s of cities with major league baseball teams; he found those cities had a 28 percent lower divorce rate than cities that didn't have teams but had expressed interest in one. Markman, a baseball fan, doesn't claim that watching baseball is responsible for saving marriages, but he does say it offers couples some fun.
Apparently, it's something many couples already know. Scarborough Sports Marketing of New York, which collects consumer information about professional sports, found that more than 3.9 million married women attended a major-league game from August 2006 through September 2007, compared with 2.5 million for professional basketball, football and hockey combined.
San Diegans Georgi Bohrod Gordon, 63, and her husband, Rich Gordon, 62, are avid baseball fans who even go to spring training. She says baseball talk sparks their conversation, even during the rough spots.
"Sometimes when things are getting a little tense -- because they can -- we can say things like, 'How 'bout them Padres?' and we can go back into a very comfortable world of conversation, which then might lead to less tension, and it opens up the doors to a lot of other conversations," she says.
Thomas Bradbury, who co-directs the Marriage and Family Development Laboratory and Relationship Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, believes having fun together can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for couples: "People in happy relationships generate these activities, and as they generate these activities, it keeps their relationship strong and healthy and fresh."