Couples, you know how it is.

You're busy with work, home, house and other responsibilities. You need time together, to relax and renew your bonds.

"Date night" is good for that. But did you know that sharing the same physical activity can be very good for your relationship?

"Sharing activities as a couple is a great relationship-tending skill," says Lisa Bahar, a blogger and marriage and family therapist. "(It) enhances and strengthens the relationship due to one partner wanting to create an experience with the other by sharing in an activity one may not feel mastery of."

But it needs to be physical activity. Watching TV together, for example, doesn't elicit the same relationship-building.

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Choosing what to do can be complicated, though, says Dan Gaz. He is Physical Activity & Assessment Program Manager in the Mayo Clinic's Healthy Living Program, and also Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine.

"If I'm a fast runner and she's slow, we can't have fun together," Gaz said. "If I'm a little faster and she wants to be faster, we can close that gap."

He sees that in his own marriage.

"She's much better at yoga but seeing how much better she is helps me want to be better," he said.

He also recalls the time they took up ice skating as part of a group.

"Everyone else could skate, and I was learning," he said. "I was going around like a newborn giraffe walking. I took lessons and it got to be less bothersome and more funny (to be behind the rest of the group)."

While it can be successful for one of the couple to be highly accomplished at a sport or activity and then teach it to the other, Gaz said it might be better for some couples to take another path.

"Team volleyball, for example," he said. "You have both genders, so that kind of levels the playing field. And there's the social aspect, maybe going out afterward."

In general, he said, "What I would look for is things that don't require a supreme amount of skill to be successful." Running qualifies if your speeds are similar.

"Kayaking, you don't have to go fast to enjoy it," he added. "Individual sports like golf, one isn't slowed down by the other." And use of different tees can be another gap-narrower.

The group concept can help, for the camaraderie with others and to enable the couple to perhaps go at different speeds.

"Snowshoeing in larger groups is more fun, for example," he said. "If you're bicycling, in group riding, there will probably be many husbands and wives in the group. It's easy on the joints and you can either cover a lot of land or not very much."

His biggest advice was: Get going.

"Try something," he said. "Try something as a couple you haven't done before, or haven't done since you were a kid.

"Even if one of you is really good at it, maybe the other will pick it up faster. With most things, you're rarely out of a lot of money trying something."

Keep trying until you find a sport that you can enjoy together.

"There's a lot of research that says if you work out together, you're more likely to stick with it," he said, echoing that long-held advice that the best program is one you won't quit. "You have a person to do it with, and you have someone who's counting on you; you're less likely to blow it off."

So besides fitness and fun, you're improving your relationship.

The couple that plays together stays together.

Teaching partner requirements:

Patience, especially when you feel yourself running out of it.

Willingness to play at a lower level while your spouse learns the game/sport.

Temporarily setting aside competitiveness (even if it means biting your tongue).

No lecturing. It feels condescending. No one wants to be told what to do.

Learning partner requirements:

Eagerness to learn, which in part means active listening.

Curiosity about the various facets of whatever activity is involved.

Willingness to make mistakes, fail and make a fool of yourself.

Staying open and doing your best to avoid reacting quickly or impulsively. Remember that your spouse is being generous and trying to give you a gift.

— Tribune News Service