The Importance of Being Playful Partners


Post written by Dating and Romance columnist Alexa Griffith, MA, LMHC, LCAC, RPT of Imagine Hope Counseling Group

Play may be fun and healthy, but it’s not especially popular with the couples I know.
Even though it is intensely pleasurable, eases our burdens, brings forth optimism, society values hard work and extreme competitiveness which lends itself to the disintegration of true joy found through play.
If and when couples engage in play, it is through competitive sports, expensive technology, or structured activities.  There are rules to our play; rules that squelch creativity that is vital to working through anxiety and stress.
When we were children, our play did not require planning, extensive rules, waivers, expensive equipment, leagues, corporate sponsors or overuse of alcohol to enjoy .  We danced, acted out plays, drew. We threw tea parties, swam, swung, played tag, ran, laughed, played pretend with costumes, sticks that magically turned into swords.  We played with $11.00 Barbie dolls, old baby dolls or even paper dolls. We made tents out of couch cushions and sheets and pretended that the carpet was hot lava.  We found complete joy in engaging in free play alone or with friends.
But the world of marriage is serious business and it can feel like there is little opportunity to be playful.
Couples usually see play as leisure time and if engaged in at all, is used for a reward.  There is an abundance of research showing how humor and playfulness is healing and rejuvenating (famously shown in the movie Patch Adams). Play is something that gives life a clearer focus.
However, it is an art lost on the “grown up”.  As a couple, we may engage in play with our children, but usually at the child’s level.  It is just as important to play with your spouse- at your level!
You may have been playful with your spouse when you dated.  Play helps build and foster intimacy.  Play works because it is a non verbal way to communicate feelings.  Playing with your partner allows for deep connections.  When we play, our walls come down.  Our defenses fall. We feel less threatened as the emotional intensity decreases.

Do you know what you truly love to play?

Do you know what playful activity allows your spouse to gather true delight in their activities?   I am not talking about social media games, but games you have to both be present to play.  While farming games and mobile word games have their place, they cannot be the sole source of playfulness for couples. To find truly connecting games, you must be able to make eye contact, touch, and verbalize, if appropriate.
If you have trouble remembering what you like to play, visit a local toy store with your spouse (sans children). Check out the board game isle.  You may still enjoy some of your old faves.
Does anyone outgrow loving the smell of PlayDoh?  There are many board games for adults and couples as well as DVD prompted games. Card games require engaging and working together.  Go outside and play!  Even sporting games can do the trick.  Play catch or “touch” football.  There are romantic based games that can be purchased at most adult apparel stores, if you fancy that sort of thing.  You can even incorporate your partner’s “Love Language” into prizes! You may enjoy winning a night of him changing the diapers (yes, all the diapers) or you giving a back massage that last more than 5 minutes.
Whatever the connection is you both share through play, make it fun, make it priority.  Make it tonight!
What do you and your partner do when you play?