If a healthy relationship includes playfulness (and you’re like me…), how can you get it back?

If a healthy relationship includes playfulness (and you’re like me…), how can you get it back?

Are you missing the sweet touch of play in your relationship?

Perhaps your playfulness is like mine:  you’ll slip into the mood here and there, but most often you’re all too serious.

Before the pandemic hit, our lifestyle was probably like yours: sometimes travelling, working at other locations, volunteering and an active social life. In other words, on the road. But now, all that time I used to spend en route has been gifted to me.

What have I done with said gift?  (cue UGGGHHH!)

About a year ago, I was determined to revive a former passion.  Growing up, I used to lose myself playing piano for hours.  Many months after that decision, how many times have I sat down to play? Not even once for each restless finger.  I shudder to write it: two times!

I also have a creative writing journal hiding under a stack of books.  It was my morning companion for a couple of months. Now the exposed parts shoot glances of forlorn betrayal. We could easily reconcile but I look away.

These are two attempts at ‘play’ I’ve allowed to slide away, even while I’m more free to engage than ever before.

You and I know that the issue isn’t time.

Maybe there’s an ingrained principle you’ve lived by. Perhaps it’s one you’re teaching your kids as I did:  you can play after your homework’s done.  Work hard, play later.  Play is your reward once all the things are checked off your list.

But when the list goes on and on as it does in your full life – then what?  Are you content to resign yourself to your overbearing sense of responsibility?  Has your inner parent become a trafficker?  That may sound dramatic, but hey, I don’t think I’m the only one who drives at that list day after day leaving play on the roadside, thumbing a ride.

If you’re that person who’s known to be playful, the bringer of fun – bravo!  My sincerest thanks go out to you for making this world a happier place!

I had a fantastically fun uncle.  I don’t think an hour went by in his entire life where he wasn’t making someone laugh.  He was the one who’d draw the crowd at a party. In my dreams I shared his genes.  But the fact that my husband Carey has made it his mission to make me laugh every day must tell me something.

When I’m in the right mood, I can be playful and spontaneous, but that mood doesn’t hit often enough.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?  If so, then let’s consider infusing our lives and our marriages with more playfulness together.

I’ll briefly break this down into ‘why playfulness?’, ‘What does it look like?’ and ‘How do I get it back?’.

  1. Why playfulness?

You’ve probably heard about what you’re missing out on if fun and play has been squeezed out of your life by an endless list of responsibilities.  What exactly?  Only life-enhancing things like enhanced creativity, humour, motivation, better control over stress and improved coping mechanisms.

I believe I don’t even need to sell you on ‘why’.  You’ve already learned the difference between your optimism and creativity on a day you’ve been in the mood to be playful with those around you, and the negativity, dulled responses or indifference to propositions when you’re feeling burdened down.

Your growth, your intimacy with others and your contributions hinge on your freedom to play.

It feels trite to apply this to marriage, but allow me to point out that your playfulness will impact everything from your ability to heal from everyday hurts, to explore best solutions and to create memories that build a legacy.  I heard about a couple who sometimes broke through an argument with each other by simply sticking out their tongue.  Tried it once myself too (NB sense of occasion required).  It worked!

  1. What does playfulness look like?

A child-like approach to life has features worth nurturing.

According to one prominent play expert Gwen Gordon  “healthy adults are individuals who live up to their species’ potential by retaining the childhood qualities of “open-mindedness, receptivity to new ideas, malleability, questing, striving, questioning, seeking, critical testing and weighing of new ideas as well as old ones: wide-eyed curiosity and excitement in the enjoyment of new experiences, the willingness to work hard, together with a sense of humor and laughter” (Montagu 1981, 70) (at 251).

In addition to all the above, a playful mind looks like a healthier physical life. In other words, a body governed by a mind that is playful and curious is a more resilient one. We’ve known this for millenia.  Take this ancient wisdom for example:  “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”[1]

  1. How do I get playfulness back?

Hey, normally I’m on the other side of a life learning before I start writing about it.  Not really true in this case.

I decided to make an exception.  After all, this one’s urgent in view of what we’ve all been through and are still facing.  Allow this playfulness journey to be a quest we explore together.

Play doesn’t have to be a reward.  Play doesn’t need to consume a lot of time.  Playfulness is better as an approach and an overlay to our everyday lives. Having said all that, the keys to restoring playfulness appear to be twofold.  You need a fundamental sense of safety.  Your mind needs to feel secure enough to have the freedom to wander.  The other key?  Margin.  It’s imperative to create and guard some margin for play.

When I go back to the piano, in addition to playing music I love, I’ll try song writing.  Just for fun, with no planned results.  And, I recently purchased a floating raft big enough for a bunch of us.  Bring yours, and we’ll start a flotilla party on the lake!

This article in Fast Company recommends investing time and resources in creative play:  whether paints, fabrics, cut and paste, or even adult colouring books.

 

Gwen Gordon in the article cited above has other ideas, such as dance (tango specifically), improv theatre or improv music.

Remember that play doesn’t have a defined end goal.  You may ‘play’ as a team member, but if you’re obsessed with winning, then you have a defined result.

Sometimes, just play without a purpose.

So, if you’re an aspiring play-er like me, what else will you do to restore a more child-like, playful approach to your marriage and your life?

 

 

[1] Proverbs 17:22, New International Version

5 thoughts on “If a healthy relationship includes playfulness (and you’re like me…), how can you get it back?”

  1. I agree with the need for playfulness – but my husband recently had a bout of depression which changed his personality somewhat and made it impossible for him to respond to playfulness or play along. I can do my own ‘play’ but they can’t be at home, as he doesn’t like the ‘stuff’ for play to be around the house – it ‘takes up space’ (even in a box in the closet). I have tried to engage him in word play (he was good at it before) and share ‘funny stuff’ with him, but he doesn’t find it funny. Any ideas for keeping play in the marriage in this type of situation?

    1. Toni Nieuwhof

      Joanne, it’s hard to journey with your husband through depression. Be gentle, and remember that his reactions to you are coloured by his condition. Perhaps you’re best to focus on helping him with the strategies for improving his mental health. You may need to satisfy your need for play and playfulness through other close friends or family. If you have access to a professional counsellor or his doctor, maybe ask them this question. It’s a great one!

  2. Veronica Bloemeke

    My mom and I both have advanced degrees in recreation. So play has always been a priority in my family. There are so many health benefits to play! Here is an easy one you can do right now. Your brain chemistry gets the same benefits from when you fake laughter as when you do the real thing. So, go ahead right now and do a few full belly Ha! Ha! Ha!s It will improve your mood and it might lead the people around you to some laughs for real 🙂

    1. Toni Nieuwhof

      Veronica, thanks so much for this, and for the influence you’re offering the world! Looking forward to raising some eyebrows…:)

  3. Toni – thanks for the feedback – we see a counselor separately and together, and will explore the question with her.

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