Dr. Bob Wright | December 3, 2015

How to Keep the Playfulness Alive in Your Relationship

In every relationship, there’s conflict, awkwardness and moments where you probably are ready to just throttle your significant other.


This blog post is by Dr. Judith Wright and Dr. Bob Wright.

In our relationship, we’ve faced some real rip-roaring moments, but we’ve used those moments as a platform to awaken our connection, make it deeper, and yes, even laugh and play along the way.

John Paul Sartre said playing is part of being alive and being engaged. It’s not simply the act of playing games with your partner or doing the same old routine of dinner and a movie. It’s about taking up new hobbies, exploring new places, going for walks and hikes, and getting yourself out of the mundane. The new and fresh is critical to relationships and it’s vital to keeping things strong.


This month, as we focus our theme on play and how to engage with our partners, we’ll be focusing on some of our conflict and engagement advice from our upcoming book, “The Heart of the Fight.” (Follow the link for a free chapter!)


Fighting is also important to relationships. Conflict is what keeps us engaged. It’s what helps us express our yearnings, and know and understand that our partner sees and accepts us for who we are. We stop holding back and holding in and instead explore the dynamic, the control, the power and the behaviors together.

On the flip side of the fighting, couples who are able to mix fighting with a balance of play are happier. When you have more play, the fighting becomes less of a big deal. The message is still important, but it’s the playful side tempering us and helping us take down our guard and defenses so we can truly hear what the other person is trying to say.

When Couples Are Always Together

We work together and live together. We spend a great deal of time together. When a couple is in a situation such as ours, they may find conversations about work taking over—even we forget to play when we’re focused on work. What do we know? All work and no play makes for dull relationships.

In this week’s podcast, we were speaking with Jennifer and Eric, married 17 years, parents of teens and co-owners of their business. They were facing a “dulling” of their relationship. Conversation was becoming boring. Fights and arguments from work (where Eric is Jennifer’s manager) spilled over into their home life. There were also underlying concerns about the boss/employee dynamic that needed to be brought to light.

This can be a common conflict when couples work together—and even when they don’t, sharing a home office or simply sharing the tasks of managing a household together can permeate every interaction. Suddenly couples find themselves simply talking about bills and “to do lists” or zoning out with soft addictions in front of the television. One person takes the lead as the “boss” and the other resents them for being so damn bossy. The fun of the relationship has disappeared.

If this has become your relationship, it’s time to WAKE UP! Couples need to break out of the routine. What did you do when you were first dating? Did you love spending time outdoors, antique shopping, or dancing? It’s time to reengage in the things that stimulate you.

If both sides of the couple are committed to learning and growing, you can find activities to strengthen and nourish your relationship. We enjoy cross-country skiing and visiting the symphony, but try whatever makes your heart leap for joy! You’ll find as you engage more, you’ll start to be reminded of the things you truly appreciate about each other.

When It’s Constant Conflict

Other couples may feel like the joy and playful side of their relationship is buried by conflict. The good news is: conflict is a good thing! Conflict is stronger than apathy, so conflict means both sides are still concerned about how things turn out in the relationship.

As we learn in the Rules of Engagement, no one takes more than 50% of the blame and both members of the couple are 100% responsible for their own happiness. It’s also about fighting fair and assuming goodwill on the part of your partner. When conflict arises—and it will—use it as an opportunity to discover more about each other.

Sometimes, when someone says something critical we get defensive. If a partner tells us something we don’t want to hear, we can be frustrated by it, we can shut down or blurt out and start slinging mud right back at our partner. Underneath it all though, part of what REALLY irks us? There’s a kernel of truth to most criticism.

To really engage and approach it from a transformational perspective, it’s time to put away the “you said, I said” laundry list of arguments. Express your yearnings to your partner. Listen to your partner’s yearnings and desires as feedback. What are you doing to make them so crazy? Rather than working on the “who’s right and who’s wrong,” work on the solution together.

You’ll be amazed what the underlying message might be, when you’re both being honest about your feelings. Expectations can create vulnerabilities, and past resentments, and unmet and unexpressed yearnings can eat away at us.

Part of transformational living is to express these yearnings and get them out there. It doesn’t have to be in an accusatory or mean way. It can even be in a playful way. Starting to express these things and letting the walls down will enable you to get back to the dynamic that drew you together.

When It Feels One-Sided

Unfortunately, sometimes we’re more committed to transformation than our partner. One of the ways to ensure a partner stays exactly where they are is by making it very comfortable for them. This means we do what they ask, never complain, and wait on them hand and foot, while they withhold affection and bark orders at us. Sounds ideal, right?

Obviously, we’re being a little tongue in cheek here, but you’d be surprised how many people tell us how awful their partners are, and all the things they ask of them and all the things they resent—yet they CONTINUE TO DO THEM!

If you stop making it so darned comfortable for your partner to ignore your yearnings, setting up the expectation that you to wait on them, care for them, and be at their beck and call—they will stop. It’ll become uncomfortable for them—and guess what: they’ll realize they need to transform and change.

Many times we hold in our feelings and keep things status quo, expecting our partner to be a mind reader. Instead, it’s time to speak up. Let your partner know you aren’t the butler or maid. If your partner expects you to pick up her dirty laundry on the bedroom floor, after a week or two of the floor being decorated in nothing but her dirty laundry, she just may think, “Hmm…maybe I need to pick these up.”

Surprisingly, this can actually be a fun “game” you can play to get your partner to notice a few of the things you’ve been frustrated about. The key is that you need to express your feelings to your partner: say you’re going to change your behavior and then do it. Don’t threaten or withhold or continue to stew in resentment.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can begin on your own transformational journey, download our FREE Life Project Planner at www.lifeproject.com to start working on your vision for you and your partner. This planner will help you plan out your steps and goals, based on research from others who view their life as a “project” and a work in progress. If you are in the Chicago area, we would love for you to join us for our Foundations Weekend Training and our Year of Transformation.


If you’re looking for deeper, more meaningful relationships, you can pre-order our new relationships book: The Heart of The Fight, coming out next February.


About the Authors

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Dr Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach. She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

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