Do you ever wish you had a more playful relationship? Do you worry that your relationship seems to be fraught with conflict? Or worse, that things feel “blah” and boring?
Playfulness is crucial to a healthy relationship. It’s that playfulness that helps us build a connection with our partners and grow together. When we experience stress or conflict, we may worry that it’s a sign that our relationship is damaged—that it’s no longer enjoyable and fun.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep the passion alive in your relationship. Here’s what you need to know about enjoying a playful relationship where both partners get what they want.
We may assume that fighting is a sign that our relationship is broken. Maybe we grew up avoiding conflict or never seeing our parents fight. On the other hand, maybe our parents fought often, and we fear that we’re repeating certain patterns in our own connection.
First of all, it’s essential to recognize that there are conflict, awkwardness, and moments where we’re ready to just freakin’ throttle the other person in every relationship. It’s totally normal and comes with the territory of sharing a life where each person is emotionally invested. So whether the relationship is new or decades-old, conflicts will come up.
John-Paul Sartre said playing is part of being alive and being engaged. Having a playful relationship isn’t simply the act of playing games with your partner or seeking entertainment—going on dates and doing the routine dinner and a movie. Instead, a playful relationship is full of adventure and discovery! It’s about taking up new hobbies, exploring new places, going for walks and hikes, and getting yourself out of the mundane. New and fresh experience is critical to relationships (romantic, friendly, and even our relationship to ourselves).
Fighting is also crucial to relationships. Conflict keeps us passionately engaged. Most of the time, we fight because we care. We’re fighting because we want more! Conflict helps us express our yearnings and get them met. When we express our desires to our partners, we know and understand that they see and accept 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 learn to mix fighting with a balance of play are happier. When you have more play in your relationship, the fighting becomes less of a big deal. Of course, 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.
We work together and live together. We spend a great deal of time together. When a couple is in a situation like ours, they may find conversations about work taking over. Even if couples don’t work together, if they both work from home or focus on home tasks (like raising kids), conversations can start to feel monotonous and logistical.
It’s important to mix things up and experience new, exciting activities together. If the focus is always on work and the day-to-day minutia, we miss out on all that other interesting and exciting stuff—the shared experiences that help us connect. As they say, all work and no play make for dull relationships.
We spoke with Jennifer and Eric, married 17 years, parents of teens, and co-owners of a business. They both reported a “dulling” of their relationship. The conversation was becoming boring. Fights and arguments surrounding work (where Eric is Jennifer’s manager) spilled over into their home life. The boss/employee dynamic wasn’t translating well into their daily life, and there were feelings that they needed to bring to light.
Power struggles can be a common source of conflict when couples work together, like Jennifer and Eric, and even when they don’t. Sharing a home office or simply sharing the tasks of managing a household together can permeate every interaction and lead to arguments.
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!
We can find many unique and engaging experiences right in our own backyards. We can think back to what we did when we were first dating. Maybe we loved spending time outdoors, antique shopping, or dancing. It’s time to reengage in the things that stimulate both members of the relationship.
When both sides of a couple are committed to learning and growing, they can often find many activities to strengthen and nourish the relationship. We enjoy cross-country skiing and visiting the symphony, but each couple is different. We have to discover the activities that make our hearts leap for joy! As they engage more in these exciting activities, most couples find that they’re reminded of all the things they truly appreciate about their partner.
Other couples may feel like their relationship’s joy and playful side is buried by layers and years of conflict. The good news is: conflict is a good thing! It doesn’t usually mean the relationship is broken (or even damaged). Conflict is stronger than apathy, so conflict means both sides are still concerned about how things turn out in the relationship. The key is to put the energy into fighting FOR 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. Productive conflicts help us “battle towards bliss,” but they require that we fight fair and assume goodwill on the other party’s part. When conflict arises—and it will—use it as an opportunity to discover more about each other.
In our book The Heart of the Fight, we discuss the many ways that couples can have productive conflicts and arguments. We shouldn’t avoid arguing or fighting, but we should recognize that when we go into the battle, we’re hoping to come away stronger and more deeply connected.
Of course, when someone says something critical, most of us get defensive. We can be frustrated and hurt if a partner tells us something we don’t want to hear (like, “you’re just like your dad”). This may lead us to shutting down or 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.
What is the thing that we’re yearning for? Maybe it’s to be loved, to be secure, to be respected. These yearnings are often underneath our upset. Once we pinpoint that, the battle is halfway toward resolution.
When both parties are honest about their feelings, a lot can come to light. 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 in the open. We don’t need to express them in an accusatory or mean way. We can even approach the expression playfully. When we allow ourselves to share truths with another person, those walls start coming down. Suddenly we find ourselves getting back to the dynamic that drew us together.
Unfortunately, sometimes we’re more committed to transformation than our partner. We may be ready to express new ideas and work on our relationship while our partner is fine with the status quo—and that’s precisely the problem! One way to keep a partner where they are is to make it very comfortable. When we do whatever they ask, never complain, and wait on them hand-and-foot, why would they change?
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! Usually, one person is seething and completely upset, and the other person has no clue that there’s even a problem.
Leave the dirty laundry on the floor, the toilet seat up, or the dishes in the sink. Stop doing the things that lead to resentment. When people do this, their partner will usually realize that things are uncomfortable, and it’s time to change!
Surprisingly, this too can actually be a fun “game”! Many couples take the challenge to see how long it takes to get their partner to notice a few of their frustrations. The key is to be honest and express feelings openly. When we tell our partner we’re going to change our behavior, we must follow through. Don’t threaten or withhold or continue to stew in resentment.
When we’re honest about our feelings, we can often get back on the same page—we may even find reasons to laugh about the situation. Bringing playfulness back into our relationship can help keep the spark alive and bring us even closer together with our partners.
For more ways to connect with your partner and strengthen your relationship, visit Wright Now. We have a huge selection of courses and webinars to help you live the life of your dreams. Start moving forward in your relationships, career, and personal growth. Get more out of life today!