The value of play in relationships

Silliness is good for your relationships and your health
When was the last time you ditched your grownup routine to have a playdate with your partner or friend? For many of us, the daily stresses of adulting make the idea of playing seem frivolous. But there is great value in play – we all need time and space to have fun.

Studies show that engaging in imaginative play is fundamental to our well-being, even as adults.

But how do you define “play?”

Psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit National Institute for Play Stuart Brown tells NPR, “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary. It’s pleasurable. It offers a sense of engagement. It takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

So, adults need recess. But why?

As adults, playfulness improves our brains and lives, Brown says. Play helps us stay open to new ways of doing things. It boosts our cooperation and builds emotional resilience.

Writing in Psychology Today, psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne notes, “Being playful allows you to bring the positive emotions of joy and laughter into your interactions with other people, building social solidarity.”

With life partners, exploring the lighthearted and silly side of life helps to ease tension. A little fun brings a brief reprieve from the daily stresses of life.

In her article, Whitbourne cites German researchers Kay Brauer and Rene Proyer’s “OLIW” study model.

The OLIW acronym identifies 4 key types of adult playfulness:

Other-directed Using playful behaviors to:

  • ease tense situations;
  • cheer up other people;
  • and occasionally engage in physically amusing activities such as gentle “horseplay.”

Lighthearted
Being able to take a spontaneous, carefree approach to life and improvising rather than sticking to a set routine.

Intellectual
Playing with ideas and puzzling over problems to come up with new and creative solutions.

Whimsical
Being amused by oddities. Enjoying extraordinary things and people. But what if we want to brush up on our silliness quotient? The German researchers came up with some exercises.

Running low on other-directedness? Try introducing a few silly words into the vocabulary you share with your partner. The researchers recalled one couple who started saying “blye” rather than “bye” to each other. This referenced a time when one partner mispronounced the word. It became a standard joke between them.

Feeling less than lighthearted? It might be time to veer off script. You could dazzle your partner by wearing your wackiest t-shirts around the house, just for fun.

Ramp up the intellectual playfulness. Put a new spin on something you already do. For example, instead of choosing an earnest and flowery card for a special occasion, go for goofy.

As far as the whimsical side of playfulness, the good doctors suggest moving into a more adult playground. Eric Berne, author of “The Games People Play,” suggests couples remember to bring a sense of fun into the bedroom as a way to increase intimacy.

“Being an adult in an adult relationship doesn’t mean you have to give up your childlike qualities all the time,” Whitbourne says. “Being silly is a way, not only to have fun together, but also to help you build the strong bonds that positive emotional experiences can provide.”

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” – Dr. Seuss

Caution: Adults at play!

Grownups can feel like they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. When everyday responsibilities and schedules consume an outsized part of life, it is even more important to carve out time for leisure. You can aim for a daily habit. If that feels like a heavy lift, find small ways to bring in a smattering of lightness throughout the week. Research shows that being playful is a key way to get more out of life.

Here are 10 tips to infuse a little playfulness into your life:

  1. Use unscheduled time to be creative, to daydream, reflect, and decompress.
  2. Appreciate playtime – whether it’s alone or with other adults or children.
  3. Smile and laugh often throughout the day.
  4. Try new things and experience the unexpected.
  5. Participate in a variety of arts/sports/activities whenever you can to expand your horizons.
  6. Make mental connections (e.g., “How else can I use this?” or “What else can this do?”).
  7. Sing and dance just for the fun of it.
  8. Spend time with the children in your life – observing them as they play, listening to their conversation, and following their trains of thought.
  9. Cultivate a happy, joyful, positive attitude, full of gratitude for even the smallest, everyday things.
  10. Plan to make play part of your day, whether it is indoor or outdoor, solo or social, active or quiet.

Source: The Genius of Play

Playful activities grownups can borrow from kids

Finding ways to put playfulness and fun into our adult relationships can sometimes mean turning back the clock. Remember as a kid how the first day of summer vacation felt? Make a list of all the activities that spark lightheartedness. If you’re stuck, here’s a list from Love to Know that might spark some ideas.

  • Plan a movie night. Don’t forget the popcorn to make it feel special!
  • Bake cookies together. Flip a coin for who gets to pick their favorite recipe.
  • Play a board game to bring out the inner child/cheater in each other.
  • Take a walk together. One person gets to pick the route each time.
  • Watch a sunset and share the best part of the day with each other.
  • Make a craft project or build a model. Nothing brings out the kid in us like popsicle sticks and glue.

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