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.”

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

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

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!

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 days.

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. Here’s a list that might spark some ideas.

Recommended Articles

  • Celebrate the small stuff

    Noticing everyday achievements – no matter how small – can help boost our mood and self-confidence.

  • Strengthening family bonds

    Infusing a sense of fun into family time through activities that build closeness and create joy.

  • Friendship as an adult

    Grownups have a tough time making new friends. It’s not that we’re unwilling, we just need strategies.