Do you know that couples who play together are more likely to stay together? Most couples report that their relationships feel happier when they make time to play and have fun. Too often, fun is the first thing to fall by the wayside when folks are stressed and life demands pile up. This is especially easy to happen when both partners work long hours, hold down more than one job and have parenting and caregiving responsibilities.
Research supports the idea that finding moments to just be together, free of financial, family or other stresses — just to enjoy each other and have fun together — is not an indulgence but a necessity for a healthy relationship.
“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs Denver University’s Center for Marital and Family Studies. He goes on to add “The correlation between fun and marital/relationship happiness is high and significant.” For men, the connection is even more important, the researchers say. They found that men are more likely than women to call their spouse or partner their best friend.
Interesting to note, studies show that men and women tend to have different definitions of what a date is. A woman’s definition is more planned in advance and the man puts more effort into it. For a guy, spur of the moment and grabbing coffee — that’s a date.
Studies show that one of the reasons couples can run into trouble is that they often have different takes on fun and bonding. For men, intimacy and friendship is built on shared activity, but for women, shared activity is a backdrop for a great conversation and increased intimacy. It’s important to recognize both approaches.
“The thing we’re working for is to have fun and relaxation and enjoyment together.” says Les Parrott, professor of psychology at Seattle Pacific University and co-author of books on relationships. Research shows that sharing in new and exciting activities is consistently associated with better relationships. Markman, who also conducts couples retreats, says individual leisure activities, such as watching TV or using the Internet, don’t build those needed positive connections. Other relationship experts agree.
Happy parents are also one of the best gifts that a child can have.
Consider some of the following suggestions to make play and fun a priority:
- Schedule your fun. Many couples intend to play but never actually make it happen. Agree on dates and times, put them on the calendar and commit to making it a priority.
- Budget for some play. Even though it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money, set some aside just for fun.
- Be open to spur-of-the moment opportunities for fun!
- Get active. Physical activity is fun and energizing!
- Give yourself permission to be a kid again. Let your partner know your hesitation or fears and trust him or her to help you overcome them.
- Try new things and take turns generating fun ideas. Sometimes our idea of fun is different than our partner’s idea of fun.
- Protect fun from negativity, conflict and resentment. Don’t ruin your fun time!
- Focus on teamwork and playing together.
- Take advantage of everyday moments – the simple and seemingly mundane – to add a little fun. Try a silly twist to saying hello or goodbye, add something fun to meal time or take time to just stop and watch the sunset on the way back from running errands. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to add a little fun into your routine, and it can create many lasting memories.
Valentine’s Week is a great time to commit to making fun with each every day. Enjoy!
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Gottman, J. (2015)
The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family and Friendships. Gottman, J. (2002)
12 hours to a great marriage: A step-by-step guide for making love last. Markman, H & Stanley, S. (2004).
Your time starved marriage–how to stay connected at the speed of life. Parrott, L., Parrott, L. (2006).
For more information and resources on healthy relationships, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-672-5214 or 608-685-6252.