For many of us, the desire to play we develop in childhood never really goes away. However, as we age, our playtime is often overtaken by more “adult” responsibilities: work, parenting and social commitments, to name a few.
It’s easy for relationships to become centered on each person’s role in the family rather than as an outlet for enjoying fun activities together.
Clinical therapist Jeff Alvanos, MSW, LISW, of Harbor Behavioral Health, an affiliate of ProMedica, said it’s hard work for couples to incorporate play into their busy lives — but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Alvanos, who has worked with couples for 40 years, has a standard “homework” assignment for any couple, regardless of any problem they may be facing: Make time for one date each week.
“Family life is hard,” he said. “Managing an intimate relationship with one’s partner is a lot of hard work, so you have to build fun into it very, very deliberately. Many couples, I find, get caught in the trap of relating to each other in the roles that they’re in around the tasks that they share in the family. It’s not unlike a business that has co-managers. If those co-managers don’t regularly have business meetings and get on the same page, that business is going to get problematic.”
Playing together is an effective way of reconnecting to your true self, as well as your significant other, he said.
“The idea of having fun means basically that you’re enjoying yourself in the other person’s company,” Alvanos said. “What happens then is it creates positive synergy between those two people. When I’m enjoying myself, I’m more open, I’m more energetic, I’m more on top of my game, I’m a better listener, I feel more attractive, and I’m more attracted to my partner.”
What if a couple doesn’t particularly enjoy the same type of activities? Alvanos admitted that situation is very common, and can be tough to deal with in therapy.
“Most couples that are in that spot, by the time they get in to see me, they’ve been doing it that way for a very long, long time,” he said. “They often feel very stuck. When we talk about the idea of doing shared, fun activities, I get a lot of blank stares.”
He often recommends these couple start with an easy activity together, such as going for a 15-minute walk together and trying to reconnect on some level just by doing a lighthearted activity, shoulder-to-shoulder with the person with whom they vowed to spend the rest of their lives.
Still, it’s much easier to start playing together earlier in relationships than later.
“The quality marriages I see that are really successful, one of the hallmarks of their relationship is that they play well together,” Alvanos said. “They deliberately carve time out of their schedules to hang out, and they do it regularly. They have activities that they choose to engage in together that they both enjoy.”
If nothing else, a great relationship is a great friendship, Alvanos said.
“If you look at what good friends do, they hang out a lot together and they do fun stuff on a regular basis,” he said. “It builds trust over time, and trust and intimacy are integrally linked. Where you have one, you tend to have the other. This develops slowly and comes out after spending lot of times sharing lot of activities together, and that’s what friends do.”
Is fun a necessity? Play Time, a summer exhibit at the Toledo Art Museum explores the concept of play through interactive exhibits for adults and children. ProMedica is a proud sponsor of the exhibition, which runs now through September 6, 2015. Come discover the power of play, or learn how to reconnect with your inner-child. For more information, visit http://playtime.toledomuseum.org/.