Play isn’t just for kids! Play is an essential part of maintaining a happy, healthy long-term relationship, especially in today’s world. We normally live in a hurry-up-and-wait society, where everything can start to feel rushed and stagnant at the same time. This is all the more prevalent in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. With people suddenly out of work, working from home, and the added stress of economic and healthcare concerns, tapping into our resources to reset, recharge, and realign through play is an essential tool in our toolbox for coping with change, life, and stress. 

Why is play so important? 

Play is one of the ways that we can destress and reconnect with our partner. In this time of social distancing, especially if it starts to feel like isolation, reconnecting and checking in with your partner, friends, and family can help you bring satisfaction, purpose, and calm to your life and nerves. Partners who play together often have better relationship satisfaction and overall life satisfaction.  

Skills that you hone during play: 

  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Cooperation
  • Compromise 
  • Connection 
  • Expression 
  • Competition 

When children play, it is their means of communicating their emotions, connecting with the world around them, and exploring their place in the world. As adults, our play is not, and should not be, any different than this. It is easy to lose sight of the little things when bills pile up, budgets shrink, and worries are on the rise. You and your partner can explore your new way of life together through play. 

Checking in

There are so many things in our lives, especially now that newsfeeds are constantly flooded with stories about the global pandemic, that encourage us to check out of our daily life. These can include social media, television, reddit, and the news. One of the main goals of play in relationships–even alone–is to check back in. Check in with yourself, your partner, and your life as a whole. You will feel more grounded, less stressed, and a little more in control. 

How do adults pay? 

How you and your partner play will be unique to you and your partner. Many people tend to associate play with children on a playground or playing make-believe. However, kids and teens can also play by riding their bikes around the neighborhood, going fishing, making something together, or playing board games. As an adult, playing can be anything from choosing a new paint color to climbing a 14er or riding bikes to sitting down for a good game of cribbage. 

Ideas for play

  • Play a board game
  • Make your own board game
  • Go fishing, hiking, boating, etc. 
  • Take a cooking or baking class 
  • Try something new in the bedroom

Play is all about balance

No matter what you decide to do, make sure that your play balances out the rest of your life. If you and your partner are generally competitive, try something that doesn’t require competition; if you usually deal with high-stress or high-stakes situations, choose something that is light and low-stakes like a walk through a nice park or a new hike. Whatever you do, make the effort to be in the moment to rid your brainspace of the stress of the day.  

What if my partner and I struggle to play? 

Adults often struggle with the idea of play. Whether this is due to living in a “black and white” world or to issues with vulnerability is a very individual experience. However, it all comes down to one simple fact: a lot of adults really struggle to play. As adults, we can become overwhelmed with the stress and responsibility of life, meaning that the freedom and exploration that children bring with them to playtime can seemingly disappear. If you or your partner are struggling to play, try some of these: 

  • Come up with a completely new activity
  • Meet in the middle and try something one partner likes and trade off the next time
  • Challenge each other to step outside of your comfort zones
  • Remove the pressure to “play.” The word “play” itself can be really stressful for a lot of people, so take the word out of the equation–take a class, go on a hike, etc. 

What can we do if my partner and I can’t figure out how to play?

If you and your partner are struggling to play or be in the moment and play with each other, it may be time to seek out a couple’s therapist. Because play is such an essential part of fostering a healthy long-term relationship, it is important for you and your partner to figure out how to work together, play together, and connect. A therapist can help you break down any barriers that are holding you or your partner back and help you figure out a constructive way to bring more light, fun, and play into your lives. 

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