by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
Married couples who play together, stay together.
But that doesn’t mean you should treat your marriage like a game. If you treat your marriage like a game, you’ll get played and lose every time.
What this does mean is that couples who “play together” by engaging in fun, novel activities grow closer to each other, experience more positive emotions toward each other and their relationship, and as a result are happier and want to stay together.
Can it really be that easy? Yes, it can.
Why Playing Together Helps You Stay Together
First, playing together in novel and arousing activities keeps you (and your spouse) from getting bored and your relationship from becoming a boring routine.
Boredom sacks the current joy out of your relationship and, if not addressed, leads to increasing dissatisfaction over time, the temptation to seek excitement outside the relationship, and/or ultimately the “we’ve just grown apart” explanation for divorce.
Second, playing together also helps you and your spouse connect the good feelings you experience during the activity to your overall relationship.
Third, participating in novel and arousing activities makes people feel happier in general, and when you are a happier person, you are more likely to be a happy partner and extend that positive emotion to your marriage and spouse.
How far do you have to go to keep you and your spouse out of a boring routine?
Off the couch, maybe. But, not that far.
Go for a bike ride. Throw a football around. Take a walk on the beach or a canoe ride. Try a Stand-Up Paddle board. A new restaurant. Get to know other couples — new friends you make together.
Remember, marriage is not a game. Both husband and wife are on the same side.
So be sure you aren’t keeping score. If your wife “wins” because you agree to try something new that she recommended, you both win.
And, if your husband “wins” because you agree to try something new that he likes, you also both win.
Here’s a common example for football season (just remember, the point of the story is gender neutral)
If your husband really enjoys watching college football, learn to like it, too, rather than pout and try to make him feel guilty. (You might have to pretend at first). This will add a new activity for you to enjoy together.
In turn, he will naturally connect the fun he has watching the game with you to positive feelings about you. As a result, he will be more likely to want to make you happy and will look for ways to do that – like take a cooking class, or run a 5-K, go with you to church, or start a weekly date night.
Husbands, keep in mind that if you initiate the weekly date night (for example), your wife will transfer her good feeling about that to you and, as a result, be more likely to want to look for novel ways to make you happy, as well.
The point is that if you want to avoid (or get out of) the rut of relationship boredom, you have to play together by engaging in novel and arousing activities. It doesn’t matter who is ahead at the end of the first quarter. You’re both on the home team.
Can the novel and arousing activities involve sex?
But, you are unlikely to be any good at sex play, if you aren’t fully engaged with each other out of the bedroom. And, if you suggest novel sex before you’ve shown a willingness to “get off the couch”, your effort will backfire. First things first.
If you are starting to feel bored in your marriage, share this post with your spouse and talk about ways you can add some new activities or people to your life. Discuss how the positive feelings you get from these new experiences will help you grow closer again, increase your relationship satisfaction, and decrease the likelihood that you will “grow apart” (or be tempted to find excitement elsewhere).
Pick a new activity and begin to work it out. If your spouse won’t go along at first, try learning to like something your spouse already enjoys so you can do it together. Then, try to add something novel to you both.
And, let me know if I can help.
You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family and civil mediations. We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for individal couples who want to stay together, but restore the joy in their marriage.
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