Perversity and Playfulness in Couples PART 3 of 3

This third installment picks up from the previous two blogs called Perversity and Playfulness in Couples, and providing some further conclusions and additional and perhaps more practical suggestions, as well. Enjoy.


As already stated, it is far more effective when each party within a relationship/marriage focuses primarily on his/her own Self, on being a non-anxious presence, well a person who is self-differentiation. Regardless what their partner is or isn’t doing/saying, you can only focus on your part of the interaction. This means being non-reactivity and non-anxiousness, irrespective of how your partner is being. Easier said than done! Of course it’s easy to be calm, cool and collected when your partner is being great. When they’re in a foul state it’s another matter. We’re not usually tuned into how our own actions and words occur for our partner – how we “land” over there in the other’s world – and how our stuff inadvertently starts triggering our partner’s reactivity. Without any mechanisms for seeing what we cannot see – we operate in an automatic pilot – a knee jerk way that launches us into an escalating state of mutual button pushing all in a matter of seconds. Thoughts and words have power in our lives. We say or think things we presume as “right” or correct” or “the truth”. We thought this thought so it must be true! We are addicted to being RIGHT.

Our thoughts are just … thoughts. Becoming aware of our thoughts as what we make up or create, and by not assuming them as anything more than just thoughts, we are able to become a discerning person. This IS the avenue for living a powerful life. We think thoughts, but rarely think about thinking thoughts. We would do well to see our thoughts as only thoughts; and to separate us from our thoughts. In other words: We are NOT our thoughts. We have thoughts and we are the one making them up.  Knowing this frees us to create better thoughts; empowering thoughts, thoughts that even inspire us. If I think the thought ‘you hate me and even want to see me harmed,’ I will feel upset and afraid. These feelings of upset and fear will predictably cause me to either avoid you, or be aggressive toward you.

Thoughts affect our feelings. Feeling affect our behaviors. Knowing we are the one creating the thought, in the first place, liberates me to make different thoughts. Don’t believe everything you think!

Related to how our thoughts impact our lives, our use of language reveals a lot about us. Our very words and thoughts tell more than we may realize, or care to realize. It’s paramount to actually listen to our own words; to listen to our own thoughts. As an example: If I say “I can’t” I’ll feel trapped, or stuck or weak. If I say “I won’t” I’ll feel empowered and able to choose. If I say “I like you, but I hate you” I’ve negated the first part of the sentence with the word” but.” If I say “I love you and I hate you,” both parts of the sentence can stand as true.

Thinking Serious Thoughts

Even more than the words we use is the angst or seriousness of how we use them. For example: When couples is first dating they talk about all sorts of positive things enjoy spending time together, and “have fun” together. They go lots of places and attend fun events. You could say they play – at the beach, or lake, or the mountains. Maybe they play cards, board games or do organized sports, perhaps they love the theatre or movies, or going out to dinner. Eventually their relationship moves into a courtship stage – this old fashion term for being involved romantically with the intention of marriage. They tell others they’re now engaged. When they do this they even tell friends and family they’re now in a “serious relationship.” Somehow we link commitment to seriousness. Whenever we do this we inadvertently torpedo the relationship into one of lessening the fun and play – the thing initially was so fantastic – because we have serious-up the relationship! Equating responsibility with seriousness moves the couple into an anxious state. Perhaps they start having worries or concerns about their own capability to be married, or they wonder if this is the right one to marry. This seriousness starts to up-end things they previously enjoyed and were the hallmarks of their joyful relationship: having fun and being playful with each other takes a nose dive and things like flowers, cards, small gifts, and surprises fall by the way side. Dating becomes routine or the energy within the relationship lessens. There is antidote for this downward spiral toward seriousness: More play; more spontaneity.

When counseling with an extremely serious couple I insist they learn to play. I call it “parallel play” in their relationship. I have them envision they are three-year-olds who never got much play time with other three-year-olds, and who grew up thinking all the blocks and toys and games were there just for themselves. Then an adult came along insisting they now had to play other children. Maybe with a box of non-toxic crayons, or at the water table, and now they were supposed to make happy-face pictures, or pass around the toys to other kids, or suddenly get along with all the other children in what up to now were solitary activity. It’s unrealistic for three-year-olds to readily jump to cooperation; and I suspect most adults don’t always like it very much either. I might love to play with the dinosaur figures, while my partner likes the play dough. Only after we’ve had lots of parallel play time can we ever be free to build the Lincoln logs together. The two natural forces of separateness and togetherness get going really early on in us. Watch some preschoolers handle, say, a box of blocks, and you’ll know it isn’t very pretty.

I see couples that are so serious (i.e. anxious), and who are understandably caught up in serious issues: trust, or fairness, or power struggles. They cannot see the folly of their own respective behavioral patterns.  They think the issue is the issue; but it is not.  Most times the presenting issue is a symptom – a symptom that the couple is too close and emotionally struck-together. It’s a closeness that seems as if one of them gets a cut, the other one starts bleeding. They don’t know where one ends and the other one begins.  The issue must be addressed; and so does the symptom.


When Sandy and Roger (real names changed) came to see me it was after Roger admitted having an affair. Eventually it came out that this was a repeated pattern at various times over their almost 30-year marriage. I eventually instructed Sandy to start finding women for Roger. It was an attempt to provoke their need to be “playful.” Roger immediately hated the idea causing Sandy only like it more. It was a paradoxical intervention – an attempt at breaking through their old stuck pattern of closeness and distance developed for various reasons. After getting their attention, what became clear was how Sandy became attracted to Roger as a playboy. His playfulness was something she felt unable to be. My intervention was a push for Sandy to find her own playful side. Eventually she started pointing attractive women when they were at a restaurant. Roger was under-functioning in some responsibilities needed within a relationship. He found a wife as a serious ‘grownup” in their marriage. There was an out-of-balance within the marital union – a Mother-Child relationship, which is not fulfilling or sustainable. Getting Sandy to take responsibility solely for herself, and not for Roger, and in her learning to become also more playful was really meant for her to take better care of herself. You could make the case that Roger was doing all the “play” for two! By Sandy being overly responsible she came across as motherly instead of a spouse. Roger, trapped in his child position, was an acting out adolescent. The couple began to find better ways to rebalance their relationship; with some balance in each giving and taking, and the life and vitality flowed back into their marriage, paradoxically by each first focusing on her/his own needs and each making some important shifts to accommodate the other. Linear thinking will make it difficult to only see this husband as unfaithful and while this is true it is not the entire story.

Two Selves

When each partner moves along with her/his own life, focusing on personal growth and development, there isn’t much need for a focus on issues such as trust, or power, or any of the usual dramas that get going in a highly anxious (stuck) relationships. Rather each respects and trusts herself/himself to know how to be both playful, non-anxious, and how to grow in maturity. Also there is a self-empowerment that isn’t threatened by the other’s anxiousness. Nor does each have a need to threaten their partner. There isn’t confusion in seeing caring as anxiousness. Most assuredly each knows how to do some parallel play. You could say they know how to take their problems seriously, but not themselves or relationship seriously.

We all were very attractive two or three-year-olds with a great ability for play. Sometimes we were so inspiring and having such a good time we drew in the attention of the other young children. They may have stopped what they were doing to watch us. Sometimes one or two of those other children even began to take part in our play as they knew something was – and still is – extremely useful for our lives, and, as it turns out, in our relationships.

Individuals who still know how to play make great partners; are great lovers. Couples who master the art of play are magical to observe; there have a twinkle in their eyes – light without becoming flippant. They are capable of being gracious and seem to radiate. They exhibit a looseness while remaining solid and grounded.  It can be called grace in action.

Let us remember we do not get married to get happy. We need two happy people to make a happy marriage. Well, this is enough for now. Being so philosophical may be getting way too serious and would undo all that has been previously stated. I’m very serious about the importance of play? If you were seeking advice you need to take seriously, I am sorry. If you were hoping for “Seven Steps to Enlightenment Regarding Playfulness” or “10 Ways to Work on Marriage”, then you should have stopped reading long before now.  Hopefully you’ve sit a bit and smile. Maybe it’s time to go dig out those old board games. Maybe it’s time for a run to Toy R Us. Maybe pick up a couple of hula-hoops.