This chapter is a bit longer than the last, weighing in at 24 pages. Despite the added length, I found this chapter to be a very quick read, and most couples should be able to work through it very easily in a week when sharing a single copy of the book. The date recommendations included in this chapter might require an extra step or two of planning together, so if you are planning on a Friday night date, I would recommend that both partners complete the reading by Wednesday so that you can dedicate some time to planning the date together on Thursday.
This chapter quickly sets a different tone compared to last week’s chapter. Rather than building rapport by offering vignettes that make the topic seem personal, the authors dive right into the research, offering findings from a variety of both published and unpublished works. Having attended a live workshop myself on the importance of play last week, I imagine that the authors intended to immediately address some of the barriers that spring up when trying to convince the average adult American that play is critical to daily life. These barriers come up frequently when Joella and I are working with couples, and I believe that any couple who has deliberately worked through this chapter together will have an easier time working through these barriers in their couples therapy sessions.
As I read through the first few pages of the the chapter, I have to admit that it sparked some tangential thoughts about the society and culture we live in. For example, why on Earth do we need intellectuals to rigorously make the case for the benefit of trying to seek out some joy in life and in our relationships? It reminds me of being a fourth grader, experiencing the first unpleasant symptoms of strep throat, trying to convince “responsible” adults that I felt too ill to have lunch with the other children. Joella and I both work with people who have experienced years of hardship and emotional struggle because they have been waiting for an authority figure to give them permission to express their legitimate human needs. So, my soapbox comment is that you don’t really need anyone’s permission or validation to seek joy in your own life and relationships. But, if you still feel like you do need the cold, hard facts to justify your own laughter, this chapter clearly explains the benefits of seeking out fun and adventure as a couple and the risks of letting this part of life’s garden go untended. A few examples include the positive effects on brain development across the lifespan as well as increased levels of reported marital satisfaction in couples that dedicate time and energy into seeking out fun and novelty together.
I really appreciated how much of the vignette content in this Chapter was pulled from the Gottmans’ own personal relationship experiences. These vignettes highlighted how they have drastically different ideas about fun and adventure. Despite these differences, they have developed ways of taking part in their partner’s enjoyment without having to physically take part in the actual activity. They also showed ways in which they were able to develop some mutual fun activities that really foster a sense of appreciation of novelty and whimsy. They provide a great example for how a couple can coordinate to balance both the dreams and fears of both partners.
The chapter moves on to provide some very simple self-assessment questions that can help the reader gauge their own perceptions and behaviors around this topic. This self-assessment really turns the focus of the chapter into ways that you can begin to change your behavior in your relationship to make room for fun and laughter, which the authors assert is critical to relationship satisfaction. They really continue to emphasize that both members of a couple need not experience or seek out adventure in the same way in order to have high levels of relationship satisfaction.
Common ground is easier to find than some may imagine. I really like the some of the recommendations/ examples such as deciding to turn your cell phones off together for an entire day. “You just have to bring a spirit of play into whatever you are doing. Play needs to be a priority. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that after all the work is done, then you will play together. It won’t happen.” (page 171)
The authors provide practical examples of how to include this mindset into typical daily tasks in ways that might seem a little odd at first, but hold the promise of injecting moments of fun and joy into moments that most couples often come to dread or avoid. I can imagine that there are significant second and third order benefits to many other aspects of the relationship beyond what is discussed in this chapter. For example, if the couple learns to inject fun and playfulness around monthly budgeting, that could lead to more productive financial habits within the relationship.
The authors provide the readers with some preparatory materials that you will need to review before going on the date. The preparation involves doing some guided self-reflection on the things that you find adventurous, playful, joyful, etc. I like the way that the book provides some ideas or suggestions, but leaves space for you to come up with your own ideas. Spoiler alert: In case any of you were wondering, yes… shark cage diving is included in the list of possible activities that you might find inspiring.
I feel like the authors put in extra effort to help the readers set up a date that includes the principles from the chapter and makes adequate space for the readers to engage mental muscles that that have been weakened or atrophied by today’s daily rush of nonstop electronic stimulation. I recommend really looking into the date troubleshooting section on page 180. The recommendations there seem to be very well considered and would be helpful to help most of the couples that we have worked with avoid getting caught up in the feedback patterns that can suck the life and joy out of once fulfilling relationships and activities.
After working with couples for a number of years, I feel that this chapter may be one of the most powerful tools in the whole book. If you can take the basic principles from this date and apply them to your daily relationship patterns, you will be well on your way to making sure that love an connection are are daily part of your future, even when faced with adversity. Let me restate that more emphatically… especially when faced with adversity!
Please join us next week as we allow the authors to help us look into the spiritual side of life in Chapter 7. Thanks for reading!