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How Being Playful and Just Being Together Affect Your Relationships

Maude on a road trip in UtahMAUDE: We have been thinking a lot about the importance of play in our lives and in our relationships. We’ve just gotten back from a wonderful road trip, with oodles of time spent relaxing and spontaneously enjoying the sights, smells, and happenings of life together.

Do not misunderstand! As we look at this topic of play importance, we are not just referring to vacations or taking time apart together.

It is the balance of being and doing that we feel is important to review, and the role that balance has in our relationships. In Western cultures, most particularly that of the United States, there is a very strong emphasis on achievement and accomplishment. The U.S. has the shortest amount of paid vacation time from work, and there are many jobs where there is none.

This attitude toward doing has overtaken many people in their non-job time as well. Even most of the “retired” folks we know report being busier than ever in their projects and various endeavors.

And yet, play has been shown to be of vital importance. Study after study has shown how critical it is to children’s learning and their physical, emotional and psychological well being. Children who have recess at school show a measurable increase in their ability to read and do math, a reduction in their stress levels, and an improvement in their overall ability to concentrate. A 2016 study found that

the more time kids in Grade 1 spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years. In first grade, a lot of sedentary time and no running around also had a negative impact on their ability to do math.

But even P.E. time is not a sufficient substitute. There needs to be a period of actual recess, of free unstructured time – of play. Experts recommend that physical education classes not become a replacement for the unstructured playtime of recess.

Why all this information about the needs of children? The need for play doesn’t change just because we “grow up”. We are all just bigger, older children. These basic needs, like the need to play, never diminish in importance for any of us, at any time in our lives. Similarly, play time is an essential part of peaceful, harmonious relationships.

We need to recognize the importance of play in our relationships and find ways to incorporate it into our times together. It is important to recognize the value of time spent that’s not about achievement, but rather about just being and feeling and loving. Sharing experiences, laughing together and discovering how just being with each other feels, how just being feels, is an art we need to develop for a balanced happy life and balanced happy relationships.

PHIL: We’re back from a trip and feeling very grounded, or perhaps balanced. I find it hard to carve out the time and let go of the comfort of the familiar routine, but when I do, the results are always worth it.

In America there is a strong emphasis on the virtues of work, perhaps deriving from its Protestant roots. John Calvin wrote “people were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds.” Apart from a few small island nations, the U.S. is the only country that does not mandate any leave from work for vacations or public holidays. The average country requires 30 days paid leave.

This is not good for the soul. Your cat, if you have one, is content to spend much time just sitting and watching the world; it is difficult for us humans to do the same without mentally reliving past events or planning the future.

Your relationship needs this, too. Some relationships are transactional – there is an expected quid pro quo. Business relationships are of this nature: you pay the landlord money, and he lets you use his building. Personal relationships can have a transactional aspect, too: there are expectations, often unspoken, of financial support, housekeeping, sex or child care.

But a personal relationship is so much more than this; it has an emotional quality that we all need – need in the deepest sense. We’re watching the series “Alone” where people are left in a hostile environment to deal with the challenges of finding water, food and shelter while avoiding predators, but the extraordinary thing is how many people cannot handle the solitude and choose to be reunited with their family, rather than continuing in the hopes of winning $500,000 by being the last remaining contestant.

This sense of connection with other people gets hidden in the focus on work, and you need to take time out and set that aside entirely, whether with a 10-day trip or a 10-minute coffee break. Maude and I retire early most nights to talk, play, do the crossword, and watch Netflix. The world shrinks to the size of our bedroom. We call this our sacred space, and it is one of the threads that keep us connected and together. Find time in your life to be in touch with the experience of being with another person.

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Maude at Arches National Park

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner


Books on shelfThis week, we wrote about the importance of play in your life and relationships. Here are some pertinent articles sharing research and ideas on this topic.

The Importance of Play in Adulthood "Play allows us to learn how to be creative and helps nurture critical thinking, personality development, and adaptive pathways for us in childhood. The benefits of play are far-reaching, but we often give up play as adults for more serious pursuits such as our careers, our relationships, and our families—all of which are valid pursuits."

Is Recess Important for Kids or a Waste of Time? Here’s What the Research Says "A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior. The study also found that black students and students from low-income families were more likely to be given no recess or minimal recess. That report reinforced the results of a 1998 study, which found that when 43 fourth-grade students were given recess, they worked more or fidgeted less than when they were not given recess."

The Benefits of Play for Adults "In our hectic, modern lives, many of us focus so heavily on work and family commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stopped playing. When we carve out some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than engage in fun, rejuvenating play like we did as children. But play is not just essential for kids; it can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well."

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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