Why mucking around is good for a relationship
“So,” I said to my husband, “there’s something I think we should watch on telly.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to be watching television.”
He’s right. Last month, in a nutso attempt at marriage enrichment I’d suggested we spend the evenings talking or planning imaginary holidays or playing Scrabble.
“Fine, but if there’s no TV, there’s also no Facebook or Twitter,” he’d muttered. Defensively.
Just quietly, Scrabble’s a bit of a bore once you’ve peaked with “quandary” on a triple word score. And Croatia would be fab, if we had the coin.
So I was relieved to see a new TV series advertised.
“What are we watching?” said the husband, gleefully reunited with his beloved remote. “Making Couples Happy – it’s a doco about four couples having relationship counselling.”
You’d have thought I’d offered him a warm fish milkshake. What came out of his mouth is definitely not permissible in Scrabble.
Nevertheless, we settled down to watch eight people arguing because, hey, we don’t know how to do that. “Which of those women am I most like?” I asked – a sure-fire way to promote marital harmony (one of his mates was once asked: “If you had to sleep with one of my friends, who would it be?”).
Turns out that ailing marriages make for compelling viewing – both in the fragments that echo your own life and the relief that yours isn’t as bad.
But as I watched these people in various states of domestic unhappiness – and contemplated the heydays and grey days of our own 12-year union – I wondered: When did we make marriage so difficut? When did we squeeze the life out of that beautiful, sure, 700-year-old word and lump it, as we so often do, with the phrase “hard work”.
“You have to keep at it,” we tell couples barely back from the altar. “It’s tough work,” we warn single wannabe-marrieds, as if this ancient, precious commitment is akin to zipping up a boiler suit and heading down a coalmine for the rest of our lives.
Going to war is hard work. Losing a child is unimaginable pain. Slavery, the Holocaust – how people kept going I don’t know. But marriage?
Look, I don’t want to diminish the effort and commitment required, but what most relationships need is not work, but play.
But we stop playing, don’t we? Where we once capered and caroused, stayed out late, laughing, lying in the grass because it was the loveliest thing ever, we now stagnate, or worse, search for perceived slights or deficiencies that we layer like a deft legal argument to deflect from our own failings.
So many of us take our best selves to work and bring our worst selves home. We treat our colleagues to our sparkles, smiles and funny anecdotes then switch like Superman to Clark Kent as we slouch, dull and dissatisfied, through the front door.
What if we were to try the opposite?
Comedian and author Andrew Clover reckons we’ve forgotten how important “play” is in a relationship.
After a session of marriage therapy where he and his wife were asked to say why they loved each other, the pair took themselves to the pub where, drink in hand, they knocked out a karaoke version of Islands in the Stream. “(It) cheered us up immensely,” he wrote.
“I’d question the modern belief that each grievance must be aired, that a sick relationship can be criticised back to health.”
Clover, who I’m touting as the next (cooler/British) Dr Phil, has written the New Rules of Love: Don’t be afraid to go to sleep on a row. Don’t expect multiple orgasms. Don’t talk unless you have something positive to say. Try listening.
“Just spend time together,” adds Clover. Laugh. Sing. Play. I don’t think he means Scrabble.
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