Playfulness in Marriage

playfulnessSarah and I are pretty good at letting our inhibitions down with each other. A sign of a good marriage, perhaps. Some of our best times together happen during pillow talk, our (sometimes) nightly ritual. Even when we think we’re tired, we find ourselves either getting into deep conversation or just being plain silly. We’ll poke each other’s noses, joke about how our queen-size bed has little room, or annoy each other playfully.

Every relationship must have its playful times, especially marriage. Married life can be pretty serious at times. Sarah and I have responsibilities to each other, to our home, our respective families and friends, not to mention budgeting and paying bills, shopping, and cleaning the house. But doing “grown-up” things does not mean neglecting time for being goofy.

As a former Walt Disney World cast member, I learned the importance of a child-like, lighthearted demeanor. Even adults need to play and be silly. I like to call this kind of attitude being fun and fancy-free. It means Sarah and I can have moments of being carefree and not have to worry about the serious grown-up obligations for a moment.

Not too long ago, Sarah and I had the wild idea of building a fort in our living room. We took out a couple sheets, strung them over chairs, and anchored the corners. Then we got into our pajamas, popped some popcorn, snuggled into the fort with our pillows, and put on a movie. We giggled in the fact that married adults aren’t “supposed” to do stuff like this. I’ll admit, I kind of wanted to tell our friends how fun this evening was but was a bit afraid they’d think us weird. When we let it slip out to two of our friends who were also recently married, they told us that they had actually built a fort together, too!

Jesuit Anthony de Mello once shared this great parable:

The Master once referred to the Hindu notion that all creation is “leela” — God’s play — and the universe is his playground. The aim of spirituality, he claimed, is to make all life play.

This seemed too frivolous for a puritanical visitor. “Is there no room then for work?”

“Of course there is. But work becomes spiritual only when it is transformed into play.”

By the simple act of transforming parts of our married life into play, it becomes something spiritual, something sacred, in a sense. Sarah would agree with me in saying that when we’re the most silly, there’s certainly a sense of God’s delighting in us. Now, we also feel God’s presence in our serious, deep conversations, but when I feel God is laughing with us, my marriage and friendship with Sarah is even more affirmed.

I have found that daily acts of silliness have truly been a blessing to us during a stressful fall semester. It may be a fun text or a night of eating Jelly Bellys. However small, an act of goofiness makes a huge difference. In Sarah’s last post she talked about how her plush bunny Kung Fu has been adding a little bit of daily joy to our relationship.

I can’t help but think of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. In it he calls us not to be “sourpusses,” and says that living a joyful life daily is critical to the Christian life. He even talks about a “daily concern to spread goodness.” Sarah can tell you that I am certainly guilty of being a sourpuss at times. By fostering goodness and joy, even through silliness, we can temper the occasional sourpuss in each of us.

I find that after a stressful day, it’s easy to get Sarah laughing. When we cuddle up in bed and she asks me to shift more to my side, I’ll say, “I’m at the edge of the bed! I have no room!” And because there’s plenty of room, without fail, Sarah will start cackling. Amazingly, she laughs with the same delight every time I joke about this! I’ve learned what gives Sarah that childlike response. And she’s learned what gets me laughing. So, whether it’s posing our plush bunny Kung Fu or building a fort, we try to make joy a daily concern for our marriage. Because when the inevitable sourpuss in either of us arises, the childlike playfulness brings us back to the sacredness of a joyful love.