Research Proves It: Couples Who Play Together, Stay Together

You can probably think of one or two couples you know who seem perfect together—they have the same interests, same temperament, and they balance one another out. Yet every time you see them lately, neither looks quite as happy as they once did.

The perfect couple you know probably still love each other, but the love they have could be smudged, scuffed, and obscured by years of routine, stress at work, and time spent mostly on the kids.

Once upon a time, you might have thought of romantic love as an intense chemistry between two destined-for-each-other people. The truth is that even if you and your partner are perfectly matched, you’ll have to tend to and care for your relationship over the years.

Does that sound like a lot of work?

Before you start to worry about what the upkeep of a great partnership entails, know that the work your perfectly-matched friends might not be doing is having any fun together. Researcher John Gottman suggests that the myth of magical soulmate love belies the greater truth that your relationship thrives when it’s built on friendship.

Why is fun so valuable in a committed relationship?

Your relationship is a "job" with a high burn-out rate. A good relationship means being attentive and present, even when you’re tired, stressed, or have a short fuse after a long day—something that doesn’t always feel easy.

As in any high burn-out role, you and your partner can feel rejuvenated with a little bit of self-care. Self-care means checking in and taking your emotional temperature even—and especially—when things are chaotic.

Playing can be a great way for you and your partner to care for your relationship. When you do something fun together, you’re engaging with each other in a way that doesn’t involve talking about logistics like who will pick up groceries, or take the kids to school.

Maybe you and your partner have lost sight of each other in the routine; spontaneity brings your relationship back into focus. You can see each other in new ways, reviving your attraction and interest in the person sharing your life.

Play brings joy into your relationship—an invaluable resource when it comes to feeling good, and being flexible with your partner.

Having fun together can make a big difference in how you and your partner approach each other during conflict. If a lot of the time you spend together is positive, it’s much easier to approach an argument with understanding, and to let the conflict go when the time comes. If you have more negative interactions than positive, each conflict might seem like a sign of fundamental problems in your relationship.

Why is friendship more important than romantic passion?

When you think about favorite moments spent with your partner, many of your memories probably involve a time when you felt seen by your partner. Maybe your partner picked you up for a special lunch on a particularly challenging day at work.

Gestures like these are romantic, but more than that, they’re a hand extended in friendship. Paying attention to your partner’s needs and feelings says, “I’m here,” “how can I help?” and “things will get better.”

Showing up for your partner matters in the little moments—turning toward him when he makes a bid for your attention, or finding ways to bring him into your world throughout the day.

John Gottman discovered another surprising thing about marriages that last: Conflict is okay. What matters more is how you and your partner communicate with each other during the conflict. How you handle conflict together often comes down to how solid your friendship is—even when you’re angry, you act in a way that conveys you still care.