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Couples That Play Together, Stay Together

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Early in relationships, it's easy to be playful. At least, it is for most people. I recall one guy whose name was -- I am not making this up -- Mike Hunt, who I met in a terrible D.C. bar. He immediately impressed me by dropping to his knees and fully committing himself to an air-guitar solo in the middle of the dance floor. But in sober society, he turned out to be a bore. On our first and only date, which was, regrettably, at Ballston Common Mall, I proposed we play a game of "I Spy" while we wait for our movie. "I spy a... department store" he said, as we stood outside of Macy's. Weak.

I suspect that most people do a better job being playful on dates, but once you're coupled up and having regular discussions about who did the dishes last, play may not come as easily. I remember an early date with my boyfriend, Steve, where we had a wonderful time running around the oversized map at the Navy Memorial, showing each other all the places we'd lived and visited. A week ago, an attempt to recapture that fun quickly dissolved into griping about the map's poor proportions.

I'm not giving up, though. In his book Play, psychiatrist Stewart Brown says that play is key to keeping relationships from hardening into drudgery. Unfortunately, he doesn't give any tips for doing that. So, here are a few ideas I have:

Challenge your partner to a wrestling match. I will definitely have to think of a way to handicap my 300-lb. boyfriend if I try this one.

Play people-watching "Bingo." All you need for this one is a pen and paper. Then, next time you're bored in the subway or run out of things to talk about over coffee, draw a grid and fill it in with people you're likely to see. In my neighborhood, for instance, that might include "two or more women with yoga mats," and "Couple who are clearly using pets as practice children." Then trade grids and play Bingo for a good prize, like a backrub or the other person paying the bill.

Play the "Newlywed" game. I actually had a good time playing this with my parents and a handful of friends not long ago. The trick is vetting questions so that they are spicy but not too revealing. So, "Where was the first time you had nookie?" -- maybe not so good for a family game. But, "Where was your first kiss?" works well.

Team storytelling. Create a story together by taking turns adding three words at a time. Or, take turns working on a drawing, a few minutes at a time.

Mime your day. Instead of griping about your day at the office, act it out. Props are allowable, and using pets as stand-ins for colleagues is encouraged.

I'll be trying these and will let you know how it goes. Got any ideas of your own to add?

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