What is the role of playfulness in romantic relationships?

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  • The quality of playfulness in adults was previously not fully appreciated by the science community
  • In recent years, more evidence has emerged on the role of adult playfulness
  • A recent literature review suggests playfulness is beneficial for romantic relationships

The concept of playfulness is often related to children, which is probably why most studies on playfulness focus on children. As a result, adult playfulness is not understood as well, and is fairly understudied. 

A recent literature review, published in the online journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass, gives an overview based on existing evidence on why playfulness is important in adult relationships. 

What is playfulness?

According to the authors of the paper, “adult playfulness describes individual differences in the way people frame or reframe situations in a way that they are experienced as personally interesting, and/or entertaining, and/or stimulating”.

The quality of playfulness has been observed in animals, and existing research suggests that it helps them to socialise better. Now, researchers of the present study hope to highlight how adult playfulness can contribute to romantic relationships.  

How can adult playfulness foster and maintain relationships?

Researchers Kay Brauer, René T. Proyer and Garry Chick reviewed various scientific studies to provide reasons why adult playfulness is important for maintaining relationships.

These include:

  • Playfulness elicits the experience of positive emotions, which is beneficial for relationships because, over time, joy experienced from play fosters intellectual and social skills. This ultimately contributes to overall relationship satisfaction.
  • There is a theory (Signal Theory of Play) that suggests that playful individuals are often more attractive to others, which is a driving factor for “mate” choice.
  • Playfulness can drive biological factors. It “promotes the establishment of social structures and helps ensure the learning of social skills, which can facilitate reproductive success”.
  • Playfulness through sexual games and roleplay also allows couples to demonstrate their desires to their partner.
  • The team expressed that playfulness also serves as a way to “solve tension, enhance communication, and strengthen positive experiences within couples”.

Ultimately, the message the researchers wanted to convey is that playfulness can contribute to the longevity of relationships.

“Our literature review and studies from our lab show that being playful contributes to most people's love lives,” said lead author, Kay Brauer.

“Playful behaviours such as surprising the partner, retelling and re-enacting joint experiences with the partner, or jointly forming new experiences often contribute to the happiness and longevity of relationships.”

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