How to Fail at Playing in Your Relationships

Playing: It seems like such a simple thing. We did it all the time as kids. We watch our dogs make it look easy. Playing seems like a natural thing that we should be able to do in our relationships. At its basic level, playing is an exchange of energy back and forth, like tossing a ball. Should be simple, right? So why do we suck at it sometimes, and other times it goes swimmingly? Here’s how to fail at playing, especially in relationships.

  1. Don’t face your partner. Turn away from them. Look at your phone. Find something else to busy yourself with. Okay, now that they’re completely not expecting it, try to tell them something exciting about your day. See how that toss lands.
  2. Close your body. Cross your legs. Cross your arms. Cross your eyes. Anyone who’s ever played sports knows your BODY has to be ready to play. It has to be organized to receive and to throw playful tosses, whether those are actual balls, or words, or looks or anything at all. Try catching a ball with your arms crossed!
  3. Be more committed to being right than to playing. If you’re a parent, you see this ALL the time. One kid knows the RIGHT way to play and the other kid isn’t doing it that way. Game OVER. Adults have our own version of this and it’s the fastest way to call off the game.
  4. Only be willing to go so far... “Okay, I’ll play your little game, but if you do <insert that thing that will happen>, I’m outta here.”
  5. Analyze yourself, your partner and the game. “She’s not following the rules! Oops, that was dumb of me. I wonder how I look? He looks bored. How long is this going to last?”

Does any of this feel familiar to you because it sure does to me. If you know me, you might know that I’ve played sports all my life, that I play all the time with my 7 year old and that I’m even in a performing improv ensemble. I’d say I’m a darn good player. But you know what, I also know to FAIL big time at playing. It’s something that’s challenged me in my intimate relationships and I’m beginning to grok WHY. The times I’ve tried to play with my partner and it’s failed is because I’m doing one or more the things listed above. Here are some moves to try on instead:

  1. TURN TOWARD your partner
  2. OPEN your body posture
  4. Get CURIOUS
  5. CHOOSE to give your attention

How to FAIL at Playing in Your Relationships (1)

This is the foundation that all play moves thrive in. For me, even the first simple (yet not always easy) move of turning toward my partner immediately opens up the possibility of connecting and playing. I find that something that I might have taken as a criticism (even if he was joking) I receive differently. I actually notice myself smiling when I don’t “think” I want to!

With that foundation laid down, we can get to the juicy, creative play moves. Play-enthusiast and Creative Resilience Coach, Kristina Turner, and I have created a class series for you to re-energize your relationships. 5 Reviving Play Moves to Re-invigorate Relating is for you if you want to

  • Bring play and silliness into ANY of your relationships
  • Rev up your creativity
  • Feel more alive in your day-to-day interactions
  • Discover how to play through anything in your way of authentically expressing

Each week in this five week series, we share and explore how to change up the action and find satisfaction in our real lives as we dip, wade or dive into 5 Reviving Play Moves. We look forward to splashing around in the pool of our collective wisdom and foolery. Wanna come play? The first class is FREE!


  1.    BEFRIEND the characters who run your stories! Make play-space in your relationship to interview personas you each adopted long ago. Discover what they really want now. Sign up here for just the first free class.
  2.   BREATHE and open to wonder. Hmmm…I wonder which opening will be the most fun to explore next.   Hmmm…..I wonder how my defenses want to play with you.
  3.  BODIFY what’s going on inside you. Drop the words. Express your thoughts and feelings in sound and movement.
  4.   MAKE IT BIGGER! Exaggerate and embrace your own quirks, goofs, fears & desires. (Invite your whole self out to play!)
  5.   CHANGE ONE THING. Before the conversation gets seriously dull or repetitive, change up your Pace, Posture, Propensity or Purpose for being in this conversation!

If you’re ready to play and you’ve received my toss, it’s your move! Sign up today for the whole series before it fills up!

Until next time… Play on!


© Dhira Brown, Play It Out Improv, and Kristina Turner, Creative Resilience Coach in playful cahoots with The Hendricks Institute,

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I inspire and empower people to play in ways that create new possibilities in their lives, communities and the world--knowing full well that play is essential for personal transformation and collective evolution. Hendricks Big Leap Coach and creator of Play It Out Loud, I enjoy providing pathways for all to discover how to participate with and play through their life experiences so they can savor each moment, connect with playmates and take inspired action toward their desires.

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