How to Bring Playfulness Back to Your Marriage

by | Mar 26, 2019 | Connecting | 17 comments

How to make your marriage playful again!
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You start dating, and it’s magic.

You put on music and do the silliest dance you can and she just thinks you’re the funniest guy in the whole world. She laces her fingers with yours and it sends butterflies straight to your stomach. You spend all your time together you can, just laughing and teasing and flirting and having fun.

So why is it that a few years into marriage that often seems to go away?

It’s Rebecca on the blog today, and I want to talk to the guys here on the blog. We know we get a lot of male readers, and since 95% of our posts are for women, we thought we’d start writing some for you, too! So consider this one a men’s corner (and tomorrow will be as well, as we conclude our series on what it takes to be a good lover).

Today, though, I want to talk about how to bring that playfulness back to your marriage.

We hear this concern a lot from men–you try to be sweet, you try to flirt, you try to tease her like you did when you were dating but instead of it being endearing, she brushes you off or gets annoyed and snaps.

What changed? And how can you get that back?

Let’s start with what changes between when you’re dating and after you’ve been married for a few years.

When dating, most couples live with wiggle room.

Another word for this is “margins.” Most people, during the dating stage, haven’t bought their first house yet and so aren’t dealing with mortgage payments. They don’t have kids, so they have a lot of extra time. And because you’re in a new relationship, you start to say no to other commitments because dating this new person is so exciting nothing else seems to matter much anymore.

But then that couple gets married and almost overnight they squeeze out all of their wiggle room. 

It happens again and again–the first thing that many couples do is buy a house that is exactly at the level they can afford. Which means they can never make the choice to take a lower paying job again, and you will always have to be a two income family unless one spouse gets a major pay raise. Then, because you’re a newly married couple, many churches will ask you to volunteer at 5 times the rate that you were expected to before. Finally, you’ve moved into this big house and so the housework is so much more intense but you seem to have less time than you did before because now your life involves two people, not just one.

Then you have kids and what was already a busy life where money was tight gets even more stressful. You love your kids so much, but you’re just tired of shuttling them to and from school and friends’ houses and activities. Plus, they’re expensive. And so that dream you had of having one spouse go to part-time work so you could spend more time as a family is replaced by the reality that one of you has to do a lot of overtime and pick up weekends shifts (if not a whole other part-time job) because you’ve still got that huge mortgage plus your kids’ educational savings plus all the costs of their activities and just feeding more people.

Soon it can begin to seem like your entire life is about putting out fires, not about enjoying the stage you’re in.

That disillusionment we get about our lives where we love our families but we’re just not happy often occurs because we’ve created for ourselves more needs than we can meet.

We all have needs. Psychologically speaking, those needs are organized in a hierarchy of the most important needs to the least important for survival needs. Things like food and water and good health are most important, while things like having fun and goofing off are least important–the non-vital needs.

If you’ve set up your life so that you’re only barely meeting all of your important needs, you won’t have the psychological energy for the non-vital needs. Many couples are living just at their means or slightly beyond, and it means a lot of stress and a lot of numbers-crunching. Then on top of that, you’re driving kids to activities 5 nights a week and the other two days are either church or the rare time you get to do groceries or go to the dentist.

If you want to foster a marriage where playfulness and joy come naturally, you need to consider where you can create some margins.

You need margins. In fact, God commands us to have margins. That’s what the Sabbath is–a day of rest. If your Sundays are not restful due to volunteering or sports or the like, then you need to find a way to Sabbath outside of Sunday morning. It’s actually one of the clearest commands in the Bible and the one that we so rarely follow or talk about in church.

This concept of the Sabbath rest can be used in all areas of your life–it’s a concept of moderation. If we practice moderation, we have the freedom to listen and answer God’s callings in our lives. Moderation with money means we can be more generous. Moderation with our time means we’re available to help others when they need us. Margins are important.

For Connor and me, creating margins has meant renting instead of buying a house right now so that we can save and not stress about money. It means only being out of the house 3 nights a week. It means prioritizing having friends over twice a month minimum (not all margins are about what NOT to do!). And it means having a cleaning schedule so that our house isn’t so dirty that it hangs over us like a dark storm cloud.

Connor and I being silly on one of our vacations.

Creating margins made the stress level in our marriage plummet.

Suddenly our relationship wasn’t always tense anymore because we just weren’t as on edge! We still had stressful days, but our life as a whole was no longer stressful. Our money was taken care of, our home looked nice, and we spent the majority of weeknights at home with nothing on the agenda.

And I became infinitely more playful and fun than I was before we had this figured out. Getting rid of the stress whenever possible by living well within our means and cutting down on non-essential commitments has allowed us to be spontaneous, because we have room to breathe. So when Connor is silly and goofy it’s endearing, not annoying, since I’m relaxed and feel safe and secure. And it allows me to feel relaxed enough to be silly and goofy, too.

Margins allow for the spontaneity that you need for playfulness. You can’t schedule playfulness. It just happens. When you have down time and you aren’t unnecessarily stressed about money or time or housework because you can figure out a system, it makes it a lot easier to just kick back and relax or even flirt and end up back in the bedroom! You can’t do that if both parents are out every night driving kids to different practices.

This concept of margins isn’t just about your schedule or money–it also applies to what needs to get done around the house.

A lot of husbands write in saying that they want to just have fun again but their wife is always annoyed when they start to flirt or tease or tickle her.

And when I read that, I often wonder, “But what is she doing when you try that?”

I’ve seen it a lot where a woman will be doing dishes or making dinner or folding laundry and that is the moment her husband decides to be cute and tell her jokes to make her laugh. And she’s thinking, “I’m busy folding the laundry that you got dirty and I had to clean so that you have something clean to wear to work tomorrow despite the fact that you are more than capable of doing your own laundry and now instead of helping me fold it you’re telling me jokes? No thank you.”

In a lot of marriages, the husband can have great margins when it comes to his after-work time because he only does 25% of the housework. But that leaves his wife with much thinner margins. So pitch in–as a general rule of thumb, if one person is working, both should be working.

Many women find it very difficult to get in a playful mood when they feel that everything is resting on her shoulders and she isn’t being appreciated for it. If you want your wife to be more relaxed, maybe you could take on some of the load yourself to take some of the weight off her shoulders. And in general, pitching in and sharing the chores can go a long way in helping her get in a better mood simply because she’ll feel appreciated!

How to make your marriage playful again!

Adding playfulness back into your marriage is more about removing barriers to joy than it is adding forced laughter.

Create a lifestyle that allows for the breathing room you need for the spontaneity for the flirtatious playfulness you had when you were dating. Because although it may mean that your life looks weird compared to other couples you know, it’s never a bad idea to reduce the stress in your life. Especially when the stress is getting in the way of having a joyful, playful marriage.

What areas in which have you found creating margins to be beneficial? Are there some areas you’re working on making wiggle room? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Bethany

    This is great advice! My husband and I have very little margin time-wise, because he is in grad school full time and I stay home with our three young kids and work 15 hours a week outside that, so our schedule is pretty packed on a regular basis. But we have friends over after our kids go to bed for game nights regularly, and set aside a couple hours after the kids go to sleep most nights just to hang out and not be productive. We’ve also found a regular household routine we do in the evenings that’s short and that we do together (dishes, sweep, tidy up for 5 minutes) that often ends up being really nice togetherness time, and we fold laundry once a week in the evenings while watching a movie. We also get together once a week to look at our calendar and plan stuff that needs to get done. All of the household teamwork is really quite bonding, and other nights we relax, play video games, chill, etc. together. So we have a deal of emotional/relationship margin even when we don’t have a lot of room for error in our schedule.

    I also find it hard to relax when I’m doing all of the mental load for the household, so having a weekly meeting and being really explicit with my husband about the things I need help *thinking about* is also extremely helpful in the playfulness department.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yeah that’s why the margins are so important–because we go through seasons like that where one area is tight. So we need to have breathing room in others. The evening routine works so well, too! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Rachel

      Bethany, that sounds awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Phil

    Hey Becca – thanks to many factors Grace and I have been backing into margin in many areas of our lives. Actually Paul over at Generous Husband did a continuous series on margin through the year last year which was helpful too. I just wanted to say to you that I wasnt sure if you were writting to men or women becuase I think this may be a both topic. I am the playful one in my family. I get frustrated sometimes when my wife wont play. For me it feels like I cant be me. I have been known to say to her “you’re no fun”. Sure I get laundry and dishes and all the crap has to get done. But why not throw some soap bubbles or make jokes and try to have fun while your working? I totally disagree with hey I am folding the laundry no thank you. To me that is when you should be playful…when I work no matter what it is I always try to inject laughter and fun…why? Cuz work sucks! LOL. Here is the thing. Be it male or female if you take yourself too seriously then you will have no fun. It’s just that simple. Sure we should create margin, and sometimes we screw that up but when you are stressed about money and dishes and all that stuff you wrote about well then…it is time to take the lemons and make lemonade. Some people can do it and others cant. My wife tends to follow my lead yet even last night, I poked her a bit on her side where she is ticklish and commented about her body and infered her sexual being as she was off to the shower and she just ignored me. Cant have fun. Cant reciprocate – Has to be on the serious track. Cuz its time to take a shower. I flat out told her she was no fun. What a shame. What she is missing out on. And let me tell you. If you cant have fun doing the laundry or house work then you defintiely aint havin fun with sex. The whole margin thing gravitates to all areas of your life. Thats my 2 cents for the day Becca. Thanks and have a good day.

    • Lindsey

      Hi Phil,

      I don’t know what your “kid situation” is, but we have four children under the age of nine. My husband works full time (and is a hard worker), I am taking 15 hours college classes online, and stay home with the kids. I home school them, which means that I’m with them basically all the time. I consider this a huge blessing and an honor. That being said, they almost constantly make every chore I have to do more difficult with their “playfulness”. It’s difficult to have my mind constantly pulled away from what I need to accomplish to be told a joke that isn’t really all that funny, or to have bubbles thrown at me, which I will need to clean up afterwards (more work!). So, I don’t really want that from
      My husband while I’m working, what I want it to see him working beside me. Afterwards I’m ok with talking and laughing and playing, but when I’m trying to work I just want some help getting it done. If I don’t get help (or if I get extra work made for me by playfulness) I’m going to start to get grumpy. I’m not saying that it’s right, but it IS a fact. Then later when I could be playful I still won’t want to be, because I’m grumpy. It’s possible to enjoy being playful when it’s not chore time, and not appreciate it while you’re working. And if my husband told me I was “no fun” on top of it all…it’d would definitely not get any more fun for him. 😉
      Sometimes women, mothers especially, just need their husbands to step up – like the article says – and take some of the load so that they don’t feel like they’re also having to parent their husband. Women want a rock to lean on, not a boulder to carry. When I feel that support from my
      Husband it FREES me to be playful (once I finally take a deep breath!).

      • Frustrated and Tired

        Wow – I could have pretty much written this word for word. I too have four children, two of which I homeschool, the other two are a toddler and a baby. I feel like my margin is pretty much 0 or even possibly in the negative. We moved in the last few years because we needed a bigger house. The house payment is not a problem but we have so much that needs to be done to the house to make it our own and maintain it – paint, yardwork, decorating, etc. I’ve been pregnant or nursing (round the clock) since April of 2016….and I’m constantly exhausted. My husband always talks about the things he wants or needs to do around the house and says, one day he will. But yet he always seems to have time each week to play 10+ hours of video games. It’s not that I don’t want him to fun – I truly do. I just feel like the equation is shifted heavily on me and I have NO time for fun or downtime while he has time for video games? I just want it to be fair…that we both have time to pursue enjoyable things – be they together or separate and the stuff that needs to get done gets done. I love him dearly and he works hard but I feel like I (and everything I do) are invisible to him unless sex is on his brain. Then I get LOTS of attention. And I enjoy sex greatly….but it’s hard to feel in the mood when you feel like the only reason your husband is “seeing” you is because he has a need. I’ve tried building margin into my week by spreading out tasks. One way I did this was to try to get my grocery shopping done on Sunday. Not my ideal but it’s one day a week that we have a fairly low commitment level after church and I could do it ALONE which as a SAHM is pretty much heavenly. I got told I was making Sunday stressful and couldn’t I shift that to another day. I was literally in tears that he thought I had time another day to do it. I need to talk to him about this again but the thought of him not understanding (or not wanting to understand) and being shut down is paralyzing.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That is so hard! One of the things we did was the “if one person is working, both people are working” thing. So if I was doing the dishes, he was putting the kids in bed. If I was folding laundry, he was ironing. That way we could relax together. That’s a good standard, and it works for kids, too. “If Mom’s working, then you’re doing chores.” Otherwise people feel like it’s all Mom’s job. Then he would still be able to play video games, but you’d have some down time, too! I get it, though. I get that it’s exhausting. I’m sorry.

          • Cara

            I’ll be the first to admit that my children need more chores/responsibilities!
            But as for my husband, when he’s working he’s a welder and it’s a physical job and he gets up earlier. I don’t expect him to come home and do the household chores. Our kids are older now but sure, when they were little he helped with bath time and stuff while I did dishes (ALONE!!!!). I homeschool/homeschooled all 4 kids but I built in a rest time. That was my margin. Then I was refreshed and ready to take on more and even converse when he came home. Without that rest time I was a zombie. But what a luxury! One that he didn’t have! Added benefit? My kids learned to quietly play and entertain themselves for an hour or 2-and grew to look forward to their down time too.
            Since we live in a camper now my rest time is gone. (I can feel them breathe in the camper 🙄) but aiming for a home again in the next month or so!

          • Lindsey

            Hi Cara,

            We also live in a travel trailer (a fifth wheel) and have for almost 18 months. It’s been fun – for the most part. I definitely appreciate having less to take care of right now. I’m trying to work on giving my older kids more chores, but even giving them chores at this point is more work for me than doing the work. Lol.
            My husband is a hard working, blue collar man, and I don’t expect him to come home and clean, but if he wants me to relax and be “playful”, what I need is for him to help me with chores/kids, not make my life harder by keeping me from being able to stay focused and get my work done, that’s really all that I was trying to say. He normally is very helpful, but I was just trying to offer a different perspective to Phil.

        • A

          I can sympathize to your story as I have 3 kids under 5 and a husband in vet school so it’s all on me with the kids. I am sorry that things are so hard. I recently discovered ordering my groceries online at Walmart and I can pick them up and it’s free. It has saved me so much work of grocery shopping with little people. I don’t know if its something that you want to try, but maybe then you could do something more restful out of the house by yourself then have to do a chore still grocery shopping in your only alone time.

          I also took a marriage class called “taming Jane“ And she talks about how women give and adapt their needs away. However men are much better about getting their needs met. She suggested coming up with a list of what your needs are and kindly reminding your man as many times as it takes, 1 million or more if necessary to get your needs met. Otherwise resentment builds and the “intense woman” as she calls her rears her head either internally or externally. Sending you my best wishes. ♥️

    • ThePhilZone

      Phil, I’m sorry it’s so difficult to get your wife to chill out and have some fun. It takes two to tango, right, and you are dancin’ alone. That gets old. So today is about how to bring playfulness back into your marriage. Great topic. I think playful people enjoy playful marriages . At least a sense of what it means to let your guard down and be playful. Balance is the key. You have to be a little serious and get things done yet hopefully have a desire to make life fun and playful. A large part of playfulness for my wife and I is anticipation. Not unlike when we were dating all those years ago. So today I have a dare for you all, Rebecca included. This dare is playful, anticipatory, mutual, safe, super fun, while at the same time allowing a couple to bond and get some work done. I can’t believe I’m sharing this but here it goes. It all comes down to clothes. So our around the house work clothes are cumfy socks, a flannel shirt (unbuttoned) and sexy underwear (hand picked for each other). Then its great music, and maybe some wine (can I say that around here?). We do this all the time. Our routine works great for all normal housework but our favorite is probably cooking together like this. Oh, and wrapping Christmas presents together. Doesn’t work that great for mowing the lawn. Yes, we take a lot of “breaks” together and sometimes our chores take a little longer than they should but we sure have a lot of fun! So that’s my dare plain and simple. Put on some sexy clothes (minimal is best) together and tackle some chores. Help each other out along the way. Hug and kiss often. Steal some glances when the other is not looking. Back to the anticipation aspect of our playfulness, if I have to explain that one , you might just be reading the wrong blog. You think I’m kidding, I dare you!!!

    • Brievel

      Women are task-oriented. If we don’t remember the last time we got a chance to rest because there was always more to do and you’re trying to slow us down to be “playful,” we’re not going to appreciate it much.

  3. Elizabeth Wray

    One of the best ‘rules’ in our home was that ‘if one person is working, everyone is working.’ There was some way we could all contribute – and then have time to play (which mostly meant read their book which was our favourite activity)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, my gosh. I literally just replied to someone further down the thread with this quote. And then I read yours! That’s hilarious.


  4. Kate

    Great article Rebecca! And i agree with you 100%! Another great article to pin for/if i get married, the Lord willing.

  5. Amanda H

    I’m 30 weeks pregnant with severe pelvic pain that makes it very difficult to keep up with my very busy 18 month old, let alone do household chores! I understand feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that is really impossible to finish by myself. It hangs over my head sometimes, and I struggle against feeling like I’m constantly failing. But I’m trying to remember that joy and playfulness is a gift from God to help me through hard times and it’s an enormous gift I can give to my husband and kids. I want to have a peace in my heart that stands above the chaos in my life, and that often means choosing to smile at the ill timed suggestive comment from my husband while I’m standing overwhelmed in the middle of my house wreck. It means pressing close to my husband’s body and kissing him and telling him I can’t wait for tonight and can he help me with this chore right now? Usually, choosing to smile and laugh with him gives me a second burst of energy too!

    On a practical note, I’ve discovered that Walmarts free grocery pickup is a huge lifesaver for me. I can shop on the app while nursing the baby and my husband can pick it up on his way back from work. No getting frustrated with your husband for bringing back the wrong brand involved! 😁 Then if I want to get out of the house, I can do fun shopping and leave as soon my toddler gets cranky!

  6. Carrie

    I love the margin idea. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but I totally agree.
    The idea of ” if 1 is working, then both are” doesn’t work for our family. Mostly because our kids all have set chores that are expected to be done right after school. And my hubby and I have split the other things. My husband’s main chore is to make sure our kids do their chores. Since we all know what is expected of us, when we are done we can relax. Even if the house isn’t all clean.
    Also, sometimes I’m too stressed to be playful. My hubby usually recognizes that, listens to my frustrations, then I can lighten up and play. It’s amazing what being listened to does for me.


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