Playing Games Is Good For Relationships


A little friendly competition may increase intimacy between partners.

"Quit playing games with my heart," sang the Backstreet Boys, in 1996. They clearly hadn't been involved in any long-term relationships—playing games with your spouse may actually be a sign of a strong bond. After being together with someone for a long time you start to develop an inner world—inside jokes, funny nicknames, code words and games—these are understandings that outsiders don't share: a special, partnered intimacy. In today's New York Times Michelle Slatalla writes about the game she and her husband play. They live in a small town populated people they often see while taking walks.

One day we began keeping track of them. And then, as so often happens in a marriage, it became a competition. This led to a set of rules (play cannot begin before crossing East Blithedale Avenue), then subrules (“crossing” means reaching the always arguable halfway point of the avenue) and, finally, arcane exceptions to the rules (the yellow Mini Cooper with the vanity plate that says “Muelita” can be called anywhere, at any time).

Love Buzz is familiar with this kind of game—we've played a similar one with our S.O. in the past—when one of us says something clever the other give points according to how witty we think it is. We haven't played the points game in a while, but back when we awarded them it was just to say "you said something funny or cute or smart and I noticed it and appreciated you"—but without the cheesiness

Back in November Glamour's Single-ish blog wrote about inside jokes—blogger Ryan had reached the point in his new girlfriend where he had inside jokes. Commenters responded with theirs.

One woman said "Everytime one of us says something either inappropriate or is a low blow, etc. we ask for a chip, as in poker chips, and we are allowed to cash them in for things like kisses, etc." Now we're no experts, but we're gonna go out on a limb and say that inside jokes are a marker of a strong relationship—sort of like nicknames, which family therapist Carolyn Perla identifies as "a statement that you're feeling comfortable with each other and with the relationship." In fact, there's scientific proof that teasing is good for relationships, so a little intimate competition probably is, too. (Physical contests are trickier, though, especially if you beat him—just ask Dean Chandler.)

Readers, what friendly competitions do you have with your mate?