A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Psychoanalytic wisdom for everyday life

Love Lessons No. 3: Love Is a Playground (Sex Is, Too!)

How to bring a splash of color to your love life

In the last few posts, I have been exploring some of the principles that I think make for a lasting, intimate love relationship. I started with those principles that people may find difficult to accept: love takes work; there needs to be space in togetherness. But one of my readers asked the question, "What about play?" Indeed, she is right. A healthy love relationship is also a playground, a place to regularly set aside the work of adult life and just have fun!

In a healthy love relationship, there is room to let down your hair. To be silly. To laugh. To express yourself without inhibition. In a healthy love relationship, there is a foundation of acceptance that makes room for experimentation and creativity. Without the heavy threat of judgement, we can color outside the lines, be pioneers on the frontiers of our personalities. We can be goofy, playful, and naughty. We can play out a fantasy in the safety of our partner's understanding and love.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The idea of adult-love-as-play reminds me of a series of photographs of children that was popular a few years ago. You'd find them in a poster shop or on the cover of a greeting card. They were black and white photographs with a splash of color—pink or yellow or red. The children were playing dress-up in adult clothes and sharing a more grown-up moment, perhaps a little boy giving a flower and a kiss to a little girl. Some people expressed discomfort with these photos, feeling that they showed a kind of exploitation of children whose innocence should be protected. But what if we approached them from the opposite angle—not as photos of children pretending to be adults but as adults pretending to be children? This alternative view illustrates the deeper reality that I am exploring today: that inside every adult is a child expressing his or her playful innocence as an essential part of a mature, loving relationship.

One of the intriguing ideas of psychoanalysis is that each of us has many selves. Whatever our age, we have an adult self that guides our lives with maturity and takes care of things. And whatever our age, we have child selves that are mostly involved in growing, learning, and playing. These child parts of our personalities are full-fledged members of our adult relationships. They bring real color to the black-and-white of life—allowing us to approach our lives with an attitude of wonder, playfulness, and innocence. They help us not take ourselves too seriously.

In a healthy adult love relationship, we are able to flexibly move through different aspects of our personalities, to take on different roles. Sex becomes more alive with this kind of attitude, as does everyday life.

Sometimes we will be two adults working side by side. Sometimes one will be a child being cared for by a nurturing mother; sometimes one will be a father who protects and lovingly guides the other as his child. And sometimes we will be two children, setting aside the cares of the world just to have fun building a sandcastle, swinging on the monkey bars, and imaginatively making our dreams come true.

Copyright 2012 Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.

Like it!  Tweet it!  Comment on it!

Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, working with adults and couples in her private practice in Pasadena, CA.

more...

Subscribe to A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?