The relationship anxiety spike, “My partner is too silly” appears often in my work. On the surface this sounds like, “I feel annoyed when my partner is silly.” However, as I walk alongside my clients while they deconstruct what’s embedded inside the spike, several spokes of the wheel are revealed – none of which have anything to do with their partner. The most common are:
- I’m afraid of losing control. Being silly is vulnerable and I’m afraid to be vulnerable.
- I’m scared to let go.
- I’m scared of looking “uncool”. I can feel my self-judgement come up when I’m silly. Do I look weird? Does my face look strange? This is projected onto my partner in the form of, “They look uncool” but it really comes down to my own fear of what other people think.
- It reminds me of when I was made fun of as a kid for being silly. I had to stay within the lines. Being silly triggers this old pain.
- When my partner is silly it touches a longing for what I didn’t receive as a child. I always wanted my parents to play with me but they rarely did.
One of the many reasons why I fell in love with my husband was his sense of play. When my heart was wide open and as unfettered as a flock of birds in spring in the early stages of our relationship, we were silly together for hours on end, creating voices for our pets and effortlessly traveling back in time into our childlike selves. Play and passion and sweetness and romance were entwined like multi-colored threads in the fabric of our new loving. I remember walking into his beachside apartment in Marina del Rey and seeing him standing at his art table, hair sticking up adorably, working on one of his children’s book illustrations of monkeys riding marbles. He melted my heart instantly in that moment, as he would countless times in those early months. His sense of play was evident in everything he did. My soul smiled widely.
But when relationship anxiety took hold and my inner channels slammed shut, I suddenly didn’t find him funny anymore. Had he changed or had I? Even then, even before I had learned to decipher the projections that grabbed me by the ankles and deconstruct the architecture of relationship anxiety, some part of me knew that the problem lay inside of me. Fear had distorted my perception, and I suddenly felt like all of the loose and free places inside of me were constrained and constricted. It felt awful, but I didn’t know how to open the blockages and return to that original state of play and freedom.
As I worked to unravel the fear-layers – and there were many of them – I started to open up again. But then we moved from Los Angeles to Denver with our two-year old son, my husband changed careers, we moved again, had another child, and it seemed like all play was sucked out of our marriage. It wasn’t, of course; he was still reaching for me, but I couldn’t reach back. He would joke and I wouldn’t respond. I had more inner work to do. And I had to figure out how to dig myself out of the new mother overwhelm that buried me like a pile of unwashed clothes.
I did the work. I peeled back my layers of projections. We also did our couples’ work and unraveled a negative cycle that had grown between us in the early years of parenthood. And then one day I looked up and saw him with crystal clarity again: handsome and sexy and… hysterically funny!
My husband is literally the most hilarious person I have ever met. He makes me laugh harder than any comedian, any television show, any human being on the planet. He’s always been this funny, but I was so buried in fear and mired in overwhelm that I couldn’t see it. He brings this sense of play and fun into our family daily. The dinner table is a quiet place before he takes his seat. And then the laughter begins.
Laughter is Good for Your Health
The healing power of laughter is underestimated in our self-help culture. In The Book of Joy, Douglas Abrams, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk extensively about humor and laughter. Abrams writes:
“I once heard that laughter was the most direct line between two people, and certainty the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop used humor to break down the social barriers that separate us. Humor, like humility, comes from the same root for humanity: humus. The lowly and sustaining earth is the source for all three words. Is it any surprise that we have to have a sense of humility to be able to laugh at ourselves and that to laugh at ourselves reminds us of our shared humanity?”
And the Dalai Lama says:
“It is much better when there is not too much seriousness. Laugher, joking is much better. Then we can be completely relaxed. I met some scientists in Japan, and they explained that wholehearted laughter – not artificial laughter – is very good for your heart and your health in general.”
With the focus on “getting better” and “helping ourselves” in the self-help world, it’s easy to fall prey to over-working and over-fixing, even while doing inner work. We forget that part of the path of well-being is having fun, playing, laughing, making music and listening to music, creating, lying in the grass, dancing. There may be nothing more soothing to the soul than playing in the dirt, and one of the tasks as adults is to discover what the grown-up version of playing in the dirt is for you.
Play Edges Out Anxiety
When you spend time in play, you naturally edge out anxiety; the soul revels in play and when the waters of the well of self are full there’s less room for anxiety to fester. Of course, if you’re seeking play as a way to fix yourself you’re back in the same mindset that assumes that you’re broken, and the pathways to joy will slam shut. We seek to play without attachment, play without checking it off our lists of things to-do, play with abandon. There is a paradox here, and as I wrote about in this post, it’s where we encounter paradox that we soften the barriers of resistance that prevent us from growing. So we dive into the center of this paradox, holding both sides of the conflict until the counterpoint reveals itself and a new beam of light emerges from the crack.
Play and art bring us back home, and when we move toward the tight places inside and attend to them from the ground up, we loosen up and let go and remember the joy in life. We can lay these foundations not only for ourselves but also for our children. In fact, it’s never too early to help children anchor into their well and fill it with warm, soothing waters, and, as my husband taught me early on – long before we had kids – one of the most powerful ways to do this is through high-quality picture books. When children absorb visually rich images paired with meaningful and playful words, their inner well of self is strengthened and filled; one moment of play edges out two of anxiety.
All of this to say that I’m so excited to share some of my husband’s play and creativity with you today; one of his books from his Monkey Marbles series, a counting book called Ten Monkey Marbles, is now available on my site (on the bottom of this page). After twenty years of doing this work and ten years of writing this blog, it’s time to share more of the source of inspiration with you: my rock, my safe haven, a beautiful man who is truly the wind beneath my wings. I hope you enjoy his playful spirit and that it ignites a sense of fun for both your inner and outer children. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!