Home & Family Newsletter - February 2013

Have Fun! The Importance of Play in Couple Relationships.

Boring, drab, lifeless, stale, dull, tedious. These are probably not the words you hope to use to describe your relationships. How about well planned, frugal, precise, productive, serious, busy? Though these can be characteristics of a strong, healthy relationship, they are not likely what make a relationship so appealing. What was it about the beginning of your relationship that made it so attractive? What is it about your partner that made you want to spend time with him or her? 
When couples first meet they usually spend a significant amount of time engaging in fun activities together and spending quality time getting to know each other. Most people probably plan to keep that fun and spark in their relationship forever, but over time with all of the meetings, kids, household chores, long work hours, and everyday challenges, taking time to really enjoy being together and have fun often takes a back seat to other priorities (Markman, Stanley, Blumberg, Jenkins, & Whiteley, 2004; Parrott & Parrott, 2006). While taking the time to be playful in relationships can be enjoyable, playing as a couple is not only about having fun, but can serve many other functions. 
Purpose of Play
Playing together increases bonding, communication, conflict resolution, and relationship satisfaction (Baxter, 1992; Betcher, 1977; Kopecky, 1996; Vanderbleek, 2005). Play can also promote spontaneity when life seems routine, serve as a reminder of positive relationship history, and promote intimacy (Baxter, 1992; Lauer & Lauer, 2002). Having fun together can help couples feel positive emotions, which can increase relationship satisfaction, help couples to unite in order to overcome differences and give hope when working through difficult challenges (Aune & Wong, 2002; Betcher, 1977; Lauer & Lauer, 2002). Some studies have even found that having fun together is the most important factor in the sense of friendship, commitment, and the greatest influence on overall marital satisfaction (Markman, et al., 2004). 
What is Play?
So what does it mean to play? A broad definition of play is “any pleasurable use of discretionary time” (Charles, 1983, p. 4). What is pleasurable may, of course, vary from person to person. In addition, researchers have found that play is not only pleasurable, but also serves as a developmental activity (Colarusso, 1993). Just as children learn and develop through play, it can also promote the engagement and mastery of developmental tasks in adults.  According to Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” (Plato, n.d.). While people can sometimes mask their true selves while talking in conversation, play is a form of modeling real life, which brings forth true reactions to different circumstances. For example, how a person reacts to osing a game may be indicative of his or her reaction to losing a job deal. What a person does to overcome a difficult situation during play will likely be the same way he or she overcomes difficult situations in other areas of life. Whether a person takes charge of their team or sits back while playing a sport may show how they work with teams on the job. Play can teach us about ourselves and our partners in casual situations where the consequences are not so long lasting. 
Common Barriers and How to Overcome Them
So how do we add more play into our relationships? Consider some of the following suggestions on how to overcome common barriers to play:
1. Schedule some fun. Many couples intend to play but never actually make it happen (Parrott & Parrott, 2006). Agree on a date and time and put it on the calendar (Markman, et al., 2004). When we schedule time for fun, we are more likely to make it happen. 
2. Get active. Lack of energy and unhealthy living habits can often leave us feeling drained even when we find time in our busy schedules for fun (Braff & Schwarz, 2004). Make a plan to help each other eat right and participate in physical activities. You can make physical activity fun!
3. Give yourself permission to be a kid again. Because we spend so much time acting like adults, we may feel it is childish to play and instead want to act serious to maintain our dignity (Markman, et al., 2004). Let your partner know your fears and trust him or her to help you overcome them. Do fun things that you feel comfortable with (Braff & Schwarz, 2004).
4. Be open to trying new things. Sometimes our idea of fun is different than our partner’s idea of fun. Find out why your partner enjoys what they do by asking questions and trying it yourself. Be open minded and willing to compromise. You might like it much more than you thought you would!
5. Protect fun from conflict and resentment. Sometimes negative feelings for our partner or conflicts may threaten to ruin a fun activity. Agree ahead of time to focus on having fun during the activity and to discuss important issues and conflicts at another time (Markman, et al., 2004). It may be hard to do this at first, but spending this important time together will strengthen your relationship and your ability to resolve conflicts in the long run.
6. Focus on teamwork. Some people are very competitive and may avoid playing games because they know they will become too competitive and want to win, even at his or her partner’s expense. In this case, learn a new game together, or find an activity where you can play or work as a team (Braff & Schwarz, 2004).
7. Budget for some fun. For many, money is tight, but there are often ways to find a small amount of money in a budget for some fun activities or for a special occasion. Just remember, having fun does not require a lot of money, and there are lots of fun activities that are free!
8. Make having fun more of a priority. Some people feel they are too busy to have fun or that it’s unproductive and unnecessary (Braff & Schwarz, 2004). Play really can help us to strengthen our relationships with others; just try it and see just how much more enjoyable your relationship can be! Take advantage of the simple and seemingly mundane moments you have every day to add a little fun. Try a silly twist to saying hello or goodbye, add something fun to meal time or take time to just stop and watch the sunset on the way back from running errands. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to add a little fun into your routine, and it can create many lasting memories (Parrot & Parrot, 2006).
Making a Plan and Taking Action
Consider what blocks to fun you are currently facing and discuss what you are willing to do about them with your partner. It may also be helpful to brainstorm a list of things you want to try or things you think are fun that you want to do again. At this point, don’t worry about cost or time, the sky is the limit! You may want to make lists separately (see who can get the longest list or see if you can come up with an activity for every letter of the alphabet) nd then discuss your lists and decide on activities you want to do together. Once you have decided on what you want to do, prioritize the activities, keeping in mind a plan of how to budget your resources of time, energy and money to make it happen. Write it on your calendar and follow through with your play date. Be sure to schedule play dates often and take turns choosing the activities that you can both agree on.
Keeping the Fun Alive
Strong, healthy, happy, and long lasting relationships do not just happen, they require effort; and one of the things every relationship needs is a little fun. Be intentional about having fun in your relationship. As you become aware of the barriers to fun, make plans, and take action to overcome them, you will find greater happiness in your relationship and life in general. 

Naomi Brower,
 Extension Assistant Professor
Family & Consumer Sciences Faculty
Utah State University Extension, Weber County

Aune, K.S., Wong, N.C.H. (2002). Antecedents and consequences of adult play in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships 9, 279-286. 
Baxter, L.A. (1992). Forms and functions of intimate play in personal relationships. Human Communications Research. 18,336-363.
Betcher, R. W. (1977). Intimate play and marital adaptation: Regression in the presence of another. (Doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1977). Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 1871. 
Braff, E., & Schwarz, R. (2004). The power of play in relationships manual. Unpublished manuscript.
Charles, J. M. (1983). Adult play. Paper presented at the National Convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Minneapolis, MN. 
Colarusso, C. A. (1993). Play in adulthood: A developmental consideration. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 48, 225-245.
Kopecky, G. (1996). Make time for play. American Health, 15(4), 65-67.
Lauer, J. C., & Lauer, R. H. (2002). The play solution: How to put the fun and excitement back into your relationship. Chicago: Contemporary Books. 
Markman, H.J., Stanley, S.M., Blumberg, S.L., Jenkins, N.H., & Whiteley, C. (2004). 12 hours to a great marriage: A step-by-step guide for making love last. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Parrott, L., Parrott, L. (2006). Your time starved marriage–how to stay connected at the speed of life. Michigan: Zondervan. Plato (n.d.) Plato Quotes. In Thinkexist.com. Retrieved from  http://thinkexist.com/quotation/you_can_discover_more_about_a_person_in_an_hour/11765.html
Vanderbleek, L. (2005). Couple play as predictor of couple bonding, physical health and emotional health. Dissertation.  

Tips for Strengthening your Family Relationships           

All families have qualities that make them unique.  Whether a particular family is a nuclear family, a stepfamily, a single-parent family, or an empty-nest family, it usually consists of related people who care for one another.  Regardless of composition, all families need to be nurtured and strengthened from time to time.  Families can cultivate strong family bonds by creating a foundation revolving around 6 characteristics.
Commitment serves as a foundation for strong family relationships.  Strong families are dedicated to the well-being and happiness of all family members.  Commitment means that:
  • each family member is precious.
  • forgiveness is readily available.
  • priorities must be established.
  • some sacrifices must be made.
  • common goals must be shared. 
  • traditions are established and maintained.
Appreciation enhances family members’ self-esteem, makes family members feel worthy, and creates a sense of belonging within the family unit.  Family members can show appreciation by:
  • looking for positive attributes instead of negative.
  • showing love in small ways every day.
  • saying, “I Love You” every day.
  • praising the accomplishments of other family members.
  • expressing a lot of appropriate affection.
  • remembering and celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.
Communication helps family members feel connected to one another.  Members of strong families communicate about trivial matters, as well as, important issues.  Positive communication involves both talking and listening, and family members feel open to sharing their opinions.  Effective communication within a family means:
  • being open, honest, and kind.
  • listening carefully, without distraction.
  • trusting one another.
  • avoiding criticism, judgment, and acting superior.
  • showing empathy.
  • having an understanding attitude.
Spiritual Wellness guides ethical behavior, concern for others, and provides unity among family members.  Shared beliefs create a bond among family members, and provide a framework for love, purpose, security, hope, and peace.  Spirituality:
  • helps family members maintain a positive outlook on life.
  • provides guidelines for living.
  • offers support from people who share in a belief system.
  • provides meaningful traditions and rituals.
  • helps families cope during hard times.
Effective coping skills help families unite during times of conflict, stress, and crisis.  Strong families draw on each other’s strengths when faced with a crisis, and maintain flexibility in order to deal with the issue. Effective coping strategies for families include:
  • finding something positive in the situation and focusing on it.
  • uniting and sharing the responsibility of solving the conflict or crisis.
  • seeking help from outside sources when needed.
  • keeping the lines of communication open.
  • drawing on shared spiritual beliefs.
  • being flexible and adaptable during crisis situations.
Spending time together builds family relationships, creates family memories, and helps the family develop an identity.  Quality family time enhances communication skills and provides each family member with a sense of security and belonging.  Family activities are unique to each individual family depending upon personalities, interests, and hobbies of each family member.  Some quality family activities include:
  • sharing mealtimes as a family.
  • completing house and yard chores together.
  • taking a hike and packing a picnic lunch.
  • going camping and playing outdoor sports.
  • having a game or puzzle night.
  • going bowling or seeing a movie.
  • attending religious services.
  • participating in scouting or 4-H activities.
  • attending school activities.
  • celebrating holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
Strengthening family relationships takes time, patience, and commitment.  The 6 characteristics serve as a guide to help family members create and maintain strong family bonds.  It takes a lot of hard work to build a strong family, but the end result will be well worth the effort.

Shannon Cromwell, Extension Assistant Professor
Family & Consumer Sciences Faculty
Utah State University Extension, Sanpete County

Finance and Romance: Building Successful Investment Portfolios

In contemplating the topic of this article, I found a unique book titled The Finance of Romance: Investing in Your Relationship Portfolio by Leon Scott Baxter (2012). I really enjoyed the way he took basic money management principles and applied them to building healthy relationships. It made those sometimes vague relationship principles more concrete and understandable. I wanted to share with you a few parallels I learned from this book about setting goals, getting rid of debt, and maintaining good credit.

Setting Goals

In order to achieve financial goals such as retirement, owning a house, or providing college/vocational education for yourself or your children, you need to know what you want, where you are now, and how to get to your end point. Many dream of these things, but unless you write down your dreams and make them concrete, realistic, and measurable, they will likely go unfulfilled. In order to create a tangible goal, ask yourself the following questions:

1) What do I dream of accomplishing for myself or my family? Write down at least one thing you want to accomplish within one year, one thing you want to accomplish within five years, and one year you want to accomplish in ten years or longer. For example, I would like to get a new-to-me car within two years.

2) How much do I need to obtain this dream? Write down next to each dream the approximate amount you think it will take to get there within your anticipated time-frame. For example, I expect I will need about $6,000 to cover the cost of the down-payment so I will have affordable monthly payments.

3) How much do you already have saved toward this dream? It may be nothing, but maybe you have already been saving for this dream for a while. For example, I already have $2,000 saved up to go toward a new car. This means that I need to obtain $4,000 more by my deadline.

4) When do I want to accomplish this dream? Identify a specific target date (or month) in which to reach your dream. For example, I need to save $4,000 for a new-to-me car within 24 months.

5) How much can I contribute toward this dream each month? Using the target date, and considering if you are paid on a monthly, weekly or bi-weekly basis, calculate how much you need to save each paycheck in order to accomplish your dream by your target date. For example, I would need to save about $170 every month in order to buy a new-to-me car by my target month.

6) Is your monthly contribution toward this goal manageable with your income and other expenses? Determine if you can afford to put this much away every month. In some cases, you may need to adjust your timeline, or you may realize that you can reach your dream earlier than you had planned. For example, I can only afford to put away $125 every month toward my new car dream. This means that it will take me a little longer to reach my goal, but I think my current car can last a few more months until I can get my down-payment together.
Now, having written this information down, your dreams are no longer just dreams; they are tangible, measurable, and achievable goals!

When it comes to your relationship with your spouse, you also want to set “Romance” goals. Baxter (2012) defines romance as “making your partner­ feel loved and cared for…. Romance is not defined by your actions; it’s defined by what your actions produce in your partner” (p. 9). Baxter recommends a portfolio-stretching exercise for your relationship. He suggests deciding on an area with your relationship that you and your partner decide together needs improvement. Some examples might be: spending time together more often, being more affectionate, or making sex exciting again. Whatever you decide, WRITE IT DOWN. Consider what obstacles have stalled your progress in the past and make notes of those.
Together, determine at least three methods you could use to reach your goal, then choose the one that will be most feasible. For example, if your goal is to be more affectionate with one another, your goal might state: I want to be more affectionate with my spouse, therefore I resolve that I will kiss him/her at least five times a day and at least one kiss each day will be longer than three minutes. It is important when determining a romance goal that you a) write it down, and b) include specifics that will help you measure whether or not you’ve reached your goal. Talk with your partner about your relationship goals and encourage one another to stick with it, even with you stumble.

Getting Rid of Debt

Being in debt financially creates a barrier to reaching your dreams because you are unable to fully invest and save for your future. For example, if you have a 23 percent interest rate on your Visa or Mastercard with a $100 balance, and you have $100 in a high-interest savings account where you make 5 percent annually, you are still losing ground every month – in this case $18! If, instead, you use the $100 in the bank to pay off the credit card, you won’t make anything on interest, but you also won’t pay anything on interest. This is better than losing $18 in the first scenario. In order to reap the benefits of saving, you need to clear out as much debt as possible.

PowerPay.org is a fantastic program to help you get out of debt faster. You can set up a free, password-protected account where you can enter information on your debts – from credit cards to student loan payments. PowerPay.org will help you calculate monthly payments for each of your bills so you can save time and interest in paying off your debts. In order to be successful while using PowerPay.org, you commit to spend the same amount of money every month paying down debt until it is ALL paid off, and you commit to not accumulate any further debt while paying off your current debts. Even though you aren’t “saving” for the dreams you’ve set, you will become a more effective saver – and can fulfill your dreams much faster – once your debts have been paid.

In relationships, debt is anything that keeps you from fully investing in the relationship. If the negative outweighs the positive, you will be losing ground every month. It can be difficult to pay off your relationship debts, especially when building a romance portfolio is more fun. However, you need to deal with the elephants in the room or you’ll continue the same patterns of frustration, guilt, and anger. Communicating with your spouse about difficult topics, especially trust or infidelity can be very challenging. Baxter suggests the following Relationship Portfolio-Building Exercise:
1) Each person takes a blank page and heads to a separate room. Consider any major issues in your relationship that block you from feeling closer to your partner. These are likely the “elephants” you never want to talk about: addiction, lying, sneakiness, substance abuse, loss of trust, etc. These are often issues that, when discussed, cause guilt, anger, frustration, tears, or yelling. Completing this exercise may take several days, as it can bring up repressed emotions. If neither of you write down any issues – be honest! – you can move forward into building your relationship portfolio with confidence.

2) Next to each obstacle you’ve listed, write down the feelings/emotions you associate with it. These could include anger, bitterness, confusion, resentment, numbness, frustration, guilt, jealousy, hurt, etc.

3) Take a separate sheet of paper for each obstacle you’ve written down. Write the obstacle at the top and then write down everything you want to say to your partner about this. This is an opportunity to get those feelings and emotions out of your system. Write down everything you’ve ever wanted to say about this topic to your spouse, even those things you’ve been afraid to say. Don’t worry about spelling or structure or hurting your partner’s feelings. Just focus on getting your thoughts and emotions out as you write. After you’ve written it out, put it aside for 20 to 30 minutes so you can cool down, let your body relax from the tension and allow your emotions to balance again.

4) Review what you’ve written and rephrase the obstacle using an “I” statement. The purpose of this part of the exercise is to write down what you are feeling without attacking your partner. Include the emotions you wrote down and use this template: I feel __(emotion)__ when you __(obstacle)__, because _______. I want _______. For example: I feel hurt and alone when you spend all day at work and then go out with friends at night because it seems like you care more about these other things than you do about me. I want to spend more time with you so we can be close like we used to be. Once you have created your I-statements for each obstacle, burn the “rant” papers you created in Step 3. You’ve gotten those emotions out of your system and by destroying it, you can move forward in communicating about the issue in a healthy way.

5) As a couple, come together prepared to listen, accept responsibility, to apologize and put yourself in your partner’s shoes. It’s time to communicate, not yell or interrupt each other about an issue. One person reads their “I” statement and stops. There isn’t a need for further explanation. The other partner then repeats the “I” statement and stops. Now that both of you have spoken, continue to discuss the issue using phrases like: “I know you didn’t mean to, but…” and “You’re right, I didn’t understand that…” End the topic by creating a goal and a plan together. Write it down with measurable specifics that you will help you accomplish the goal.

6) If you can’t come up with a plan that is agreeable to both, consider utilizing a professional to help you negotiate and learn to compromise on a plan.
Once you have your debt under control, avoid falling back into debt. When a disagreement or issue arises, get it out in the open quickly. Communicate to resolve the issue and move forward in your relationship.

Maintaining Good Credit

Good credit is an important part of society, but for some people, credit can become a trap rather than a tool. When used wisely, credit can be valuable to help build assets. Good credit allows you to get a loan for a home, or a car, or for education. The decision to loan you money, and the rate at which you will be charged interest, is based on your history of repaying debts and proof of your financial responsibility. For many, credit becomes a trap because it can be easy to overspend when using credit regularly. If you are constantly tying up future income with high credit card spending, lenders won’t see you as a good investment. The hard truth is that the time, plus the interest it takes, can increase your cost two to three times the amount you originally charged on the card for the item. When deciding whether or not to charge an item, as yourself the following questions.

· Do I really need this item now? Sometimes you do, but usually you will survive if you don’t get this item here and now. Consider the cost of buying a new television. If the TV costs $400, but you charge it to a credit card with a 21% APR and carry the balance for more than one month, you will end up paying $500 or more for a $400 television set. Instead, consider saving $50 per month until you’ve saved up to buy the TV with cash. By that time, it will likely be on sale for $340 and you’ll have saved yourself an extra $60, plus the interest you’ve saved if you had charged it.
· What are the extra costs? Nearly everything we buy has an extra cost to it. For example, I buy that new $400 television set. Now, I also need to spend close to $50 to buy new cables and connectors so my equipment works with the new TV. What else will you need to buy in order to make that item work?
· Is the item worth the extra costs? Again, sometimes it is. You have to carefully consider whether or not you have that extra money. It’s easy to give in to temptation and just buy the item. But if you don’t have the extra money to make it work, it won’t do you any good sitting around your house and taking up space.
· Can I make the monthly payments? In some cases, you may be buying a piece of furniture on credit. Before you decide that it’s worth it, consider your current income and expense load. Can you afford paying $75 a month for 8 months? Would it be better to save up for that chair and buy it with cash?
· What will I have to give up in the future? Every time we charge an item to our credit card, we are obligating ourselves to use future income and resources to pay back the amount charged. If you put a TV or a recliner on your credit card, will you be able to afford groceries during the next few months? Will you have to work more hours in order to meet all your obligations, thereby giving up time with family and friends? Sometimes it helps to ask the question: How many hours do I have to work in order to pay for this item? When put in concrete terms, I may realize that it isn’t worth my time to spend three work days just to pay for that item.
· What if an emergency comes up? If you have committed all your income to your monthly expenses, plus you’ve committed future income to paying back your credit card bills, you will be unable to cope with the added expense if your furnace dies, or you need new tires on your car, or you or your child fall and break their arm.

By regularly spending less than you earn and paying bills in full and on time, you will increase your credit score and let lenders know that you are a good financial investment.

Baxter (2012) explains that credit in relationships is built with loving interactions and faithfulness to your partner. If you have “good credit,” chances are that when you mess up, such as forgetting a birthday or anniversary, coming home late without calling, or inviting friends and family over without warning, you’ll be able to take out a “relationship loan” with a good interest rate. Interest in this case is the length of time it takes for you to be forgiven; essentially, how long you are in “the doghouse” for your mistake. Using the similar questions to the one above, ask yourself if it is worthwhile to follow through on the action that may send your relationship credit score plunging. What are the extra costs and are you willing to pay them? What if an emergency comes up? Will you partner be able to trust you and rely on you? If you’ve already made many mistakes, it may not be easy for your partner to do this. It is important to maintain open and honest communication as you work through building and maintaining good relationship credit.

Just like creating a solid financial portfolio takes time, effort, dedication, and sacrifice, building a successful relationship investment portfolio means that you are willing to devote the necessary time, effort, dedication, work and sacrifice to your relationship with your spouse. Doing so will lead to a solid and healthy relationship that will last through major and minor challenges.

Jana Darrington
, M.S., Extension Assistant Professor
Family and Consumer Sciences Faculty
Utah State University Extension, Utah County


Baxter, L. S. (2012). The finance of romance: Investing in your relationship portfolio. Sweetwater Books: Springville, UT.

Tips to Reconnect and Build a Stronger Marriage

Our closest relationships can bring both joy and challenges. In fact, most relationships have approximately 12 things both parties disagree on at any given time. But what is more important than the struggles is what the couple does to build the relationship and reconnect. When we focus on the things that are going right in our relationships, we can more easily conquer the struggles we may face as a team. Consider these tips to reconnect and build a stronger marital relationship.

  • Listen to your partner every day. Sometimes we think we are being good listeners, but in reality, we are more rejecting than receiving. Listening is often about seeking connection with someone rather than giving advice or solving problems. Even if we ask for advice, we are often just seeking to be understood and validated. So, the next time your partner is sharing his or her thoughts with you, listen carefully to what is being said, not just to the words but to what is important to him or her and why.
  • Laugh with your partner. When we were kids, we laughed 200 to 300 times a day, but the average adult laughs only12 to 14 times per day. When we lose humor in our relationship, we may get too wound up and lose sight of the bigger picture. It is important to see humor in one another and in challenging moments. For good mental health, we are told to have five belly laughs a day. It’s not only good for our health, but it also strengthens relationships.
  • Look at your partner. You see the ones you love almost every day but when was the last time you looked at them deep in their eyes and really connected? Look in your partner’s eyes for about 30 seconds, be in the moment and pay close attention to his or her facial expressions. Look at the person as a whole, for who they really are, and not for what frustrates or hurts you. When you really connect with someone, you feel it deep inside and it also literally stimulates the brain, not to mention it helps you feel closer.
  • Touch daily. Physical touch is good for your health. Shoot for five hugs a day. Many of these will probably be from your partner, but they can also be from kids or others who are close. Touch could also be in the form of holding your partner’s hand while watching TV, giving them a kiss hello or goodbye or touching them on the shoulder or hair while walking by to acknowledge them. When we touch someone, we let them know they are important to us and it builds our relationship.

By practicing these simple tips on a daily basis, we exercise our relationship muscles so that we continue to grow together rather than letting our relationship atrophy. Reconnecting doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, but making investments every day can make a huge difference in the marital relationship and also in general happiness and satisfaction in life.

Naomi Brower, Extension Assistant Professor
Family & Consumer Sciences Faculty
Utah State University Extension, Weber County

*With information from Doug Nielsen, psychotherapist and speaker.