• Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.

A Family That Plays Together…

Updated: Sep 29

One of the best recommendations for improving relationships is to learn better communication. Almost everyone has room for improvement. Equally important is to learn to resolve conflict in cooperative ways, with a special emphasis on negotiation. Here, too, most everyone can improve.

However not everyone has the resources, interest and motivation to learn these skills. Fortunately, there is another way to improve couple or family relationships: through recreation and special projects.

Some families forget about having fun together. Financial pressures limit time and resources. Unresolved conflict kills the playful spirit. One strategy for improving the quality of family life is get back in the habit of scheduling recreation. Although the activities don’t have to be expensive, family members make recreation a priority and set aside time. The good feelings from having fun together can improve the atmosphere for resolving conflict.

Special projects are another good way to pull a family together or raise the spirit of family members. Projects are activities that family members choose for a shared challenge and greater closeness.

Two sisters, ages 8 and 9, essentially ignored their stepdad, Paul, although they had been living with him for over a year. When he tried to talk with them, they pushed him away, feeling that he was trying to “move in on Dad’s turf.” During the summer months, Paul worked an afternoon shift and was the morning caregiver. Last summer, he let the girls watch television in the family room until he left for work at noon, but this summer, with full support from his wife, he began a project with them.

Knowing the girls wanted to learn more about technology, he offered to teach them some skills. The girls resisted at first, hoping Mom might give them lessons. When she didn’t, they reluctantly accepted Paul’s instruction. Within a few weeks the girls learned a great deal from their lessons, including that it could be fun to be with Paul.

In another family, a recently retired couple were fighting during their long hours of free time. They didn’t have the relationship skills to resolve conflict through discussion, but they cleverly discovered a solution: family projects. The first project was to fix up the house for their own enjoyment and for possible sale. They began by working in the yard. Each day they would plan their activities and then get to work, sometimes side by side and sometimes at a distance. They used their family projects to improve the quality of their time together. It made them a happier couple.

Communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills are great stuff, but not always the right prescription for families. Sometimes having fun or family projects are just what the doctor ordered.


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These articles are written to share ideas about how to create and sustain loving and cooperative relationships based on equality and mutual respect.

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