Relationship as Improv: The Beach Ball Game

Anyone’s who’s been in a relationship knows they’re complicated and often challenging. They produce passion—not always of the good sort—and frustration. They shine a spotlight on our shortcomings. They trigger childhood wounds.

Couples therapists often try to heal relationships by getting their clients to probe their depths. This can be useful, and it can also be endless. The unconscious goes on forever. There’s always more stuff to process.

Is there a simpler, more efficient and effective way to address relationship happiness? I want to think so, and (surprise!) it just so happens that I have a notion along those lines. It focuses on a simple pair of questions: How are you and your partner behaving at this moment and what kind of energy is it creating?

Because here’s the deal, folks. Relationships can produce positive feelings and they can produce negative feelings. And you know what? The couple that produces the most positive feelings wins.

How do you get there? By actively co-creating positive energy as often (and consciously) as you can. By making an active commitment to playing and connecting.

As we all know, you can create negative energy, too. You do this by, duh, being negative, by doing things like negating (using the “no” word) and by corraling—communicating to your partner in a way that feels constraining to them.

To stay on the sunny side of the street, you want to keep the play space, which is also the connection space, wide open.

This is the principle improv is based on. You never negate. If I say, “It’s  raining,” my improv partner doesn’t say, “No, it’s not. The sun is out!” Instead they say, “Yes, and the sun is shining, too.” Which opens the door to: “Look, a rainbow!”

Here’s one way to work with the relationship-as-improv concept. Pretend the positive energy between you and your partner is a beach ball that you’re batting back and forth. As a loving partner who wants only the best for you both, your job is to keep the ball up in the air—this is your improv. How do you do this? By keeping it inflated with positive energy.

This can be heart energy (caring, kindness, affection) and it can also be playful energy, the energy of kids having fun with each other.

How do you drop the ball? By deflating it with negative energy.

Relationships succeed moment to moment. They also fail moment to moment.

Who’s in charge of these moments? You are, with your partner. You can choose to create positive moments together.

Or not.

Light versus dark. Celebration versus suffering. It’s an ancient duality, an ancient challenge. Of all the lessons relationship teaches us, perhaps the greatest one of all is that we can choose to create light.

We can co-create celebration. We can co-create happiness.

And we can also co-create suffering.

The beach ball game. Fun, play, connection—it’s all there, all inside.

We have to decide we want it, enough to keep it up.

Back and forth, back and forth.

Enough to keep the energy high and light and alive.

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