Except for fun, never play games in a relationship which matters, especially with those you love.

Emphasis here is on the word fun, because while seeking pleasure only, any game may be a delightful medium of encounter. Conversely, when any game is "played" seriously, that is, for psychological reasons unrelated to pure pleasure, relational damage is the predictable result of the game.

Games may be either physical--like tennis, or on a board--like Monopoly, or psychological, such as, Tit For Tat, One-ups-man, or Poor Little Me. In either case, the significant issue here is that with loved ones, especially females, and doubly so in marriage, wise persons only play for fun.

The principle is easy enough to express and understand; but practice can be a grand challenge. Problems arise because the line between a playful and a serious game is often difficult to determine at the time. Playing-for-pleasure, for example, may easily turn into having-to-win, with no conscious thought required.

Also, psychological motivations for all games may undermine "playing for fun" before seeking pleasure ever arises in awareness. Furthermore, because many people only "play" for deadly serious psychological reasons, one can never play for pleasure only with such persons.

Psychological motivations for playing games, totally apart from potential fun, are many and varied from person to person. Some of those I have discovered in myself and/or observed in others include:

Playing for power, that is, blindly seeking to dominate another person, to "get the best" of him or her.

Playing for control. Games may be used to control oneself and/or others who choose to "play" with you. Paradoxically, unconscious fear of fun may be controlled by compulsive game "playing," that is, "staying busy" with a wide variety of games, both physical and psychological, in order to avoid facing oneself honestly. Also, demanding or cajoling others to play one's personal games may be rooted in un-faced needs to control their behavior.

Playing for escape. When the challenges of honest living, including facing personal problems, seem too great, one may temporarily escape into any of many available games.

Playing for structure. Freedom, in spite of its conscious desirability, includes challenges of "thinking for oneself," that is, deciding what to do at any given time. On vacation, for example, or after work, what is one to do when life demands are eased? Available time, with nothing to "have to do," may invite threatening degrees of self-facing. Game-playing may then become a readily available option for structuring one's "free" time.

These and many other psychological motivations may undermine, even prevent, the possibility of pure personal pleasure in game-playing. And, because such reasons-for-playing are typically unconscious, one may find it difficult if not impossible escape their control. They are, for may of us, so habitual and automatic that not being caught up in unrecognized, serious "playing" becomes a grand challenge.


Obviously I cannot evade dictation by deeper non-fun motivations unless or until I bring them into awareness. Otherwise, I am pre-destined to blindly act them out "without thinking," and, regrettably, to pay psychological prices inherent in dictation by my repressions. So, clues to such unconscious motivations are important to me.

Some of those I have discovered so far include:

– Getting serious rather than remaining playful and enjoying the game. This, of course, is a play on words; one can "seriously" play for fun, that is, be diligent in trying to win any game. But the line between negative seriousness and playful pleasure can be easily crossed over when I am not carefully attentive to "having fun" only.

Having to win. In truly playful games, pleasure lies in the process of playing, using one's mind and resources in pursuing the theoretical end; but psychological motivations of power, for example, may easily supplant pleasure-motivations when I am not carefully alert.

This seems to be especially true for men who commonly take all games as "deadly serious," that is, as though winning is crucially important in order to avoid loss of personal integrity. When I fall into this typically male mode of "playing," I cannot but lose contact, not only with pleasure motivations, but also with native skills which are only activated when I am relaxed and present as a contained person.

Many females, in sharp contrast, seem to inherently know that "it's just a game," and can consequently "lose" without loss of personal integrity. They can even stop in the middle of a game when they recognize that an opponent is "getting serious" or "becoming emotional (as in, getting angry)" about the game.

Past gender differences, in which males may indeed, with genetic drives related to sperm-bearing, be more inclined to "win," and females, as ova-bearers, must "lose" in order to "win" impregnation, I conclude that "having to win" is one serious detriment to any creative game-playing.

In trying to heed this present advice-to-myself, whenever I realize I am blindly slipping into "having to win," rather than enjoying a game-in-progress, I do my best to curtail this blind motivation. "Stop," I say to myself, "You know about the cost of such psychological games in any healthy relationship." So, "get a grip on dark projections and return to awareness in your own skin."

Of course it doesn't always work, in that many of my darker motivations yet remain dictative; but sometimes becoming aware of such blind directives allows me to catch myself in the process and at least avoid some of the otherwise high prices to inevitably be paid when serious games replace playful encounters in relationships which matter to me.