Explore these creative, playful connection builders.
Whether you want to deepen your relationship with your partner or parent, a colleague or your kids, the ingredients are essentially the same: give your full attention; get curious about feelings and perspectives; and be radically authentic, according to Amy Maricle, an artist, art therapist and creator of the Mindful Art Studio.
In fact, being ourselves is one of the best things we can do. “If you give yourself permission to just be yourself, you are unconsciously and automatically going to be giving the other person in the relationship permission to just be themselves, as well,” said Natalie Foster, an art psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist who works with individuals, kids, and families in Phoenix, Ariz.
Another vital ingredient is play. As psychiatrist Stuart Brown, M.D., writes in his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, play “allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others…Play is the purest expression of love.” Below are 10 creative, playful connection builders.
Create nurturing lists. Each person creates their own list of nurturing activities, so their loved ones know exactly how to support them. Foster suggested asking yourself: What are my needs? What activities help me to feel my best, to feel inspired, to feel connected to myself?
For instance, she said, your list might include: "give me a long hug; watch my favorite movie together; ask me to describe my day; take me out on a surprise date; help me clean something.” (For other suggestions, check out Maricle’s free e-course on creative self-care.)
Draw each other. How often do we really look at each other? How often do we study each other's traits? Today, many of us don’t even look up when we’re talking to another person, too busy focused on our phones. Take 10 minutes to focus on the other person’s eyes, ears, hair or hands—and draw them. Then have them draw you.
Pass the paper. Using a large piece of paper, one person makes a quick mark, and passes the paper to the other person, who makes another mark, Foster said. Keep switching until you’ve completed your drawing. According to Foster, “This activity, especially done with little ones, will help you both build in levels of attunement with one another, as you respond to each other while creating a fun and unpredictable work of art.”
Fill a jar with bond-building prompts. This works great for loved ones living in the same house (or you can do this when you get together—in person or via Skype). Each person picks one prompt from the jar, and follows it. For instance, one prompt might say: Share something you’re afraid of sharing. Another prompt might say: Make each other laugh. A third might say: Play Scrabble for 30 minutes without checking your phone once.
Collaborate on a poem. Maricle suggested setting a timer for 5 minutes, while each person writes what they appreciate, admire or enjoy about their loved one. Next, underline the words and phrases that stand out; and cut them out. “Work together to rearrange everyone's words and phrases into a poem that highlights all your strengths.”
Become pen pals. Write a letter to each other every week or several times a month. Spend 10 minutes or an hour (depending on how much time you have). Write about your days. Write about how you’re feeling. Write down your favorite quotes. Then mail your letter at the end of the week. You might be surprised what you discover about the other person—and even yourself.
Create a wishes box. Decorate a shoe box with your family. Leave it somewhere easily accessible with a pad of Post-Its and a pen. According to Maricle, “pick a particular day of the week, perhaps Fridays or Sundays, and take 5 minutes to share your current goals and wishes; write them down; and keep them in the box.”
Dig deeper. Write down 10 questions—serious or silly—you yearn to know about your loved one. What is one of your fears? What does your perfect day look, taste, smell, sound and feel like? What superhero would you be? Who would play you in a movie about your life? Ask them to do the same. Then take turns responding to the questions.
Pen a song. Write a lullaby, a country song, a ballad or a Broadway tune. Write about how you met, what makes you laugh or your favorite things to do together. Write about anything. Then perform your creation!
Create an annual collage. Gather your family and some magazines. Together create a collage about what you’d like your year to look like, and what activities and adventures you’d like to explore. Hang it somewhere visible—and schedule those very events.
Relationships, of course, can be complicated. But often cultivating our connection is as simple as pausing for 10 minutes, taking out a few crayons and sharing several sincere words.