Creative Role Playing for Couples

Couples often fall into the habit of hiding their feelings whenever they have conflicting desires. Take John and Laura. They agreed it was important to spend more family time together, so they planned a Sunday picnic with their little girl Susan. Just before they were about to leave, Laura impulsively told John she had to go to her law office to put the finishing touches on a deposition, even though it could have waited until Monday. John reluctantly gave in and took Susan to the park by himself. When Laura got home that evening, she found Susan cranky and crying and John sulking on the couch, totally pissed.

John and Laura got stuck in the way they played this scene. How could they be encouraged to change the way they played it without a lot of psychologizing? In a subsequent therapy session, I asked them to replay their family day like actors, only with John playing Laura and Laura playing John. Here’s what these two inventive souls came up (Their subtext is in parentheses, like in a screenplay).

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingJohn as Laura
(Typical cutesy thing she does to squeeze out of her commitments) Sweetheart, I know this is sudden but I’m so worried about that deposition. I just have to get back to the office to put more time on it. I absolutely promise it won’t take more than an hour.

 

 

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingLaura as John
(The long suffering martyr) But I was so looking forward to… Oh, well (sighs)… as long as you can still join us in the park.

 

 

 

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingJohn as Laura
(Just once, she’ll show an interest in what I want) Sweetheart, I know you were looking forward to grilling some chicken in the park, then going home to watch the ballgame while Susan takes her nap.

 

 

 

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingLaura as John
(Zap him with his fucking martyrdom) Darling, I’ll have loads more fun being a martyr with you than I’ll ever have chomping on chicken legs or watching the Yankees walk all over the Mets. Nothing could be more thrilling than being walked on by you.

 

 

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingJohn as Laura
(OK, she wants a martyr) Darling, this time would you like me to wear spiked heels.

 

 

 

 

Creative-Role-Playing-Marriage-Couples-CounselingLaura as John
(Oh, got my John back again!) Darling, you know perfectly well I’d prefer you do me in your bare feet.

The Value of Switching Roles

Since John and Laura are imaginative souls who each have a great sense of humor, the temptation to mock each other in the role reversal was too much to resist. They also couldn’t help sneaking in their own desires while playing the other. The role reversal was thus a good way for them to break out of the emotional rut they were in and be more open in expressing what they really want from each other: John needs Laura to care more about him and Laura needs John to man-up and take what he needs from her.