Two happily married couples, together for over fifteen years:
“If I had to pick out one thing that has made the difference in our marriage, I guess it would be that he makes me laugh.” ~Sarah
“We just enjoy each other’s company. We’re playful and tease each other in a light-hearted way. Life can be so hard, and finding ways to make each other smile seems to be the antidote for us.” ~Hal
Two couples struggling to stay together:
“We used to have so much fun. It’s been years since we laughed together. I don’t know what happened.” ~Michael
“Everything between us is so serious now. It used to be that I couldn’t wait to get home after a hard day at work and unwind with Steve… To be honest, now I have more fun with my friends.” ~Terri
Spouses and partners who learn to laugh together have important advantages over couples who do not share the carefree abandon of laughter.
Is laughter a panacea that will cure all your relationship problems? Of course not, but making the conscious choice to incorporate laughter and humor into your relationship (whether you and your partner are naturally funny or not) offers several benefits.
Laughter fosters a sense of playfulness and shared abandon
Children, unencumbered by the adult restrictions maturity demands, are naturally playful and laugh often. This energy is contagious. Unfortunately, this spontaneous source of energy is often forced underground as we age and many adults seem to lose their connection to this vitality. When you and your partner laugh together, you tap into this energy pool and recapture the special liveliness of childhood. Laughter is an energy source that can be used to invigorate your relationship.
Laughter forges a positive bond
The following pattern seems painfully familiar to many couples: When you’re first dating, your relationship seems to transcend everyday life: it feels like an antidote to stress, a buffer against life’s inevitable struggles. Over time and as the relationship becomes an ingrained part of the daily grind we call life, the union that once offered a thrilling, escapist comfort now becomes more and more associated with the reality of stress.
This is especially the case when most of your time spent together involves navigating the pressures and stresses of life, without the respite of playfulness. Shared pleasures are often lost as couples forget to balance the stressful and the pleasurable. Learning to laugh together-setting the goal to make each other smile and laugh-breaks these negative associations that can wear down your relationship.
Laughter brings greater perspective
Have you ever said something so absurd during an argument that you made yourself (and your partner) laugh? And to your surprise, the argument quickly became irrelevant. Laughter quickly elevates your mood and gives you the emotional distance needed to view events in a new light. Life’s daily stresses are more tolerable when laughter becomes part of your routine.
People who take themselves too seriously (and lack any sense of playfulness) live with an emotional heaviness that is felt by others-everything seems to become weighted down with an overbearing immensity. Seriousness has an important place in life and love-but so does lightheartedness.
Laughter reduces defensiveness and opens you up to new experiences.
We all protect ourselves emotionally. Psychological defenses are like the seatbelt and airbags in your car-your defenses are designed to prevent injury and cushion the blow when faced with something that is potentially painful. But the same defenses that protect you in one context also come at an emotional cost—especially when your defensive barriers prevent you from making genuine contact with someone who has your best interests in mind, like a loving and supportive spouse/partner.
When you and your partner laugh together, you put your defenses on hold and open yourself up to a new kind of connection with your partner. In this context, laughter deepens emotional intimacy and allows greater trust to take hold.
Laughter acts as a buffer to stress
Have you ever laughed so hard and then thought or said, “I really needed that!”?
Laughter acts as a much needed, temporary respite from the pressures of life. It can recharge your emotional battery (and your relationship’s battery), it’s a safe and effective way to release pent-up physical and emotional tension, and laughter reduces stress hormones while increasing the feel-good endorphins in your brain. It seems as though laughter is just plain good for you.
Laughter acts as a protective buffer to the inevitable stresses that couples face.
Now that you see laughter has numerous benefits for your relationship, the next step is the most important: begin creating moments of mutual enjoyment and pleasure. And while you’re at it, make each other laugh.
Lacking a “natural” sense of humor is no excuse. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started:
Rent a funny movie or television series; go to a comedy show; play fun/silly board games with each other and invite friends into the laughter; read a book of jokes together or look for jokes-of-the-day on the Internet; develop your own David Letterman-like top 10 list; ask friends if they’ve heard any good jokes and share them with your partner; tickle each other; share a humorous story from your childhood; do something novel and fun together; look for the absurdity and humor in life…
But most importantly: work on creating a light-hearted mindset that will invite laughter into your marriage or relationship.
The good news is that laughter is contagious. So you’ll naturally feel good when your partner laughs; and s/he will feel good when you laugh.
This is a serious challenge for many couples, especially if there has been a history of conflict and hurt feelings. The effective use of humor and laughter involves good timing-you and your partner should agree on a mutual laughter-commitment. (Telling jokes while your partner is angry with you for being insensitive isn’t useful or funny).
So what are you waiting for? Laughter — and a healthy relationship — await!
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Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a relationship and intimacy coach with fifteen years experience helping individuals and couples live more fulfilling lives.