12. How Fun and Laughter Enhance Your Relationship
During a couple’s first session, I ask them about their dating, their courtship, and eventually what made them choose to ask/ accept the proposal for marriage: In other words what really attracted you to your spouse? Very often, even more common than looks and character, the answer I get is he/she made me laugh. --Shlomo Lieberman
How is it that laughter of all things seals the deal?
The Science of Laughter
Believe it or not, laughter has a powerful effect on our biochemistry. In other words, laughing causes your body to release hormones that make you feel good. Some neuroscientists believe these hormones are fundamental in forming long-term bonds and connections between human beings.
When it comes to relationshipping, the role and value of fun and laughter is well understood. Simply put, relationships will starve without it.
Positive experiences, otherwise known as emotional fruits are essential to the development and maintenance of a healthy relationship. To laugh is inherently a positive experience, and to share that experience with someone creates intimacy. Because the experience is unique to you and one other person.
The more you create intimate moments, the more intimate your relationship becomes. That’s why laughing together is so powerful. Those older couples you’ve seen that can just look at each other and smile as if they know what the other is thinking have spent many years creating intimate moments. And the payoff never stops growing and evolving.
Laughter Makes Anything A Gift
If positive experiences are gifts, laughter is the wrapping paper. Having dinner is pleasant, moreso with laughter. And you can use laughter to make anything a gift:
Heather and John are on a first date in the Botanical Gardens. It’s a little overcast but pleasantly cool in the late summer, and they find themselves lost in conversation with each other as they wander through the rose garden deeper and deeper into the center of the park. But all of a sudden John feels a sharp cool drop on the back of his neck--then another--he looks at Heather and realizes she felt one too. John starts patting down his pockets as the wind picks up and the droplets grow heavier. Faster. Sharper. He’s terribly embarrassed. Why didn’t he plan a better date considering the weather? Why did he leave the umbrella in the car?
What happens next depends on how their conversation went.
If John and Heather had a rather pleasant but plain conversation…
John pulls off his coat and uses it to shield Heather as best he can, but it’s no use. The rain leaks through. By the time they get to the car, they’re soaked to the bone. The only noise in the car ride home is of their chattering teeth. He calls Heather the next day; leaves a message to apologize again that the weather ruined her best shoes.
But if their conversation was more full of fun and laughter, our story can take a much different turn:
Years later at their wedding, Heather recalls how silly John looked searching his pockets for an umbrella as tall as his leg. She couldn’t stop herself from laughing. John chimes in that when he saw her laughing, that was when he realized that he had actually stumbled into an opportunity. As the rain came down with the fury of a thousand waterfalls, he smiled back, grabbed her hand and they went splashing through puddles. When they got to the car he promised next time he would take her somewhere indoors.
Heather laughed at the way he said “indoorerers” because of his shivering. “By the time he dropped me off,” she said, “John had invented so many new words we could have rewritten the dictionary with them.”
He called Heather the next day. The conversation lasted for hours.
Fifty years later, Heather and John still use words like “indoorerers” that nobody outside their relationship understands. People keep saying they can’t understand how Heather and John got so lucky to find a relationship that miraculously survived a storm that would have totally ruined any other date.
The secret is luck had little to do with it. Heather and John created their relationship. Luck did not influence their decision to seize the opportunity to create intimacy through fun and laughter. And they didn’t need a rain storm to talk on the phone for hours the next day.
It’s hard to be Angry When You’re Laughing.
As human beings, we often use humor to mitigate our fears and express frustrations. The laughter is what relieves the tension we feel with those fears and frustrations, and it works the same in relationships.
Tension is inevitable in any relationship, especially in marriage where you’re managing the business of life together [link to prev blog 2 parts]. Tension isn’t bad, it just needs to be handled appropriately. And humor can be used to mitigate tension so that it’s hard for tempers to flare. You can use humor to address problems, voice concerns, and even distract you from negative feelings.
“John! The shoes are trying to run away again! I think you should put them in time-out.”
Anyone who visits over the course of a weekend is bound to hear that at least once and wonder what it’s all about. One of Heather’s pet peeves is when things aren’t put away where they belong. John, on the other hand isn’t bothered by leaving things around the house--especially leaving his shoes by the front door instead of putting them in the shoe rack. Even after all these years, he hasn’t gotten much better about it.
But they never fight about it. Because all these years, Heather has been using humor in this situation to get her point across while minimizing tension. It’s hard for John to get defensive about leaving his shoes out when Heather isn’t blaming the mistake on him.
After all, John isn’t intentionally leaving his shoes out to spite Heather. it’s not John that causes the shoes to be left out, but his forgetfulness.
Laughter is a Vitamin For Healthy Relationships
Sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for your legs because it impedes the circulation of blood. Similarly, day-to-day stress impedes the circulation of positive emotions and your overall state of being. Just like it’s important to break out of your sitting routine by standing and moving around periodically, it’s important to break out of any joyless routines by laughing and playing.
Just like it’s healthy to exercise in small doses throughout the week so that the body is constantly in motion and the blood is able to circulate freely without straining the system, it’s healthy and important to have many small doses of fun and laughter throughout the week, because they help mitigate tension and keep feelings of love and joy circulating throughout your relationship.
There’s only such thing as “too much” fun if it gets in the way of urgent and important tasks. For more information read Urgent vs. Not-Urgent
The importance of fun and anticipating that fun
We talk a lot about the importance of date nights and laughter creates the anticipation for fun the way darkness creates anticipation for fear. The constant small doses of playfullness do more to ameliorate the stresses of everyday life, they create anticipation for bigger and better laughs. And the small rituals compound into even more fulfilling experiences.
For example, Trish and Christopher made a habit of leaving each other silly love notes in their lunches every other day, which then inspired them to start serenading each other with original love songs for karaoke night, which then inspired Chrisopher to make a music video for Trish’s birthday. Christopher has no idea what his wife is going to do to one-up his music video, but they’ve built enough trust in each other that he knows she’s planning something good. Imagine how hard it is for him to wait to find out!
Don't Take Life Or Your Relationship Too Seriously
All the work you put into growing your relationship tree is rewarded with emotional fruits, the positive emotional experiences that make life worth living. If we focus too much on the work, the fruits will rot to waste. So we need to dedicate time to enjoy them!
So often we get caught up in the day-to-day wanting to do things "right" that we forget to give ourselves time and space to laugh, love, and live.
It's important to give yourself permission to laugh and indulge yourselves in having fun together so that you are constantly sweetening the journey that you are on together. Being in the state of mind that John and Heather were in enabled them to turn a disaster date into an unforgettable, movie-like experience. And being in that state of mind is what has kept their marriage so healthy over the years.
You can find the humor in anything. And when you can't, that's what your husband is for. You never know what he's trying to fit in his pocket. One time the dog was missing and I kid you not, he goes looking in his pockets. --Heather