In the hunt for the perfect gift for your significant other this holiday season, why not consider an offering of humor and laughter?
Laughter has many documented immediate and long-term individual health benefits; it essentially increases physical and emotional coping and resilience. However, shared laughter also generates important bonding experiences in interpersonal interactions and is perhaps the most valuable in close attachment relationships. When someone shares your sense of humor, it’s a form of responsiveness and a way of feeling understood.
I think many people underestimate the power of humor. I grew up in a household with a father who was uniquely witty in a way that was classy. He made people laugh without sarcasm or tearing others down, which is hard to come by, and in the process developed in me a huge appreciation for humor. I don’t consider myself particularly witty, but I hold humor in high regard.
Negative emotion is so absorbing that it makes sense to actively infuse as much positivity as possible into marriage outside of conflictual moments. Some of John Gottman’s marital research demonstrated that healthy couples were often able to repair rifts in their relationships by using humor. I think sometimes couples forget that they can use humor intentionally in their relationships to promote bonding and positive affect. In other words, you don’t need to just sit and wait to come across something that might induce laughter. You can make it a practice to seek it out.
A few years into marriage, my oldest son was born, and 3 weeks later I started a fairly rigorous graduate program. He was extraordinarily colicky for almost the entire first year of his life, SCREAMING full force whenever he was put down in a baby carrier or swing, despite all the well-meaning advice I received from countless people. Every shower I took during that year was accompanied by his blood-curdling serenades.
I was constantly trying to balance coursework, my client caseload and my fussy baby. I was experiencing more stress than I ever had previously (which I think is sort of the point of a combined clinical and research program WITHOUT the new baby), and I had literally never been so tired in my life. I was so depleted and fatigued during that year that my weight dropped to well under a hundred pounds and I developed shingles and mononucleosis, yet I still had to attend school and see clients and nurture a baby. There was absolutely no time to be sick. My husband would leave his full-time day job and come home at night and take over baby duty so I could see clients and study, but I was still constantly spinning in a tornado of demands. I’m not even sure how I got through it, looking back. It’s not something that I EVER recommend.
At one point, my mother was visiting to help out and offered to stay with the baby while my husband and I went on a date (As an aside, my son was her 28th grandchild or so, and she commented that she had never seen such a fussy baby—just sayin’). My husband asked what I wanted to do and I replied, “I really, really just need to go laugh,” because I couldn’t remember the last time I found anything funny. We purposely sought out a comedic movie which tapped into many of the absurdities of parenthood, and I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. After the movie, I suddenly felt like I could handle life again.
Since that time, there have been many occasions in our marriage and family life that my husband and I have used humor together to reinforce interpersonal bonds. We regularly share humor by watching particular shows, listening to podcasts, or even reading books together that make us laugh. I am always excited to show him something that I find amusing. In the spirit of good fun, we even play jokes on each other.
Once, I purchased a picture frame with the words, “My Mr. Wonderful,” emblazoned across the bottom. It is equipped with a button which activates one of several stereotypic phrases from the “ideal guy.” I will include a photo and type out the phrases uttered by the frame-o-male-perfection.
Here are the various phrases:
- Why don’t we have lunch together more often? I miss you so much during the day!
- Enough about me….I want to know how your day’s going.
- Anytime you need me, just call. You know I’m always ready to listen.
- I wish I was there with you right now. I bet you could use a shoulder rub.
- Of course I want to spend more quality time with you. I’ll just cancel that big night out I had planned with the boys. [if this were really accurate, it would say, “bike ride”]
- Let’s go dancing tonight!
- Do you want to go see that movie you were talking about? There’s nothing on TV but ball games.
- I’m sorry we argued. I knew you were right all along. I just couldn’t admit it.
- I found this great cozy hideaway with no TVs. Let’s make plans to go!
Plus one more that’s too stupid to put into print.
I waited until just the right moment to set it up.
While he was out of town, I told him that I missed him, but that I had found a surrogate who said all the right things and didn’t take up as much room in the bed and didn’t snore. When he came home, he found the picture frame on his nightstand with his photo inside. When my husband first started pushing the button, he rolled his eyes at me, but it was couple comedy gold. It is the gift that keeps on giving, because just when I forget it exists, we will be in the middle of a conversation (sometimes heated), and suddenly my husband will pull it out and push the button, eliciting one of the many phrases. It never fails to make me laugh. The funniest is, “Let’s go dancing tonight,” because for someone who used to move like a gazelle across the basketball court, my husband is astoundingly clumsy on the dance floor, by his own admission (and he is correct, which has completely delayed my bucket list item of mastering the Argentine Tango).
Differences in marriage can often be managed with a sense of humor. It’s no secret that my husband and I have different tastes in music. For his birthday, I was excited when I found a song composed entirely of sounds made from bicycle parts. When I presented him with “Bespoken,” by Johnnyrandom (no, I’m not making that up) I told him I finally found a song speaking a language he understands – from Johnnyrandom’s garage and heart, to my itunes account, to him. His response was “Of course you did…,” laughing, which was exactly the response I was looking for. The song is surprisingly mesmerizing, and I occasionally pull it out and announce, “Let me set the mood,” which generally elicits more laughter, and it is now an inside joke that we share.
If you’re stumped about how to incorporate more levity into your marriage, you can always try “Laughter Yoga.” I’m considering registering my husband and me for a class just to see the look on his face when I surprise him with it. I believe laughing about laughter yoga is a meta-process, and therapists love nothing more than meta-processes.
Now I need to go think of a great comeback for when my husband discovers that I have plastered a photo of him on my blog… I think I’ll consult with my surrogate picture frame husband. He is, after all, “always ready to listen.”