Couples

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters 2017

63189203 - romantic moment for nerd couple

This is a modified version of last year’s post, with updated links and groovy additions. Please note that some items are technically not “sweaters,” but I’m trusting that my readers can adapt.

Since ugly Christmas sweater parties are all the ironic rage, I went on a hunt for couples’ combinations.  I’m sure there’s still time to pay double the price to get them before Christmas.  Now you can express your love, cohesion, and bad taste in one social setting.

I have added my own descriptive labels.

  1. The “Newlywed” Christmas Sweater. You only get one first post-nuptial Christmas, so why not make it memorable by declaring your connubial bliss on your person? I’m guessing we could conduct a quick and dirty study finding a significant statistical association between couples who wear matching holiday garb and a lower divorce rate; therefore, buying and wearing holiday couples’ attire prevents divorce, right? (Wink)
  2. The “You’re All I Need” Sweatshirts. Spouses, this might get you out of parting with your hard-earned cash…or it can be a new way to start an argument when your partner is upset that you didn’t buy a material gift, which can be a backdoor way to a make-up session. Therapists do love their reframes.
  3. The “Happy 70’s Christmas and Also I’m Hungry…Denny’s, Anyone?” Combo. The quirky combination of 70’s Elton John and Kiki Dee music hit paired with breakfast items sporting holiday threads. Need I say more?
  4. The “Minimalist” Pairing. For the couple who wants to make an understated statement of unity.
  5. The “AAAWWWWW SO CUTE” His and Hers Attire.  Extra points for getting your partner to go out in public wearing this. I have a soft spot for the endearing appeal of gingerbread men, but no amount of oobie doobie mind tricks will effectively convince my husband to leave the house wearing a cookie on his chest.
  6. The “Elf Yourself” Christmas Sweaters. Just order two of these androgynous crewnecks, and you have the perfect makings for an imaginative holiday role play…Quinkie and Snowflake get lost in Santa’s toy shop…a fantasy that will make shopping for your children while emptying your bank account less painful.
  7. The “Take That, PDA” Sweatshirts. This is for the couple who is still under the influence of a brain-induced love cocktail, thus clouding their vision of how nauseating their outward expression is to those around them.  If this sweater is sold out, you can make an even more impressive version with a photo of your love connection.  Print the words, “All I want for Christmas is,” and insert photo.  To add more “blech,” value, add the words, “This guy (or gal),” at the bottom.
  8. The “Enmeshment” Sweater.  Marriage and family therapists love this term, indicating too much closeness in family systems.  Don’t wear one of these to marriage therapy unless you want to earn a label soaked in psychobabble.  This sweater is perfect unless you want to walk in opposite directions.  For couples who are really in love, this will not be a problem, because they will be able to accurately mind read every move their partners are about to make, in addition to deciphering every unspoken emotional need.
  9. The “Monosweater of Christmas Shame.” Named for the spousal bonding potential in a shared “shame attacking” exercise à la Albert Ellis, a technique often promoted by cognitive behavioral therapy guru David Burns. If you’re confused, read more about it here.  In short, publicly embarrass yourselves together.
  10. The “You Complete Me” Set. A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  11. The “Communication Problems” Sweatshirts. An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  If you don’t understand the meaning at first, look closer at the “What,” gingerbread man’s head.  It took me a minute.  I’m pretty sure my husband wishes he could use that excuse.
  12. The “Light Me Up” Display. Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor. Due to the gaudy detail, this model also gives you as a couple the clear advantage for winning the ugly sweater contest.
  13. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Project. Because what is more bonding than using glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble exceedingly heinous matching vestures?
  14. The “Couple Cliché for Christmas” Tee. Technically for one, but the couple’s connotation was so rich I couldn’t leave it off the list.
  15. The “What Are You Going to do, Bleed on Me?” Shirt. Lastly, if you buy two of these, you can play a game together to count how many people understand the movie reference throughout the day.

If you’re not brave enough to don matching sweaters, consider matching Ugly Christmas Socks.  Then, you can work your way up to the ultimate in holiday wear–The Gaudy Holiday Suit (see tabs for both men and women) for the most advanced couples. Because OppoSuits attract! (My husband read this post and asked, “So did you order our suits?” I would love to see the look on his face if they actually showed up on our doorstep).

Until my next post, have a happy holiday and merry mind-reading of your partner’s emotional needs!

Photo credit:Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio/ 123RF Stock Photo

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Couples, Love, marriage, Romance

Fight Flirting with Flirting: Keeping your Marriage in the Fun Zone

flirtingIf you saw my husband calling out my name while holding up a piece of string cheese, and raising his eyebrows when I made eye contact, you might assume that he was just generously offering me a high-protein snack. You almost certainly would not construe it as open flirtation. That’s because you’re not me.

You see, when my husband and I were engaged, we went on a picnic, and in the silliness of young love, I peeled a strip from a piece of string cheese and offered, “Let’s race to the middle,” hanging one end out of my mouth. He put the other end in his mouth and just as we reached the middle, he vigorously bellowed, “OW!” pulling away from me, “YOU BIT ME.” I was rattled by his reaction. He pulled his lower lip down so I could see the blood oozing from soft tissue where I had indeed ripped out a small chunk in my over-zealousness to reach the middle first. “You’re so competitive!” he complained. I felt terrible. My intention was to meet up for a mozzarella kiss, but turning it into a race had destroyed the moment. That incident became part of our private language, so now if he offers a piece with raised eyebrows, I know he’s playfully alluding to this scene and inviting me for a “do over.” The flirtation is a small way of connecting—while trying to get me to kiss him.

People generally associate flirting with the first stages of a potential romantic relationship. It’s true that the ambiguous language, with non-verbals like smiles, touch and eye contact, can be used as a low-risk way to test interest in a love match. Flirtatious behaviors are generally playful and motivated by interest to pursue a romantic connection. Given that the sexual system is a common feature of romantic relationships, flirtation is often motivated by an interest in sex, particularly for males (unsurprisingly).

What if I told you that flirting might be even more important for a long-term relationship?

While many people think of flirting as an early stage relationship tool, it can be a useful maintenance strategy in marriage. It can shape a marital relationship toward increased happiness and commitment.

Here’s how flirting can maintain a marriage:

  1. It introduces positivity into the marital environment. This is important since many problems develop over time from “negative affect reciprocity,” meaning that eventually the negative emotional exchanges flood the marriage, so spouses are viewed through persistent negative filters.
  2. It creates a “private world.” In other words, if the innuendos are only understood by you and the other, it makes it special.
  3. It can reassure a partner that you still want him/her, or it can be a way to gain reassurance that you are wanted, reaffirming the marital relationship.
  4. It’s a way to reinforce commitment.
  5. It introduces playful fun.
  6. It invites physical connection.
  7. It invites sexual interaction.
  8. It reassures partners of ongoing desire and attraction, which increases confidence.
  9. It can help manage conflict.
  10. It adds interest to the relationship. It’s a way of stepping out of the box and inviting novelty.
  11. In general, all the above elements make the marriage feel SAFE, which sets up an environment where more risky playfulness can flourish.

Flirt Early and Often

The best time to be intentional about flirting is EARLY in the marriage, BEFORE DISTRESS has set in. One thing I’ve noticed about couples in therapy is that the playfulness is gone. Very little playful banter or flirting, if any, is happening. Sadly, playfulness and flirting, while less risky during relationship development, somehow become riskier in long-term relationships. Reaching out playfully in a shared context only to get rejected, is painful. When the marriage doesn’t feel safe to take risks, people essentially stop flirting. It doesn’t feel good to be playful and risky if the relationship is uncertain. I completely understand why this happens, because if my husband and I have had a negative exchange, the last thing I’m going to do is flirt with him.

For couples in distressed marriages, I’m going to propose that flirting can be approached from varying degrees of risk, and you can choose a less risky way to flirt as a start to try to reverse the downward trajectory of negativity.

Simple ways to flirt:

  1. Wink from across the room.
  2. Allude to an inside joke.
  3. Smile at your partner.
  4. Touch your partner while you are talking.
  5. Make eye contact.
  6. Share something that makes you laugh.
  7. Compliment your partner specifically about how he/she looks.
  8. Take a risk to invite a sexual encounter in a playful way. If I can be stereotypical, this is especially geared toward females, because we are socialized that males should be the sexual pursuers; that’s probably why the innuendos come from them more often. A wife’s inviting sexuality in a playful way can be a powerful affirmation for many husbands.
  9. Bring home your partner’s favorite snack or drink.
  10. Text flirtatious messages. Don’t skimp on emojis or the various dazzling effects. My husband likes to use the fireworks, heart and confetti effects on a regular basis, and it’s adorable.
  11. Think initials carved into a tree as a love declaration. I mention this because for my entire marriage, my husband has found various clever ways of presenting me with “SS + LS,” surrounded by a heart. He has printed them as a watermark on paper, written them on the bathroom mirror with my lipstick and shower door with soap, written on my car windows with window paint, stamped it in the snow, mowed it in the grass, traced it in the sand, squirted it on a sandwich with mustard, written it in whipping cream on dessert, traced it in almond butter, written it in a text message, wallpapered it on my iPhone, chalked it in the driveway, etc. He started before we were married and has never stopped. At least once a month I will find it somewhere. Small gesture with huge reaffirming impact.
  12. Have a secret non-verbal code. Right after we got married, my husband sat me down and said, “When I squeeze your hand in this pattern, it means ‘I love you,’ so if we are around a bunch of people, I can say it in a way only you will know.” He still uses that pattern frequently if we are in public.
  13. Whatever you do, don’t stop. This might be the most important. When flirtation stops, many couples end up in a game of chicken to see who will make the first move at reaffirming desire and love for the other.

My husband walked into our bedroom last week and noticed the clothes I had dumped on our bed. He saw his opportunity, “Honey, if I fold these clothes, will it turn you on?” Used to his ongoing innuendos, I matched his tone, “I don’t know. I guess you’re going to have to fold them to find out,” keeping it ambiguous.

If I’ve learned anything after three decades of marriage, it’s to fight flirting with flirting.

References:

The “How” and “Why” of Flirtatious Communication Between Marital Partners (2012) by Frisby, B. N. & Boothe-Butterfield, M. in Communication Quarterly, 60(4), 465-480.   DOI:10.1080/01463373.2012.704568

“Without Flirting, it Wouldn’t be a Marriage”: Flirtatious Communication Between Relational Partners (2009) by Frisby, B. N. in Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 10(1), 55-60. DOI: 10.1080/17459430902839066

Photo credit: Copyright: langstrup / 123RF Stock Photo

Couples, marriage

How to Start a Marital Argument with Mind Reading

14358323 - funny wedding symbol - game overMy husband and I were recently asked to participate in a Newlywed Game activity with other couples in front of several hundred people at a summer camp for adolescent girls.  I feel pressure at events like these because someone always manages to harass me with some version of “OK Mrs. Marriage Therapist Lady—let’s see what you’ve got.”  It’s as if my entire professional career hangs in the balance of reading my husband’s mind for answers to 5 questions.  In my estimation, the Newlywed Game is just mind reading for dummies, AKA “How to pick a fight with your spouse without even trying.”

On the way up in the car, my husband suggested that we practice.  I was feeling good about our matched responses when he pointed out that, “Their questions aren’t going to be this easy—you know they are going to think of obscure questions to ask.”  At my agreement, he directed me to “think of some obscure questions.”  “Umm…I think by definition obscure questions are….obscured, so….questions we aren’t supposed to be able to figure out,” I responded.  “Yeah,” my husband agreed, “but you’re a marriage therapist—so think of some,” which sounded a lot like, “Dance, puppet!”  “Again,” I repeated, slower this time, “By definition, obscure questions are…” “Oh never mind,” he cut me off and wondered aloud why I had to be so difficult.

Sure enough, right out of the gate, the first question, to husbands, was, “My wife is a natural born (blank).”  “Wow,” I thought, “This is going to be worse than I thought—so many choices—I hope he’s nice.”  I quickly wrote “Reader,” crossing my fingers that my husband would recall the many times I had recounted my obsession with the kindergarten book corner.

We were chosen to reveal our answers first.  Feeling optimistic, I held up my card simultaneously with my husband’s, which was met with an eruption of laughter.  “Oh no,” I asked, “What did you write?”  He showed me his card which radiated “LOVER,” in all caps, underlined in bright red ink.  I raised my eyebrows and threw up my hands, mouthing “Wha….???” conveying, “Of all the available words in the English language, you really chose the word, ‘lover,’ dripping with a variety of potentially salacious interpretations…in front of the youth?”  He whispered, “I was about to write ‘reader,’ but that sounds boring and you’re definitely not boring.”  “OK, can you please remember that we are going for accuracy and not scandal?” I entreated.

I was excited that we were in the running for the win when wives were asked, “Name something that your husband is good at that no one else knows about.”  I enthusiastically scribbled “Juggling,” with hurried penmanship, desperately attempting to telepathically transmit my answer to my spouse.

As the answers were revealed, a few couples got a match on “Golf.” “Lame,” I judged, “That’s cheating…basically a safe answer that technically doesn’t meet the standards of something ‘other people don’t know about.’”  I felt fleetingly virtuous and hopeful about my legitimate response before my complete deflation when the moderator frowned and pronounced our answers a mismatch.  I turned toward my husband, “What did you…Waterskiing?  Seriously?  That’s not something people don’t know about!”

“But can he juggle while waterskiing?” someone heckled.

“Well,” he explained, “I was about to put ‘juggling,’ but then I decided I’m really not good at juggling.”  “No,” I argued, “Compared to a professional juggling circus clown you’re not good.  Compared to the average population, you’re really good.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Plus,” I continued, “People know you waterski.”  “People don’t know I waterski,” he contested.  “Are you kidding me?” I was so confused, “You have two different ski boats in our driveway alternating all summer long depending on your mood for the wake you want to ski that day.  I think the cat’s out of the bag…people know you waterski…at least more than know you juggle.”  “But I’m not good at juggling,” he repeated, which just increased my frustration.  He was focusing on the first part of the question and I was focusing on the last part.  “Just stop. We aren’t going to agree on this,” I declared, and he was happy to drop it.

A half hour later when we walked into the camp of our local congregation, the camp cook called out to me, “Hey Lori, the first thing the girls said when they walked into camp is that your husband told everyone you are a natural born lover.”  I shot him a “told you so” look and explained our mismatch on the juggling question.  “But I’m not good at juggling,” he argued again.

“Watch…be amazed!” I told the group in front of us as I tossed him some oranges.  “Let them decide.  Juggle,” I ordered, which I’m sure sounded to him like “Juggle, clown!”  He was surprisingly cooperative as he smoothly juggled the oranges in the air, occasionally switching up his impromptu routine.  “We didn’t know you could juggle,” several people oohed and aahed.  “Right,” I made eye contact with him, “You didn’t.  That’s exactly my point.”  “But I’m not good,” he started in again.  “OK…I’ll concede that you should probably keep your day job instead of running away with the circus, but you juggle well…at least well enough.  Observe…are they not entertained?” I gestured toward his adoring fans.  “OK, you were right.  I should have written juggling,” he conceded as I walked away, worn down by the struggle.

This exercise in futility reminded me of my first year of grad school in a marriage and family therapy.  We were taught how common and harmful “mind reading,” is in marriage.  Spouses frequently assume that they know what their partners are thinking and make judgments based on those assumptions, which then direct their behaviors.  We don’t bother to verify because we are so certain we are correct.

Mind reading is also a problem when one spouse expects the other to know what he/she is thinking.  A common example starts with the words, “You should have known….”  I can confidently report that this tendency is alive and well in the annals of “How can I ruin my marriage today?”  It might even be more common than the first type, and is at the core of many an anniversary fail.

In actuality, all of us are natural born mind readers.  Social convention requires it. Human interaction is founded upon assessing others in social settings.  We naturally decipher non-verbal signals, comparing them to verbals for congruency.  Then, we act accordingly.  In close personal relationships like marriage, we get so good at reading our partners that we are unwilling to admit when we get it wrong and almost offended when they think differently than we do.

Did you notice what happened when my husband and I disagreed?  I tried to persuade him that my thinking was right.  He tried to convince me that his thinking was correct.  What we didn’t do was get curious about the other’s view and ask for more understanding or even take the time to try to see it from an alternative perspective.  Our cognitive biases are so fixed that it requires active intention to consider alternative explanations from our own.

The antidote to mind reading is to ask for understanding and to toy with the idea that someone else’s viewpoint might be valid…and not necessarily threatening to the relationship.

My husband I were both right…sort of…if you understand where we were both coming from.  Yes, there are many humans who juggle better than my husband, and yes, there are many people who don’t know he water-skis, and the bottom line is we were both disappointed that we didn’t mind read accurately for the win.

But we will be so prepared to win next time…especially if I can predict all of those obscure questions.

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_rszarvas’>rszarvas / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

 

 

 

Couples, Holidays, Humor, Romance

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters

63128617 - couple with funny christmas masksSince ugly Christmas sweater parties are all the ironic rage, I went on a hunt for couples’ combinations.  I’m sure there’s still time to pay double the price to get them before Christmas.  If not, perhaps some readers will be inspired to pin this to a “Tacky romantic must-haves for Christmas 2017,” Pinterest list.  Now you can express your love, cohesion, and bad taste in one social setting.

I have added my own descriptive labels.

  1. The “Newlywed” Christmas Sweater.  This is for the couple who is still under the influence of a brain-induced love cocktail, thus clouding their vision of how nauseating their outward expression is to those around them.  If this sweater is sold out, you can make an even more impressive version with a photo of your love connection.  Print the words, “All I want for Christmas is,” and insert photo.  To add more “blech,” value, add the words, “This guy (or gal),” at the bottom.
  1. The “Enmeshment” Christmas Sweater.  Marriage and family therapists love this term, indicating too much closeness in family systems.  Don’t wear one of these to marriage therapy unless you want to earn a label soaked in psychobabble.  This sweater is perfect unless you want to walk in opposite directions.  For couples who are really in love, this will not be a problem, because they will be able to accurately mind read every move their partners are about to make, in addition to deciphering every unspoken emotional need.
  1. The “You Complete Me” Christmas Sweater.  A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  1. The “Communications Problem” Christmas Sweater.  An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  Also, technically a sweatshirt.  If you don’t understand the meaning at first, look closer at the “What,” gingerbread man’s head.  It took me a minute.  I’m pretty sure my husband wishes he could use that excuse.
  1. The “Light Me Up” Christmas Sweater.  Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor.
  1. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Christmas Sweater.  Because what husband does not want to use glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble an exceedingly heinous vesture?
  1. The “Simple Yet Definitive” Christmas Sweater.  Again, technically a sweatshirt, for the couple who wants to make an understated statement.

If you’re not brave enough to don matching sweaters, consider matching Ugly Christmas Socks.  Then, you can work your way up to the ultimate in holiday wear–The Gaudy Holiday Suit by OppoSuits.  Because OppoSuits attract!

Until my next post, have a happy holiday and merry mind-reading of your partner’s emotional needs!

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

Holidays, Humor, marriage

Halloween, Happiness and a Holstein: A MOOving Memory

This story seriously never gets old for me

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

cow Copyright: tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

The current trend in Psychology to study “happiness,” has resulted in consistent findings that making memories brings more enduring happiness than accumulating material possessions.  In our family, there are few holidays that evoke more lasting memories than Halloween.

I love Halloween.  However, I definitely prefer the kinder, gentler Halloween of smiling Jack-o-lanterns and friendly looking ghosts to the gruesome displays of zombies, open wounds and scenes from the dark side.  Mostly, I have enjoyed dressing my kids up in costumes and watching their excitement at being in character for the day.

Before I had so many kids, I used to sew my kids’ Halloween attire, because I thought that’s what good mothers did (I know—and I regularly thank the high heavens that I dodged the Pinterest bullet, which was non-existent in my young mother days).

One year, in a pregnancy-induced nausea fog, I managed…

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Couples, Family, Humor

Couple Conflict After the Laughter

older couple laughing

My husband can never just gently get into bed.  At any given time, he outweighs me by 80-100 pounds, and it always feels to me like he is flopping onto the bed with as much force as possible, which has the effect of both startling me and bouncing me out of my comfort zone.  He denies that he has this habit and always responds to my protests with, “What?  I’m just getting into bed like a normal person. What do you want me to do?”

So, the other night, while I was sitting in bed knitting, my husband got into the bed with his usual vigor, and my arm jerked several stitches off of my knitting needle which I had to go back and fix, and which also annoyed me.  I immediately snapped, “Steve!  Seriously?” which was code for, “How many times have we talked about this?  How hard is it to just ease into bed without announcing your arrival with the exertion of a bull elephant?”

I expected him to defend his technique as usual when instead, he said, “Well, it could have been worse…I could have done this…,” at which point he popped up on the bed and started jumping up and down like an 8 year-old.  The scene was so absurd that I couldn’t stop laughing, and instead of engaging in another tired quarrel, we shared  a moment of playful connection.

Dr. John Gottman identified humor as a common “repair attempt,” that many functional couples use to manage conflict.  If used well, and in a way that is inclusive and not contemptuous, it can be a very effective technique.

With nearly 30 years of marriage and 7 children, my husband and I have had lots and lots of practice both engaging in and averting typical couple power struggles.  A long time ago, I remember at one point saying to my husband, “Stop trying to control me.  You can’t control me,” because I do have a rebellious streak a mile wide with a tendency to do the opposite of what someone is trying to make me do (which is all coming back to me through my teenagers).  Neither of us likes to feel controlled.  It has become an ongoing joke now that if things start escalating, one of us will commonly interrupt with, “Are you trying to control me?” with a tone of voice that suggests that we are being ridiculous, and we end up laughing.  Once, I remember him throwing out, “I’m trying to control you right now and you’re not cooperating,” and it was so unexpected with the comical look on his face that I was completely disarmed and laughed, and another conflict was avoided.

Humor can be used to manage potential family conflict as well.  Parenting and finances are two common potential points of contention for many couples.  On one family vacation, I remember an incident in which those both collided, and I started getting irritated with my husband.  It was a typical vacation in which one child had already vomited in the car, there were ongoing quarrels about who was in whose space and who was breathing whose air, and my nerves were raw from all the noise.  On the way home, when my husband stopped at a gas station, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and walk away somewhere by myself to breathe.

When I walked back to the car, my then three year-old began pulling my hand to show me something she wanted at a vending machine.  It was a pink mustache for 75 cents, and she was so insistent that I decided to hit her dad up for the money.  Instead of thinking it was cute like I did, he thought it was a ridiculous waste of 75 cents and he was tired of bleeding money on our vacation.  Instead of agreeing, he gave me a look that said, “A pink mustache? Really?  Why don’t I just hand you three quarters to go flush down the toilet?”

Soo…instead of lashing out about what a cheapskate he was, I decided to take a different approach.  I knew he was tired and stressed like I was from the torture of being in a confined space with 7 noisy children.  I picked up a quarter from the bottom of my purse and announced to my teenage sons, “Okay everyone…your sister wants a pink mustache that costs 75 cents, and I personally think that would be amusing to look at, and so I am willing to donate a quarter to her pink mustache fund.  Does anyone else want to donate to see the pink mustache?”  Immediately, two brothers anted up and even offered to take her in to purchase the disguise.  When she came back, delighted to be wearing a pink mustache, we all laughed, and even my husband had to admit it was adorable, and instead of being upset with me over an argument, he was grateful that I hadn’t undermined him in front of the children and escalated conflict.

Humor is effective if the relationship already feels safe.  If you see your partner as your collaborator, you are more likely to join with them in the silliness.  You take bigger comedic risks, because humor is often about presenting the unexpected.  If you see him/her as the enemy, it can easily be misinterpreted.  Humor also requires a fair amount of creativity, which is more expansive when people are not emotionally flooded, so when people struggle to regulate emotion, it can be more challenging to access humor.

Couples who can use humor are couples who work at building friendship actively outside of conflict.  They are couples who have lots of experiences laughing together.  I don’t think I could endure a relationship in which my spouse didn’t appreciate my sense of humor; I am well aware that not everyone finds me as amusing as my spouse does.  However, because he laughs at my lame jokes and laughs at shared comedic references with me, it feels safe to explore humor with him.

Humor can be accessed intentionally in a spirit of playfulness.  If you don’t know where to start, listen to a funny podcast.  My favorite is NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!  For additional inspiration, watch the Argument Clinic by Monty Python’s the Flying Circus, which you can access on YouTube here.  I might be showing my age with that suggestion, but I promise you won’t look at an argument the same way again.

 

 

Couples, Couples Therapy, Holidays, Humor, marriage, Marriage and Family Therapy, Romance

Humor in Marriage: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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.

My amateur photo of the frame
My amateur photo of the frame (my husband is going to be thrilled when he sees it on my blog)

Here are the various phrases:

  1. Why don’t we have lunch together more often?  I miss you so much during the day!
  2. Enough about me….I want to know how your day’s going.
  3. Anytime you need me, just call. You know I’m always ready to listen.
  4. I wish I was there with you right now. I bet you could use a shoulder rub.
  5. 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”]
  6. Let’s go dancing tonight!
  7. Do you want to go see that movie you were talking about? There’s nothing on TV but ball games.
  8. I’m sorry we argued. I knew you were right all along.  I just couldn’t admit it.
  9. 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.”