When my husband and I were engaged my mother hosted an engagement reception for us. People my parents had known for years showed up, ate food, wished us well, and left, in the way most receptions happen. On a table by the door were slips of paper for every guest to put a piece of marital advice for us and place it in a jar. Most of the advice written out were things I have heard my whole life:
“Don’t go to bed angry”
“Communicate with each other”
“Be physically affectionate”
“Admit when you’re wrong.”
One piece of advice I wish had been written out was “laugh together every day.”
The physical benefits of laughter are well known – laughter can improve health, and lengthen life expectancy in terminally ill patients – but how does laughter aid relationships?
Neuroscientist Robert Provine studied just that, and published his findings in his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.
What he found was that, beyond just diffusing tense situations and reducing anger and anxiety, laughter establishes (or restores) a positive emotional connection between two people. In marriage it can pave the path to intimacy.
“Laughter is not primarily about humor,” says Provine, “but about social relationships.”
In fact, Provine believes that the health benefits of laughter are simply a consequence of its primary result: building relationships. When social support is stronger, health is improved, and therefore laughter provides a stepping stone to health through its social benefits.
Some of his other findings include:
Laughter is an important part in mating. Men tend to like women who laugh in their presence.
While both sexes laugh a lot, females laugh more. A huge 126% more!
Perhaps due to this, the laughter of the female is the critical index of a healthy relationship.
Laughter in relationships decline as couples age.
Laughter is highly contagious.
Unfortunately, Povine also found that couples tend to do most of their laughing together through TV and movies, which encourages very little social connection. This means that couples don’t recognize how little laughter is within their marriage or how much they are missing out.
So how can you start laughing more in your marriage? Consider these suggestions.
Play social games.
The benefits of laughter in your relationship are still present when there are more than two people around. Invite other couples or single friends to play games and laugh. There are an abundance of party games you can buy like Apples to Apples or Quelf, or good old fashioned games like charades or celebrity that don’t require anything but players to be fun.
My husband and I are a big fan of going to the local Creamery, buying some ice-cream, and trying to make up dialogue for what’s happening around us. Who ever can come up with the most ridiculous back story and make the other laugh the hardest usually wins our game. You can also do this with movies. Rent a movie you have never seen, or find one on Netflix, put it on mute and try to say the dialogue.
Look up and tell jokes.
When was the last time you heard a brand new joke? Take the time to look up jokes, or try and make your own.
Do something ridiculous and out of character.
Are you incredibly shy and afraid of dancing? Learn the Thriller dance, go out to a park, and try to perform it. Do you love to speak but hate to sing? Try singing everything you say for a whole hour together, or try to use a brand new accent you’ve never tried before.
While these things won’t make marital problems go away, they can set the stage for tackling them together and building intimacy and affection together.
For more marriage tips and ideas take the RELATE assessment today.
Written by: Melece, Master’s Student in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.