by Joel Silverman, MA, LPC
About a week ago my wife and I were not getting along very well. We were in the kind of funk many couples experience at times. I was making a sandwich when my wife came into the kitchen and made a comment about my failure to attend to a large stack of dirty dishes…so I threw a piece of cheese at her. Not a big piece, just a small slice of Swiss. She dodged the fromage, picked it up and hurled it back at me. I flung a few more pieces in her direction and the cheese fight was on! Soon we were shrieking and laughing. My son walked into the room to see what all the commotion was and quickly the queso missiles were flying in his direction. We were laughing so hard that we forgot our grudges and suddenly felt much closer. What started as a comment that could have escalated into an argument turned into one of the more spontaneous and joyous moments we’d had in a long time. This is the power of play and laughter.
Recent studies have found that laughter is good for your heart, can reduce pain, lower blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. How many medications can make that claim! Laughter helps the body release endorphins, powerful brain chemicals that boost your mood and override sadness or negative thoughts.
How laughter can help YOU connect with your partner:
Engage in playful communication when stressed. When there is conflict or disagreement, humor and playfulness can restore a sense of connection and interrupt the power struggle. Used respectfully, humor and play can help get a point across without hurting your partner’s feelings. (See above cheese-slinging incident).
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” said the comedian Victor Borge. Parade magazine conducted a poll which showed that the number one quality people look for in choosing a partner is a sense of humor. If you are looking for a relationship, notice how quickly laughter can connect you with others and can enhance attraction. When you laugh, your face glows and your eyes shine—making you more attractive and desirable.
Laughter puts anxiety on the back burner. We can’t laugh and worry at the same time. The future seems less daunting and we are living more fully in the present moment when we laugh. Many of us are intensely wrapped up in our own issues. If we can laugh about serious things they may not seem so huge. Laughter puts things into perspective.
Laughter can make a stale relationship feel fresh. Couples who have been together for many years often report that they feel stagnant and distant. Laughter can make you feel close again and bring back memories of why you chose this person. Couples who laugh together tend to stay together and feel more connected. When two people laugh together, their brains can actually feel synchronized and a layer of intimacy is added.
How to get started: Tell your partner a joke. Watch a funny movie together. Dance around the house to some cheesy music. Go to a comedy club. The bottom line is to try to be more spontaneous and less defensive. Let go of your inhibitions. Laughter opens us up and allows our genuine emotions to rise to the surface. So don’t be afraid to show your partner what you are really feeling. Connection begins with showing your true self.
Some serious things to remember: Don’t use humor to cover up other emotions. Jokes that are used to avoid painful emotions can be harmful to relationships. If your partner isn’t likely to appreciate the joke, or your humor masks anger, hurt, fear or disappointment, please don’t make the joke. Remember, if your partner doesn’t think that your joke or your teasing is funny—it’s not. Sarcasm and anger disguised as humor are definitely not funny.
When faced with relationship conflicts, remember that laughter can get your creative juices flowing and issues that can seem daunting may have solutions acceptable to you and your partner. Spontaneous play can help couples feel younger and more energized. There are opportunities each day for some good natured play and laughter. Don’t pass up the chance to find that deeper sense of intimacy by sharing a laugh.
And watch out for flying cheese.
If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.
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Joel Silverman, MA, LPC, is a counselor at Maria Droste Counseling Center in Denver and specializes in marriage counseling.