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Family Talk: Laughter can strengthen your relationship

You don't have to be the life of the party, but having a sense of humor can be healthy for you and your marriage. [Thinkstock]
You don't have to be the life of the party, but having a sense of humor can be healthy for you and your marriage. [Thinkstock]

“Marry a woman with an easy laugh.”

This is the frequent advice I have given my son, Spencer, over the years. Sure, there are many important qualities to look for in a potential spouse, but I think a sense of humor is at the top of the list.

I speak from experience. My wife possesses many positive qualities and chief among them is a good sense of humor. She laughs easily with me and at me. And I have done my part to keep her supplied with lots of things to laugh at, like the time I made cornmeal muffins and thought it would be good to experiment to add mint flavor to the batter. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it turned out to be trash can material. Diane loves to laughingly retell the story.

Laughter is a good life lubricant, especially when the machinery of life is grinding on you. You can reduce the heat of a frustrating situation by introducing some appropriate humor. Laughter can be a release valve for building tension.

I’m not alone in my opinion about the relationship benefits of laughter. Helpguide.org, which bills itself as a “Trusted guide to mental, emotional & social health,” says this:

Humor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment. Laughter is an especially powerful tool for managing conflict and reducing tension when emotions are running high. Whether with romantic partners, friends and family, or co-workers, you can learn to use humor to smooth over disagreements, lower everyone's stress level, and communicate in a way that builds up your relationships rather than breaking them down.

That all sounds good, but what if you’re a person who does not laugh often or easily? What if you’re married to that kind of person? Can we learn to laugh? I think so. Here are some things we can do to prime the laughter pump. 

Take the time to read the comics or watch cartoons. You might buy a daily calendar with a cartoon or funny saying. I have one on my kitchen counter so I can start my day with a chuckle, and I read the newspaper comics every day. When you find a good one, share it.

When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes laughter is meant to be private, but often people are willing to share the humor. When you hear someone laughing, ask, “What’s funny?”

Encourage yourself to laugh even if you don’t find something funny. A study from Georgia State University concluded even “simulated” laughter can improve mental health and aerobic endurance.

Bring humor into conversations. Tell others about funny situations you have faced, and without being nosy, ask, “Did anything funny happen to you recently — or ever?” Most people are more than ready to share.

Which takes us back to my advice to Spencer: Marry a woman with an easy laugh. Perhaps the better advice is: “Be a person with an easy laugh,” even if you have to work at it.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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