What if you could laugh and smile your way to new intimacy?
Studies show that individuals who laugh more have healthier lives, reduced rates of heart disease, and are less likely to experience mood disorders like depression. While researchers are unclear whether it is laughter in itself as opposed to a good sense of humor or a happier personality that produces the positive benefits, laughter certainly plays a role in producing positive health benefits. Sometimes when I'm working with couples, and we're looking for ways to help prevent or recover from conflict, we have to work hard to find strategies that work for each unique couple culture.
What I have learned, however, is that laughter, like forgiveness or trust, requires vulnerability. It must be cultivated. Here are three ways that you can cultivate a spirit of laughter through the use of humor as you work toward increasing intimacy and recovering from conflict:
1. An Event
Think of something that happened in the course of the day that you found funny and share it with your partner. Did someone share a story that had you laughing for a few minutes? Did your boss make a fool of herself? Did you have an experience with a client or patient that left you scratching your head, laughing? This may not always be easy. In fact, sometimes, it is hard to remember anything positive that happened in the day, much less something you found humorous enough to laugh at. Cultivate a spirit of humor by searching for the humorous aspects of difficult experiences.
Sharing a daily event with your partner will foster a sense of ease and laughter between you, but it will also give your partner access to your day. If you've been struggling to connect, if your schedules have been getting in the way, then this casual, worn-in discipline of sharing your daily grind will increase intimacy in a simple, yet profound way.
2. A Memory
You know that secret trap door you have in your mind's dusty corners? The one that you don't let anybody behind? This door conceals the myriad embarrassing stories that you don't want to share because you're afraid they might send you scurrying for the nearest exit if they get some light on them. Everyone has this trap door. They hide the stuff of life when sprinkled with a bit of authenticity. If you work to make these three steps a daily discipline, think of a new story every day, the more embarrassing, the better. Any story that reveals your simple and honest humanity has a home in this dialogue.
Sharing a daily memory with your partner will foster a sense of connection between you because it cultivates the crucial discipline of vulnerability within the safe context of laughter. The more experience you have exercising vulnerability with ease, the more adept you will be when vulnerability is the crucial ingredient to resolving or healing from conflict.
3. A Behavior
I'm a big fan of the Friends sitcom. There are few television shows that I can watch again and again despite that I've seen every episode twice and maybe more. In one of my favorite episodes, Monica and Chandler's relationship is still young, still demonstrating the awkwardness of a relationship on the leaning edge of a true commitment. The couple gets into some kind of fight that leaves Monica feeling like she has to apologize. She knows that Chandler speaks the language of humor, and in a moment of television gold, surprises Chandler by coming to his door with a turkey on her head. There was no rhyme or reason to this move; it was simply a bizarre and creative behavior that left Chandler laughing, and subsequently, confessing his love to her for the first time.
Thinking of and acting on a wacky behavior like Monica did will foster a sense of creativity in your relationship that is hard to repeat anywhere else. Like sharing a memory, sharing a behavior cultivates vulnerability because it is unlikely you would be willing to embarrass yourself in front of anyone else. But unlike the memory, you not only share your vulnerability, you demonstrate it.
Humor cultivates intimacy.
If you struggle to find your relationship's heart, you know that it can feel as though all your focus is on the negative aspects of your relationship. Yet all the outcome research on the best relationships suggest that the healthiest relationships have more positive than negative interactions. Insert these simple tools into your relationship to strengthen intimacy and prevent unhelpful conflict.