According to Dr. Gottman, sharing humor with your partner is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your relationship. Surprising each other with random acts of hilarity, enjoying playful back-and forths, giving yourselves to the moment – these are ways in which your time together is gradually filled with a sense of laughter and joy. As Dr. Gottman explains inThe Relationship Cure, all that playfulness requires is a “willingness to turn toward another’s sense of silliness… and have a little bit of fun!”
In everyday situations, you often have the chance to react to situations in a variety of different ways. Imagine the following scenario:
Lila asked her husband Charlie to help her in the backyard on a sunny afternoon. She’s been having some back pain and wants to untangle a particularly stubborn thicket of weeds, creeping steadily closer and more alarmingly to the rose garden that she loves. To add further cause for delight to an already wonderfully pleasurable activity, the rain from the night before has caused enormous sludge puddles through which they are constantly forced to squelch in their relatively useless leaky boots. Charlie obliges, but isn’t being particularly helpful, not knowing a cabbage from a daffodil.
As Lila grows more and more irritated by his incompetence and he grows more and more annoyed by her maddening micromanagement, she tops everything off by accidentally splashing him with the overabundant mud. Covered in mud, Charlie turns towards Lila.
He has two choices. He can express his exasperation at the entire state of affairs in which he has been mired, or he can look at their mutually muck covered state and see the humor in a completely absurd situation.
Looking at his wife with a mischievous glint in his eye, he dips his finger into a bit of reddish dirt on his jacket, and draws a frowny face with it on her arm. With the paradoxical air of an exhausted rogue, she draws two streaks of red dirt war paint across his cheeks. He returns the favor. Now laughing hysterically at their mud covered selves, they are able to see the hilarious nature of their predicament, and the end of their struggles are punctuated by fits of hysterical giggling.
What has Charlie done in the scene above? He has done something incredible: he has converted a potentially explosive situation into a moment of hilarity. By engaging his wife in play, he has made them into a team – sweaty, exhausted, trapped in muck, a hilarious double act. Relieving tension, he has alerted his wife to the comedic value of their plight! Remember the endless wisdom of Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP! – the job’s a game!”
Luckily, most moments you share with your partner are much easier to fill with laughter. The power of shared mirth is invaluable to building your shared meaning and friendship, the quality which Dr. Gottman tells us is a predictor of the ultimate success or failure of your relationship.
Start practicing by applying this principle to your own life this weekend, and watch the connection between yourself and your loved ones deepen and thrive!