Some of you who read this blog regularly are in marriage crisis and are desperate for help. This may not be the blog post for you, because when you’re in crisis it can be difficult to smile around each other, much less share deep laughter. I have no desire to downplay what this feels like or the serious work you must do.
Many others who read this blog aren’t in crisis per se, but you are looking for ways to deepen, strengthen, and mature your relationship. You’re serious about moving your marriage from ho-hum to high-energy – or maybe it’s already there and you just want more ways to maintain it.
My advice to you: Laugh together more.
What laughter does for us
One of my favorite movie scenes from youth is the “I love to laugh” song in Mary Poppins. As the adults and children are overcome with laughter, they begin floating in air. The more they laugh, the higher they float. (I dare you to watch this clip without at least a grin.)
That scene is a perfect visualization of what laughter does for us. It lifts us up. Scientists will tell you: your laughter triggers your endorphins (your feel-good hormones) and reduces your stress hormones. It also helps you fight infection. All good, but you don’t even need to understand the biology to know that when we laugh, everything just feels better.
And the laugher is even richer when you share it with a partner. You have a shared history, you know each other’s triggers (the good kind), and you know how to play off of one another. When it happens, it’s magic. The only thing better is good sex! Or, good sex and laughter!
Making the most of it
So the question is, how do we laugh together more? How do we make the most of this magic elixir that makes us feel so good?
One way is to play together more. Dr. Stuart Brown, a renowned psychiatrist, author of the book PLAY and head of the National Institute for Play, defines playing as something done for its own sake. “It’s voluntary,” he says. “It’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Does that remind you of anything you’ve done with your spouse lately? If not, get with it! The more you play together, the more likely you’ll be laughing together. To inspire you, consider these types of playing behaviors as listed by Brown:
Body play: Have you ever jumped up and down just for the fun of it? That’s body play.
Object play: This is using any type of object for fun, such as tossing a ball or throwing Frisbees.
Social play: Think of rough-housing and team games.
Imaginative and pretend play: Ever done an escape room?
Storytelling/narrative play: This is seeing a play together, or just a great Netflix show, or maybe even listening to a story-based podcast.
Creative play: When’s the last time you built a sandcastle together?
What has made you laugh in the past?
Dr. Brown also encourages people to consider their “play history,” which is thinking about the ways they’ve experienced fun in the past. This is something that’s really helpful for me. I love thinking back over my life with John and remembering when we laughed best together. What were we doing? Who were we with? How did we feel?
How about you? Think of times when you’ve really enjoyed being with your spouse, laughing together, without any demands on one another. What dynamics were in play that you could replicate now? What keeps you from going there again?
A word of warning
Laughter and playing can be one of the richest rewards of marriage; but sometimes they can be used to cover up issues in our marriages needing to be surfaced and addressed. The key to noticing is balance. There is a time for laughter, but also a time for tears, and a time for deep, soulful sharing. Your marriage deserves all of these.
Much of this you can do on your own. But sometimes it helps to have an outside perspective, especially when you find your marriage is stuck in low gear. Our coaches have techniques they can share to help get started. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need – your marriage is worth it.