Humor in Marriage
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” – E.E. Cummings
“Do you two need a tissue?” a voice gently whispered from behind us. We were sitting in a quiet theater watching a somber play when — at the saddest moment — something struck us as funny. Hysterically funny.
At just that moment, Les found a withered old banana in his coat pocket. Who knows how long it had lived there. He set this surprising discovery on my knee. Caught off guard by the incongruity of the banana and the play, I developed one of the worst cases of the giggles I’ve ever had. Les quickly caught the same disease. We tried desperately to stifle our laughter, but, as we bowed our heads to hide our faces, we couldn’t keep our shoulders from shuddering. An older woman behind us, thinking we were moved by what was happening on stage, offered us a tissue for our tears, which made us want to laugh all the more. When Les accepted her kind offer, I really lost it and had to leave the theater.
Just another day in the marriage of Les and Leslie? Not quite, but we do laugh a lot together. The tiniest of things can sometimes set us off — a slight inflection or a knowing glance, for example. We can quote a funny line from a movie or sitcom for weeks. Better still are the unplanned faux pas in front of others that bring embarrassment. We have the same funny bone and can’t keep from using it. No wonder we enjoy our marriage.
Laughter bonds people. Any good friend will tell you that laughter is the shortest distance between two people — especially in marriage. But one never knows what’s funny to others. In a survey of over fourteen thousand Psychology Today readers who rated thirty jokes, the findings were unequivocal. “Every single joke,” it was reported, “had a substantial number of fans who rated it ‘very funny,’ while another group dismissed it as ‘not at all funny.'” Apparently, our funny bones are located in different places. Some laugh uproariously at the slapstick of Larry, Moe, and Curly-Joe, while others enjoy the more cerebral humor of Woody Allen.
Wherever you are on this continuum of humor, one thing is certain: Laughter, on a daily basis, is like taking a vitamin for your marriage. And it is a healthy habit all loving couples enjoy.
Why Laughter is Good for Your Marriage
Laugher is good medicine, having an important physiological effect on you and your soul mate.
Laugher is good medicine, literally. It has important physiological effects on you and your soul mate. The French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” Modern research indicates that people with a sense of humor have fewer symptoms of physical illness than those who are less humorous.
This idea, of course, isn’t new. Since King Solomon’s times, people have known about and applied the healing benefits of humor. As Proverbs tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (17:22)
But humor brings more than physiological benefits to a husband and wife. Humor helps us cope.
Consider Janet, who wanted to impress a small group of couples with an elaborate dinner. She cooked all day and enlisted her husband’s help to serve the meal. All went well until the main course. As her husband was bringing in the crown roast, the kitchen door hit him from behind and the platter flew across the room. Janet froze, regained her composure, then commanded, “Dear, don’t just stand there. Pick up the roast, go in the kitchen, and get the other one!”
No doubt about it, humor helps us cope — not just with the trivial but even with the tragic. Psychoanalyst Martin Grotjahn, author of Beyond Laughter,notes that “to have a sense of humor is to have an understanding of human suffering.”
Charlie Chaplin could have said the same thing. Chaplin grew up in the poorest section of London. His mother suffered from serious mental illness and his father died of alcoholism when Charlie was just five. Laughter was Chaplin’s tool for coping with life’s losses. Chaplin eating a boiled leather shoe for dinner in his classic film Gold Rush is more than a humorous scene. It is an act of human triumph, a monument to the coping power of humor.
One does not need to be a professional comedian, however, to benefit from comedy. Viktor Frankl is another example of how humor can empower a person to contend with horrendous circumstances. In Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, he speaks of using humor to survive imprisonment during World War II. Frankl and another inmate would invent at least one amusing story daily to help them cope with their horrors.
A Nazi prison camp is a dramatic backdrop to underscore the value of humor, but it may help you remember what a good laugh can do for you and your marriage on stressful days. Let’s be honest, every marriage has its difficulties. When the checkbook doesn’t balance, when the kids can’t seem to behave, when busy schedules collide, when you can’t remember your last date-night, not to mention your last vacation. For these times, and dozens of others, humor is invaluable.
Take it from the professionals: Legendary comedian Bob Hope says laughter is an “instant vacation.” Jay Leno says, “You can’t stay mad at somebody who makes you laugh.” And the great Bill Cosby says, “If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it.” Researchers agree. Studies reveal that individuals who have a strong sense of humor are less likely to experience burnout and depression and they are more likely to enjoy life in general — including their marriage.
Bringing Laughter into Your Marriage
The more you laugh together, the more you love your spouse.
Essayist and biographer Agnes Repplier, who was known for her common sense and good judgment, said, “We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.”
We couldn’t agree more. And we believe the implication of her statement is also true: The more you laugh together, the more you love your spouse.
So, with this in mind, we offer the following tips on bringing a daily dose of laughter into your marriage.
Remember Rule Number 6
Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him. “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember rule number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember rule number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.
When the scene is repeated a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of rule number 6?”
“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously.'”
“Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
“There aren’t any.”
Rule number 6 is a good rule for every spouse who’s looking for a daily dose of laughter. If you’re like most people, you can take life and yourself a little too seriously, and that always stunts laughter. So lighten up. Relax. Remember what really matters. And remember rule number 6.
Poke Fun at Your Spouse — Carefully
In college I (Leslie) shared a single bathroom with several other girls on the same floor of a residence hall. I enjoyed communal living during that time of my life. We all became good friends and learned so much about each other — especially each other’s little quirks. One of the girls, for example, was often irritated by the little globs of toothpaste that inevitably appeared in the bathroom sink each morning from so many users. Everyone knew Lisa would complain. We came to expect it and often joked with her about being a neat-freak.
When Lisa got married at the end of our school year, we were all at her wedding, and one of us (who shall remain nameless) warned her soon-to-be husband about her dislike of toothpaste in the sink. Apparently, he made a mental note of the comment, and when Lisa went into the bathroom on the first morning of their honeymoon, she found the following message written in the sink with a thick blue line of toothpaste: “I Love You, Lisa!”
This new husband understood the value of a good marital laugh right from the beginning. And while his first attempt at poking fun at his wife could have backfired, it didn’t To this day, years later, they both love telling the story.
Now, let’s be clear that poking fun at your spouse must be done with caution. For example, you should steer clear of joking about sensitive issues, such as your partner’s weight, family, work, and so on. In other words, if you’re not sure if your partner will think it’s funny, you’d better refrain.
Laugh When You Don’t Feel Like Laughing
A woman discovered a shelf of reduced-price items at a local bookstore. Among the gifts was a little figurine of a man and woman, their heads lovingly tilted toward one another. “Happy 10th Anniversary” read the inscription. It appeared to be in perfect condition, yet its tag indicated “damaged.” Examining it more closely, she found another tag underneath that read “Wife is coming unglued.”
Let’s face it, no spouse is immune to stress. We all feel like we’re coming unglued at times. And wise experts agree that the best way for anyone to cope is with a good laugh. “Humor makes all things tolerable,” said preacher Henry Ward Beecher. “Laugh out loud,” says Chuck Swindoll. “It helps flush out the nervous system.” On another occasion Chuck said, “Laughter is the most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity.” Arnold Glasgow said, “Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.” The point is that even when you’ve had a tough day, or should we say especiallywhen you’ve had a tough day, you need to laugh. It will help wash away the stress and keep the two of you together when you’re coming unglued. So help each other to find something funny even when it’s not easy.
Look for the Funny Around You
On a recent flight between Seattle and Oklahoma City, I (Leslie) had my head buried in a book and was oblivious to my husband’s boredom. He had nothing to read, and in his desperation, he began thumbing through in-flight magazines. Unbeknownst to me, Les was cutting various pictures out of these magazines with his handy Swiss Army pocket knife (this was before such a gizmo would be confiscated by airport security). He found a large photo of a monkey head and placed it in the window next to his seat. He cut out the watch from a photo advertisement for Rolex and taped it to his wrist. And to top off his cutting spree, he found a red ball and taped it to his nose.
Knowing that timing is everything when it comes to humor, Les waited. We sat side by side in our cramped little seats, and he waited. I read. He waited. Les waited for me to look up from my book so he could see my reaction to a monkey looking in on us at thirty-five thousand feet. He waited for me to ask for the time so he could see me react to his “Rolex.” He waited to see the reaction I’d have to a clown nose taped to the somber face of my husband. Les waited so long — he fell asleep. But that didn’t spoil the fun.
When I finally looked up from my book, I saw his handiwork. But I muffled my laughter to let him enjoy his sleep. In fact, I decided to take a catnap too. Who knows how long we slept, but it was long enough for two flight attendants to don red noses and wake us up to tell us we were landing.
You never know where you can find a good laugh. So look for the funny around you and create it when you have to.
Study Your Spouse’s Funny Bone
One of the reasons many couples never reach their “laughter potential” is because they have never taken humor seriously. Sounds strange, but to bring more laughter into your relationship, you need to know what makes your husband or wife laugh. After all, each of us has a unique sense of humor.
As public speakers, we’ve experienced occasions where someone will laugh out loud at something most everyone else would barely chuckle at. And, of course, some people never crack a smile at something almost everyone else thinks is hilarious. So your job is to find those things your partner thinks are most funny by paying attention to when he or she laughs.
“I never realized how much Susan laughs at a silly comic strip,” a participant at one of our seminars told us. “When you asked us to think about each other’s humor styles, it dawned on me that I hardly ever laugh at comics in the paper, but she seems to really enjoy them.” This enlightened husband went on to tell us how he was now learning to laugh at comic strips too. He now makes a habit out of reading them and even cuts one out to show Susan from time to time.
Maybe your partner likes a sarcastic wit. Maybe it’s slapstick that makes him or her laugh. Or maybe it’s the old classic sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show. Wherever his or her funny bone is located, find it and use it — at least once a day.
A Final Thought on Humor
Learning to laugh a little more just may save your life, not to mention your marriage.
The healing power of laughter was not taken seriously by a scientific world until the late Norman Cousins, former editor of Saturday Review and subsequently professor at UCLA’s School of Medicine, wrote about his life-changing experience with humor. As he reported in his book Anatomy of an Illness, laughter helped turn the tide of a serious collagen disease.
“I made the joyous discovery,” Cousins reported, “that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
He surrounded himself with Marx Brothers films and Candid Camera videos. He also checked out of the hospital and moved into a hotel where, as he says, he could “laugh twice as hard at half the price.”
Cousins called laughter “inner jogging” because every system in our body gets a workout when we have a hearty laugh. Laboratory studies support Cousins’ hunches. Our cardiovascular and respiratory systems, for example, benefit more from twenty seconds of robust laughter than from three minutes of exercise on a rowing machine. Through laughter, muscles release tension and neurochemicals are released into the bloodstream, creating the same feelings the long-distance joggers experience as “runner’s high.”
So, lighten up. Learning to laugh a little more just may save your life, not to mention your marriage. To paraphrase Henry Ward Beecher, “A marriage without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs — jolted by every pebble in the road.”
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources to help you strengthen your marriage
Popular questions on this topic:
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- The Love List: Eight Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Your Marriage (Hardcover)
- Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide