When I meet with a couple, I love nothing more than to see a touch of laughter or some playful banter poking through. I find that partners who can joke about themselves and easily laugh together—even amid their relationship struggles—carry a fun-loving closeness and are more likely to find success in couples’ therapy. Yes, relationships require effort, and some issues are not laughing matters. Yet in truly happy relationships, partners have fun together. They know how to temper tensions with some shared giggles and nurture their bond with friendship and lightheartedness.
And, when a relationship lacks fun and good humor, this is something that partners can change.
The power of laughter bonding.
Psychologist Laura E. Kurtz conducted a study on the laugh-love connection by coding the spontaneously generated laughs of 71 romantic couples who were video recorded as they talked about how they first met. Kurtz’s data proved how potent shared laughter is for a relationship. Her results showed that couples who share more moments of laughter were more likely to perceive a greater feeling of closeness, sense of safety in their partner’s hands, and overall satisfaction in the relationship. They were also more likely to feel more passion in the relationship, that giddy in-love feeling.
Don’t worry—no partner needs to be a comedian. We don’t even need to come up with something new. What matters is the humor that couples create together along the everyday path of life. The truth is, most of what people laugh about are jokes and anecdotes parodying what we do every day. Being a human being offers plenty of room for the silly and quirky, the awkward and absurd—especially when we stop taking ourselves so seriously and let ourselves have fun. When we laugh, it’s contagious, and we become a most likable partner—like that friend you want to be around all the time.
While shared laughter between partners can be a sign of an already existing intimacy and connection, what many couples underappreciate is our capacity to actually awaken and grow a sense of humor together even when this has not been a strong suit in the relationship. Awareness is the first step in any change, so the mere understanding of the importance of shared laughter can become an invitation to joke around more, the permission we need to allow ourselves to have more fun. Those who don’t naturally approach life with their funny bone may find it more challenging to inject laughter into the relationship, but there are some simple ways to add more laughter and fun into your day-to-day life:
1. Create a hospitable environment for laughter.
When we are open and relaxed, we are better able to receive humor. But of course, life can trigger a great deal of emotional distress, especially for couples with young kids. So much pressure in today’s times, and not enough hands on deck to go around. Nothing kills humor like stress and anxiety.
I use this micro mindfulness tool with myself throughout the day and suggest it to my clients: Pause, Breathe, Relax (PBR). Embrace these as three unique steps to really feel the difference. When our mind and body relax into our window of tolerance, we feel more openhearted and have access to the part of our brain that allows jokes to flow and land with a laugh. Smiling more helps, too. Some research suggests people joke more at night, on days closer to the weekend, and on vacation—all pointing to times when we tend to feel more relaxed.
2. Expect to laugh. Be on the lookout.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
When we know we are going to see someone who tends to bring out the giggles, before we even see them, we can feel that energy of play and laughter. When I visit my parents, they so frequently say or do something that is hysterical to me that, even before I get there, I’m prepared to laugh. I can feel the expectation in my body.
We want to make our relationship environment similarly associated with these cues for laughter. Any moment could explode into a spontaneously funny one, together. The anticipation pitches our consciousness toward levity. We want to be on the lookout for that joy that laughter brings.
3. Try some sweet teasing.
Lighthearted teasing toward ourselves and our partners can make for some hilarious moments. Teasing done properly can roll right into flirting and build sexual tension. When we sweetly tease our romantic partner, we are showing them that we feel close, and the humor helps us relax into intimacy.
We are not talking about aggressive humor here, which actually is a bad sign for a relationship. Researchers on humor in romantic relationships unanimously caution against humor that disparages partners. That is, stay away from sarcastic comments, acidic mockery, or giving mean-spirited nicknames. While we enjoy affectionate teasing, there’s no fun in being the butt of a joke.
4. Keep building inside jokes.
Take advantage of your shared history to build a hidden language and humor that is just your own.
I asked my 84-year-old mother about the role of laughter in her marriage. Here’s what she told me:
“There is a commonality we share. It’s through our history together that when we say things, or things happen, it just makes us both laugh so hard. I’m not sure why, but it tickles us when we both agree on something and then find out how wrong we were. We laugh at our fumbles, and sometimes we laugh at each other. When it’s the two of us, our laughter is more intimate, like our own little secret.”
Be creative with your partner. Let yourself be vulnerable enough to look foolish, play a game designed to make you laugh, create a funny video together, or pick playful unexpected dates like go-karting or improv night. Try something new that makes you both feel awkward, or watch a comedy show. Try dancing disco in the kitchen or repeat a mispronounced word and use it going forward. Some love to horseplay or tickle in passing.
Letting yourself be silly can also carry into looking for the comical in the uncomfortable or challenging moments. Try silly gestures or laughing at yourselves when you start to push each other’s buttons. This can instantly turn an almost-fight into high spirits and fun.
Find the humor when you are going through something difficult together. Recently, when my husband and I both needed a routine colonoscopy, we prepped together and laughed all night long passing each other in the hallway. We made that choice to mock ourselves over the absurdity of the ordeal and turned the unpleasant into something comical.
6. Retell funny memories.
Keep handy the times in your history when you shared a big laugh. A shared history on its own strengthens the relationship, but especially a history with funny memories. My husband and I absolutely fell hysterically apart one night at our friends’ dinner party when our preschool daughter came down from their twins’ playroom dressed in a Miss Piggy costume. The blend of how adorable, ridiculous, and realistic our daughter looked triggered an instant explosion of laughter but only between us. Our mutual flabbergasted hysteria became even funnier to us than the actual sight of her in the costume. To this day, 25 years later, every time we remind each other of this image of our daughter, we stop in our tracks and share that same belly laugh.
Laughing is actually no joke when we grasp its profound impact on the depth of joy and closeness we can experience in our relationship. The opportunities for good humor are truly endless, as is the potential we have to grow closer and happier together. Whether you’re with someone you can already laugh with, or there is a shortage of humor in your relationship, the invitation is the same. Laugh more often, laugh more loudly—and most especially, laugh more together.
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