Chapter 1 Excerpt
Laughter Makes It Easier to Cope
" If I did not laugh, I think I should die." -- Abraham Lincoln
It’s always nice when something flourishes which feels good and which serves a positive purpose. This is true of laughter because it helps couples cope with things a little better. They can cope because laughing at problems provides them with a better perspective.
Most of us have a tendency to pay such close attention to our issues that they are eventually a huge part of all we see. If we are able to laugh about our serious things, however, they simply can’t be that huge. Being in a relationship often magnifies our unresolved issues, but couples that maintain the ability to laugh about them are better able to roll with the punches.
As a culture, we admire people who are flexible and able to deal with things as they come. It’s curious, therefore, that we also have such a strong tendency to focus on things so seriously. Moreover, since serious things require guidelines, we feel forced to make up rules for everything, and relationships are no exception. There are many things we think one should and should not do in relationships. For instance, we should sleep in the same bed and go places in the same car. The man should drive. Women should do the housework and men, the yard work. If we love each other, we should be able to know what our partner is thinking and be able to respond perfectly at all times.
Therefore, as the result of expectations like these, couples tend to make up their own rules about laughter in their relationship. They get some of their rules from their families and some from society, but wherever they get them, they rigorously hold to them. For example, we feel that when we are in an important relationship, we should not laugh about sex or money. They are far too serious. It’s a shame, though, because both things are perfect issues for play.
In maintaining this serious approach to relationships, most people have a rule in place which states that problems have to be approached carefully rather than lightly. If you laugh, you don’t understand, or you’re not a responsible person. There are many more, similar rules to this in our society, and these rules work hard to suppress a couple’s willingness to laugh.
All these rules about laughter prevent us from understanding that laughter doesn’t diminish the importance of things in the true sense of the word. It simply changes our view of “the importance” so we can feel less overwhelmed and better equipped to cope. Because we find this concept hard to understand, however, we remain reluctant to accept it. Therefore, we laugh less often.
Couples who laugh in spite of the rules, however, stay more comfortable with one another. They are less apt to turn mountains into molehills. Small things stay small, and big things shrink enough to be handled. Kathy and Chris, for example, found their ability to laugh about serious issues to be an advantage when they found themselves deeply in debt. Unforeseen financial setbacks had created what seemed to be an insurmountable problem. They fretted, worried, and found themselves descending into a pit of ongoing anxiety and irritability.
Finally, Kathy couldn’t take the pressure of her anxiety anymore. Reasoning that all the worry in the world wasn’t going to help them pay off The DEBT, she began to look for a better way to look at the situation. Kathy decided to give The DEBT a name. She began to call it “Bunny” because it kept multiplying.
Then Chris picked up the ball with her, and they both began to talk about Bunny instead of The DEBT. As a result, it became less overpowering. They stopped having nightmares about it and put together a plan to pay it off. They were able to accomplish their goal and have a little fun with it and with each other as well. In an adverse situation, they were actually able to strengthen their relationship.
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