Monthly Archives: March 2016

Use Humor for the conflicts on your relationship

Laughter brings people closer together and creates intimacy – And it’s an especially powerful tool for managing conflict and reducing tension when emotions are running high.Whether with romantic partners, friends and family, or co-workers, you can learn to use humor and play to smooth over disagreements, lower everyone’s stress level, and communicate in a way that builds up the relationships rather than breaking it down.

The role of humor and laughter in relationships

Humor plays an important role in all kinds of relationships. In new relationships, humor can be an effective tool not just for attracting the other person but also for overcoming any awkwardness or embarrassment that arises during the process of getting to know one another. In established relationships, humor can keep things exciting, fresh, and vibrant. It can also help you get past conflicts, disagreements, and the tiny aggravations than can build up over time and wreck even the strongest of bonds.

Sharing the pleasure of humor creates a sense of intimacy and connection between two people—qualities that define solid, successful relationships. When you laugh with one another, you create a positive bond between you. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, disappointments, and bad patches in a relationship. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing someone laugh primes you to smile and join in on the fun.

The social power of humor

Humor can help you:

  • Form a stronger bond with other people. Your health and happiness depend, to a large degree, on the quality of your relationships—and laughter binds people together.
  • Smooth over differences. Using gentle humor often helps you address even the most sensitive issues, such as sex or in-laws.
  • Diffuse tension. A well-timed joke can ease a tense situation and help you resolve disagreements.
  • Overcome problems and setbacks. A sense of humor is the key to resilience. It helps you take hardships in stride, weather disappointment, and bounce back from adversity and loss.
  • Put things into perspective. Most situations are not as bleak as they appear to be when looked at from a playful and humorous point of view. Humor can help you reframe problems that might otherwise seem overwhelming and damage a relationship.
  • Be more creative. Humor and playfulness can loosen you up, energize your thinking, and inspire creative problem solving for any relationship issue.

Using humor to manage and defuse conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of all relationships. It may take the form of major discord between the two of you or simply petty aggravations that have built up over time. Either way, how you manage conflict can often determine how successful your relationship will be.

When conflict and disagreement throw a wrench in your relationship, humor and playfulness can help lighten things up and restore a sense of connection. Used skillfully and respectfully, a little lighthearted humor can quickly turn conflict and tension into an opportunity for shared fun and intimacy. It allows you to get your point across without getting the other person’s defenses up or hurting his or her feelings. For example:

Lori’s husband, a contractor, often comes home sweaty and dirty from his job. This is a major turn off for Lori, and when her husband tries to give her a romantic hello, she turns away and asks him to take a bath. This makes her husband angry, and he accuses her of not appreciating what he does for a living. To resolve this conflict, Lori has started turning on the tub water before he gets home, and then she playfully peels off his clothes when he walks through the door, and sometimes joins him in the tub.

Alex is retired, but he still goes up on the roof to clean the gutters. His wife, Angie, has told him numerous times that it scares her when he uses the ladder. Today, instead of her usual complaints, she yells up to him, “You know, it’s husbands like you who turn wives into nags.” Alex laughs and carefully comes down from the roof.

Humor isn’t a miracle cure for conflicts but it can be an important tool to help you overcome the rough spots that afflict every relationship from time to time. Humor—free of hurtful sarcasm or ridicule—neutralizes conflict by helping you:

  • Interrupt the power struggle, instantly easing tension and allowing you to reconnect and regain perspective.
  • Be more spontaneous. Shared laughter and play helps you break free from rigid ways of thinking and behaving, allowing you to see the problem in a new way and find a creative solution.
  • Be less defensive. In playful settings, we hear things differently and can tolerate learning things about ourselves that we otherwise might find unpleasant or even painful.
  • Let go of inhibitions. Laughter opens us up, freeing us to express what we truly feel and allowing our deep, genuine emotions to rise to the surface.

Managing conflict with humor tip #1: Make sure you’re both in on the joke

Like any tool, humor can be used in negative as well as positive ways. Making snide, hurtful remarks, for example, then criticizing the other person for not being able to take a joke will create even more problems and ultimately damage a relationship.

Humor can only help you overcome conflict when both parties are in on the joke. It’s important to be sensitive to the other person. If your partner, co-worker, family member, or friend isn’t likely to appreciate the joke, don’t say or do it, even if it’s “all in good fun.” When the joking is one-sided rather than mutual, it undermines trust and goodwill and can damage the relationship.

Consider the following example:

Michelle’s feet are always cold when she gets into bed, but she has what she thinks is a playful solution. She heats up her icy feet by placing them on her husband Kevin’s warm body. Kevin hates this game, and has repeatedly told Michelle that he doesn’t appreciate being used as a foot warmer, but she just laughs at his complaints. Lately, Kevin has taken to sleeping at the far edge of the bed, a solution that distances them as a couple.

Humor should be equally fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. If others don’t think your joking or teasing is funny—stop immediately. Before you start playing around, take a moment to consider your motives, as well as the other person’s state of mind and sense of humor.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel calm, clear-headed, and connected to the other person?
  • Is your true intent to communicate positive feelings—or are you taking a dig, expressing anger, or laughing at the other person’s expense?
  • Are you sure that the joke will be understood and appreciated?
  • Are you aware of the emotional tone of the nonverbal messages you are sending? Are you giving off positive, warm signals or a negative or hostile tone?
  • Are you sensitive to the nonverbal signals the other person is sending? Do they seem open and receptive to your humor, or closed-off and offended?
  • Are you willing and able to back off if the other person responds negatively to the joke?
  • If you say or do something that offends, is it easy for you to immediately apologize?

Why do you just choose a single person

This is particularly true of the current situation marked by extremes of stress – strain and struggle. Sometimes the sheer apprehension that things may not work out fine on home front has compelled people.

People with a sharp or obsessive focus on career and personal growth often prefer staying single rather than bracing up to the duties and obligations of marriage. Paucity of time and personal inability to share and care keep them away from relationships and marriage.

  • Other than social and economic factors, there are people who preferred singularity over marital status on account of their lack of commitment. Rather than going for the hassles of serious relationships leading to marriage or live in stands, certain carefree and happy go lucky individuals choose to remain single.

  • It is true that humans, a part of the civilized society long for and cherish freedom. But it is equally important to note that there are ones including both men and women who cherish freedom to the point of selfishness. It is important or rather imperative that they stay single on account of their inflexibility and ill adjustability to come around to share and care for others. So the inability to compromise and need for absolute freedom from interference or disciplining goad people to stay single.
  • Just as inability to share emotionally can be problematic for some, leading them to the choice of singularity; likewise inability to share financially can be a possible reason. With over magnified stories of spouses nagging for money and possession doing the rounds; the choice of better management of financial prospects keep people specially men away from marriage.
  • People staunchly egoistical without the ability to change or modify often choose to remain single. With their all encompassing ego being predominantly effective, such folks are unable to come around or modify to the ways of better halves or partners.

    Marriages leading to divorce or relationships leading to break ups is one of the well trodden phenomenon. With far reaching repercussions any form of break up or separation can turn out to be tremendously heart wrenching. If one is not into a relationship of the serious order, one need not worry or anticipate such a turn of event. Thus fear of separation or one exposed to too many separations in the formative years of childhood may give way to fears and mental blocks about marriage.

  • In spite of there being too many moral inhibitions about indulging in sexual activities involving multiplicity of partners, similar orientation involving different partners is a well established reality. People beyond the bounds of marriage or serious partnership often take the advantage of their self inflicted singularity so as to indulge in sexual revelry. Even married ones may be equally guilty. But the fact that one is single helps one to feel free.
  • Sometimes staying single over a long period of time on account of some genuine issues of financial concern helps one to pick on the right partner or soul mate. Religious devotion may also draw an individual into a life of chastity and celibacy.

    Irrespective of your status chosen, there are some basic issues and principles of the civilized society to abide by. Regardless of the fact whether one is single or otherwise; we are all expected to maintain the minimum standards of decency and self control.

Be happy if you are a young parent

As teenagers, we are still figuring out who we are, and what we want from life. Finding out you’re going to become a young parent into another life transition as you’re figuring out.

If you’re in a relationship, the increased stress of pregnancy and raising a child can lead to putting extra strain on the relationship. One study found nearly half of young parents’ relationships had broken up by the time the child was a year old . You can protect against this by knowing about the factors that keep relationships strong, and where to get extra support.

Getting support

Just having a partner can be beneficial to you as a parent. Studies have shown that young mums supported by their partners feel more satisfied with their lives, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to be stressed . They are also likely to feel more ready for parenthood.

However, if you don’t have a partner, you needn’t despair. Research shows that single young parents who have good support from their parents and other family members can also report feeling more satisfied with their lives, and are less likely to be depressed or anxious .

Even if you don’t have support from your family, you can still feel the benefits of external support by connecting with other young parents or expectant parents through online forums. This kind of social support and parenting advice is also linked to stronger wellbeing , so it’s worth seeking support wherever you can get it.

Relationship quality

To protect against the breakdown of a relationship, it’s important to think about relationship quality. Evidence shows that the good bits of your relationship not only protect against breakup, but also help you feel more confident as a parent . This is true even if your partner isn’t the child’s biological parent .

A positive relationship between you and your partner is also good for your child, as they are less likely to be exposed to conflict and stress.

A strong sense of mutual love and attraction can often be enough to protect your relationship, but if you want to do something to make things stronger, consider upping your relationship equity. This means that you both make an equal contribution to the relationship. You can do this by sharing chores and childcare, but also by showing equal affection and support .

If your relationship breaks down, and you’re not getting the support you need from family and friends, you can try visiting the young parents section of the Family Lives website or using our forums to ask for tips and social support from other young parents.

How to save your marriage

Some of those factors, including ethnic background and socioeconomic status, are beyond a couple’s control.

But, say psychologists, there are many behaviors, such as how a couple talks and fights and even the type of dates they go on, that can be learned and practiced — and can give a pair a fighting chance at ’til death do they part.

The hand you’re dealt

Several demographic factors predict how well a marriage might fare, according to NCHS data. One is ethnicity: Asian women and foreign-born Hispanic men, for example, have the highest chance of the demographic groups studied that their marriages will last 20 years (70 percent), while black women have the lowest rate of reaching the two-decade mark (37 percent). For white men and women as well as black men, the chances are just more than 50 percent, NCHS reports.

Education also plays a role. Women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with a 41 percent chance among women with only a high school diploma, according to the NCHS data. Age at marriage is also a predictor of marital success: Couples who wed in their teens are more likely to divorce than those who wait to marry. In addition, a person whose first child is born after the wedding is more likely to stay married than one who enters a marriage already a parent.

Another factor is finances. A 2009 report from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, for example, showed that couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 in assets. That comes as no surprise to Terri Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University, who says arguments over money — how to spend, save and split it — plague even well-off couples. In her work with the Early Years of Marriage Project, a longitudinal study of 373 couples who married in 1986 (funded by the National Institutes of Health), Orbuch has found that seven out of 10 pairs name finances a cause of relationship trouble. “Money is the No. 1 source of conflict or tension,” she says.

Stress and the power of context

Other predictors of divorce are more contextual than personal. Stress, for example, can cause even the strongest relationships to crumble, psychologists’ research finds.

In one 2012 study, graduate student April Buck, PhD, and social psychologist Lisa Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin, evaluated diaries of 165 newlywed couples. Every day for 14 days, each participant responded to prompts about stressful circumstances (such as getting stuck in traffic), the energy expended to handle those stressors, their positive and negative interactions with partners, and their levels of satisfaction with their relationships.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that on the most stressful days, spouses reported more negative behaviors toward their partners and less satisfaction with their relationships. The psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012).

Couples who rarely get a chance to restore their “reserves,” such as those from low-income communities, can be particularly prone to marital dissatisfaction and divorce. In one study using data from about 4,500 respondents to the Florida Family Formation Survey, social psychologist Benjamin Karney, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues found that the marriages of lower-income couples were more likely to be hurt by stressful life events and mental health problems than the marriages of the more affluent couples.

Analysis of the same data set found that all respondents — regardless of income level — reported similar problems within their relationships, such as wanting more affection and struggling to communicate effectively with their partners. Lower-income groups, however, experienced more problems related to economic and social issues such as drinking or drug abuse (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2012).

“[Low-income couples] don’t say, ‘If only we had more skills training and better communication,'” says Karney. “What they say is, ‘If only we had better jobs, more money, more health care, more child care, more time to spend together.'”

He points to his work with military couples as an example of how strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress that can be toxic to a relationship. His team’s study found that military personnel are much more likely than civilians to be married and not as likely to be divorced compared with civilians of similar ages, races, employment statuses and education levels (Journal of Family Issues, 2012).

“There’s a lot of stress if you’re [part of] a military family, but at the same time, there are lots of things that the military is doing to try to protect you from that stress, to try to make it better,” says Karney. That includes providing health care, child care and allowances for housing and children. “It appears that those things are paying off.”

Cold feet: common or cursed?

Another predictor of divorce seems to be how a couple fares — and feels — even before they tie the knot.

One 2012 study of 232 newlyweds by researchers at UCLA, including Karney and led by doctoral student Justin Lavner, found that women who had reported premarital “cold feet” were more than two times as likely to be divorced four years later than couples in which the woman hadn’t experienced doubts. Men’s feet, on the other hand, did not have such predictive powers — they were more likely to be cold in the first place (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012).

Another study by the same team showed that marital trouble is also often evident soon after the vows. The researchers found that couples whose relationship satisfaction declined during the first four years of marriage were most often those who had reported less satisfaction to begin with (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012).

Orbuch’s analysis suggests the trajectory from bad to worse is likely to continue throughout the marriage and eventually to lead to divorce. By looking at how the Early Years of Marriage Project participants rated their marital happiness over time, she and her colleagues found couples tended to fit into two groups: those whose happiness started high and stayed that way, and those whose contentment started medium or low and got worse (Research in Human Development, 2012).

Making love last

Still, many happy honeymooners go on to divorce years later. Fortunately, psychologists are finding that many ways to strengthen a relationship’s odds of survival are surprisingly simple. “You don’t have to buy that $10,000 trip” to keep your partner satisfied, says Orbuch.

What does work? According to the latest research:

Know that a little goes a long way. In the Early Years of Marriage Project, Orbuch found that three-fourths of the happy couples reported that their spouses made them feel cared for or special often, while less than half of the unhappy couples reported the same. “Doing or saying small things frequently to make your partner feel special, cared for and loved … is very predictive of staying together, being happy and [preventing] divorce,” she says. These “positive affirmations” can be as simple as tucking a nice note in a spouse’s wallet or giving a shoulder rub after a long day at work, she adds.

Men seem to need these affirmations most, Orbuch’s analysis suggests. Men who didn’t feel affirmed by their wives were twice as likely to divorce as those did. The same effect didn’t hold true for women. Orbuch postulates that’s because women are more likely to receive such affirmations from others — a hug from a friend or a compliment from a stranger in line at the deli. “Men don’t get it from other people in their lives so they especially need it from their female partners or wives,” she says.

Fight nice. John Gottman, PhD, founder of the Gottman Institute and the University of Washington’s Love Lab, says that 69 percent of marital conflict never gets resolved. But research shows it’s how couples handle those inevitable sore spots that matters. “The people who have stable, happy relationships are much gentler with one another than people who have unhappy relationships or break up,” says Gottman, who’s known for his ability to predict which newlyweds will divorce with more than 90 percent accuracy by observing how they communicate (Journal of Family Psychology, 1992). “They’re kinder, they’re more considerate, they soften the way they raise a complaint.”

More recently, UCLA’s Lavner led another study reevaluating how a couple’s fighting style affected their marriages. He looked at data from 136 couples over the 10 years since their weddings. After a decade, the most striking difference between the couples who had divorced and the ones who stayed together was how they had handled conflict during their first year of marriage. The couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later. Couples’ communication patterns proved to be more predictive of divorce than their reported levels of commitment, personality assessments and stress (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012).

In the Early Years of Marriage Project, Orbuch also found that good communication set the happiest of couples apart from the less blissful. Partners who reported patterns of destructive behavior when dealing with conflict in the first year of marriage, for example, were more likely to divorce years later (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2010).

Talk about more than the dishes. But nice talk isn’t enough, says Orbuch. It also matters what you talk about. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household,'” she says, or detailing to-do lists and divvying up chores. The happiest couples also share their hopes, dreams and fears. “They’re spending time getting to know one another,” Orbuch says.

Gottman calls this “the existential area.” Conversing about “who are we, what’s our mission and what’s our legacy” creates shared meaning and purpose in the relationship, he says.

Celebrate good times. Other research suggests that supporting a spouse when times are good might go further than doing so when life goes sour. In a 2012 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Shelly Gable, PhD, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues found that participants who felt supported by a partner during a positive event, such as receiving a high rating at work, felt better about themselves and about their relationships. But feeling supported during negative events was inconsistently — and sometimes even negatively — linked to similar good feelings.

The researchers explain that finding by comparing it to a fire alarm: Testing the alarm to find it works makes you happier and more satisfied than discovering it works because there is a fire. At that point, the distress of the fire distracts from the appreciation of the alarm.

Take risks. Few factors undermine a relationship more than boredom, says Orbuch. In the Early Years of Marriage Project, she and her colleagues, including Aron, found that couples reporting boredom in the seventh year of marriage were significantly less likely to be satisfied with the relationship by their 16th anniversary (Psychological Science, 2009).

Growing used to your partner is natural, but it’s a process that can be slowed down, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and author of the 2013 book “The Myths of Happiness.” Her theory of hedonic adaptation holds that people are wired to become accustomed to positive changes in their lives, whether that change is a fresh outfit, a new job or a wedding band. “The positive emotions we get from the change get less and less frequent each time,” she says. “So the question is, how do you thwart that process? How do you reduce it?”

Psychologists say the answer can be summed up in three words: novelty, variety and surprise. By trying new and exciting activities together, couples can rekindle feelings similar to ones they once had, Lyubomirsky says. The technique supports what Aron showed in a 1993 study: that spouses were more satisfied with their relationships when they were told to go on more exciting dates, such as hiking or going to parties. Those who succumbed to the safer movie-rental routine didn’t reap the same benefits.

“If you open yourself up to new opportunities and potential surprises with your partner, then that can slow down adaptation,” says Lyubomirsky.

Know that love’s not enough. Perhaps the most important lesson relationship research has taught us is that marriage, like any other commitment, takes conscious effort to preserve, says Nicholas Kirsch, PhD, a couples therapist in Bethesda, Md.

“So many people do lifelong training in so many things — if you’re a golf enthusiast you go to the driving range a couple times a week. If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” he says. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

And the earlier you acquire the tools to maintain a relationship, the better, adds Gottman, who estimates that newlyweds who engage in his programs are three times more likely to succeed than those who wait until they need an intervention. “What makes love last is cherishing your partner and feeling lucky that you have this person in your life,” he says. “That act of cherishing is something that some couples build.”