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Laughter Helps Lighten the Load : Marital Tension Can be Tamed by Teasing, but Timing Is Important, Experts Say


Sometimes, she'll strike a pose that mimics him to help break the tension after an argument. "That always makes him laugh because it looks so absurd on me," she says.

Ellis Wayne, a Newport Beach psychologist, says exaggeration is one of the most effective ways of bringing humor into a relationship.

If you're trying to pack for a trip and you find your mate has forgotten to include your socks in the laundry, don't say: "Why the hell didn't you wash my socks?"

Try something more outrageous, like: "You obviously hate me and you're doing this to drive me insane, right?"

With the latter response, you're much more likely to avoid a silly argument--and get your socks washed, Wayne says.

If you have trouble tapping your sense of humor in a tense situation, it may be because you're too "self-involved," Wayne notes.

"You have to step outside yourself for a moment and see the ridiculousness of a situation," he explains. "You can't do that if you're too wrapped up in your own frustration and anger."

Sue Kirby, a motivational speaker who is writing a book to help women see the humor in their relationships with men, says she has discovered at home and on the podium that people are more receptive to a serious message if it is delivered with humor.

In a marriage, she says, "usually one responds to it and one dishes it out."

She's the one who dishes it out in her marriage, but the El Toro resident knows what it's like to lose her sense of humor because she wallowed in misery after the breakup of her first marriage.

Getting her sense of humor back as she worked through her pain made her realize the importance of laughter to her emotional equilibrium.

But, she says, the fast pace of life in Orange County makes it difficult for people to stay in touch with their sense of humor.

"We've stopped talking to each other, listening, being ourselves. We don't let our hair down," she observes. "We're stressed out more than ever, and I think humor is the answer. If it doesn't come naturally, we have to work on it. We all have it. We have to trust that it's in there."

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