The surprising secret to happiness in relationships, according to psychologists

As wonderful as it is being in a long-term and committed relationship, it presents its fair share of challenges, even for those in open relationships.

In fact, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association.

That’s why it’s productive to look at couples who successfully navigate their inevitable periods of conflict and disagreement in long-term relationships.

According to psychologists at University College of London, a key component to relationship health is that happy couples are able to relish the positive and happy moments together. It may seem obvious, but sharing the joys of everyday life with your partner is what helps to promote long-term stability and happiness in the relationship.

The core way to do this is through laughter.

That’s right, laughing with your partner is the surprising secret to happiness in relationships.

Psychologists from University College of London studied middle-aged and older married couples and focused on the general relationship benefits of being able to manage emotions. Labelling this as “emotional regulation”, the psychologists saw this as the ability to make yourself feel better when you feel bad.

Laugher is the most important component of “emotional regulation”. As the researchers stated:

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“Laughter is one of the positive emotional expressions, which are expressly linked to a physiological reduction in the stressful reactions to negative emotions (e.g., fear, anger, disgust), in a way which may be more effective than other ways of managing negative emotions”

In a Stanford University study, psychologist Lian Block and collaborators used data from a 13-year study of heterosexual marriages to examine whether those who used the process of “downregulating” negative emotion ended up being better at facing relationship strife. “Downregulating” involves getting yourself to feel better when there is conflict, for example through laughing.

The Stanford study brought the married couples together in a 15 minute session where they got them to talk about the events of the day, a topic of continued disagreement and a pleasant topic or something they enjoyed doing together.

Their physiological reactions and emotions were monitored during the sessions. The participants also rated the quality of their own conflict resolution.

The findings were interesting. It turned out that downregulating emotions was a key predicter of marital satisfaction. However, it was more likely that downregulating would predict marital satisfaction when it was carried out by the wife as compared with the husband.

Psychology Today reported on these research results and concluded:

“These findings suggest that you may be able to control the emotional climate of your relationship by bringing laughter into it. At first, it might seem strange or forced, but over time, you may find that you and your partner actually find more to laugh about in common. Press the pause button on conflicts before they become destructive and take a moment to put things in perspective. Who knows? Once you take that step back, the whole situation may become laughable. As difficult as it might be the first time, getting in the habit of downregulating together may be the best medicine for long-term relationship fulfillment.”


Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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