Ordinary, mundane and fleeting moments of humour and playfulness that couples experience in their everyday lives together may have a great impact upon the health of their relationship. Such moments may provide a foundation for handling more significant events such as handling conflict.
A study in the US conducted by Janice Driver and John Gottman (Daily Marital Interactions and Positive Affect During Marital Conflict Among Newlywed Couples, Family Process, 2004, 43, 301-315) examined the possible connection between playfulness and enthusiasm in everyday life with the use of humour and affection during conflict. Using observational methods they studied 49 newlywed couples in a 10-minute dinnertime interaction and in a 15-minute conflict discussion. The conflict discussion was coded and analysed. Their findings provided support for the importance of daily moments in couple relationships.
The authors provided this example:
Cynthia and David were arguing about finances again. Cynthia had painstakingly saved for months to create a buffer for future emergencies. David wanted to use the money to take the family on a much-needed vacation. This discrepancy between saving and spending had become a common theme, so the conflict quickly became heated and territorial. Suddenly, Cynthia looked down and said, "What happened to your socks?" Startled, David looked down at his blackened socks and commented, "I had to chase a raccoon out of our garden and I didn't have time to put on my shoes." They both laughed.
Driver and Gottman commented: “This couple's fleeting moment of shared laughter and positive emotion was seemingly unimportant compared with the more important task of resolving their conflict. Yet, in our research, this laughter turned out to be one of the most important moments in the couple's discussion. We found that the ability to use positive affect (such as humor or affection) during conflict is essential in predicting the future health of the relationship.”
When we are working with couples using the Prepare-Enrich inventories we can often observe couples using humour and being playful. It would be helpful to draw their attention to this, and to encourage them to recognize just what kind of helpful resource they have and how it could help them in times of conflict and stress.
More tips and reminders, tune in next week...
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PREPARE/ENRICH is a customised online assessment tool that identifies each couples unique strength and growth areas. Based on their assessment results, a facilitator provides feedback sessions, helping couples to discuss and understand their results while teaching them proven relationship skills.