DALLAS — Think you’re going to explode if your spouse leaves one more dish in the sink or another pile of dirty clothes on the floor? Don’t give up – it gets better!
A study from the University of California at Berkeley found the longer a marriage lasts, the more humor wins out. Scientists spent 13 years tracking 87 husbands and wives who’ve been married 15 to 35 years and discovered things that annoy us at first often begin to amuse us in time.
While science shows marriage mellows us, we wanted to find the real stories that support those stats.
So we went to visit Frank and Nancy Pike. They live at Presbyterian Village North, a retirement community in Dallas. They’ve been married for 63 years.
And when we sat down, the first thing we noticed was that they were holding hands - even after six decades together.
“Well, we’re partners,” Frank said.
“It’s more comfortable,” Nancy explained.
“How did we stay together so long? Kind of a mutual respect for each other’s opinion. We try to be happy. We try not to take life too seriously, although it gets real serious when you’re our age,” Nancy said.
They both began to laugh a little.
“As you age, stuff happens,” Frank said, “the wheels go flat.”
The laughter got louder.
“Sometimes we make each other argue,” she said, with Frank quickly looking at our cameras and saying, “Cut that! That goes out!”
Arguments are rare because they’ve learned to let things go.
“Just keep moving ahead,” Frank said. “Not every day is going to be the most blessed day.”
Nancy said she still values spending time with Frank.
“I love, love, love to go out to lunch with just you,” she said to him, “or I love to sit and play a game with just you. That special time seems to keep the romance in the relationship.”
They also like spending time together helping others.
“I think getting outside of yourself strengthens the marriage,” Nancy said. “It helps you be a better person.”
“Sounds holier than thou,” Frank said, making Nancy giggle. “I know - it sounds a little preachy!” she said, “but, it’s God’s honest truth!”
We wanted to find another couple who could tell us whether a lighthearted attitude strengthens, and maybe even lengthens, a relationship.
Dick Monday and Tiffany Riley founded the Laughter League – a clown troupe that visits schools and hospitals across North Texas and beyond.
We followed them around Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth as they shared their comedy with patients and families.
The pair worked perfectly in sync, dressed in white coats, big shoes, big red noses and white faces.
When Dick and Tiffany transform into Dr. Monday and Dr. Slappy, laughter echoes down the halls.
“We have this shared vocabulary,” Tiffany said. “He can say one word and I know where he’s going. And I can go there with him. Or, I can choose not to go with him - depending on how I feel,” she said with a smirk.
“Now would that be a good partner if you did that?” Dick asked.
“No, probably not,” she said.
2019 has been a difficult year. Tiffany’s mother passed away. And they lost some patients, too.
“We’ve had some tragedies this year and eventually we find that when we do find the laugh, the laughter reminds you of breathing,” Dick said with a sigh. “And things just aren’t so bad, you know.”
Humor helps them heal, and it also helps them deal with life’s little annoyances.
“I’m a straightener,” Dick said.
“Yep, he’s a straightener and I’m not,” Tiffany admitted.
“We’ve always known this,” Dick said. “And I knew right away that it was going to be a – situation,” he said, pausing to find the right word. “A situation that was going to be relevant in our relationship forever.”
“Situation – huh, interesting,” Tiffany said, smiling.
The two laughed describing how they’ve come to terms with Tiffany’s lack of tidying up through the years.
“Nothing has changed,” Dick said. “We don’t change behavior with laughter!”
“We celebrate it!” Tiffany laughed.
“Celebrate?” Dick asked. “You celebrate it, I cope!”
They laughed, as they are keen to do.
It's one reason they’ve been together for 22 years.
“There is an actual physical benefit to laughing,” said Rebecca Corona, lead psychologist for Parkland Hospital’s Community Oriented Primary Care Clinics. “When we laugh, it releases a chemical called oxytocin, which helps us feel closer to the people that we’re laughing with. So, it bonds us to them.”
Humor helps us all keep a healthy perspective, Corona said, especially in relationships and marriages.
“It might be that your spouse likes to leave their socks on the floor,” she said, explaining how trouble can begin. “But it’s not really about the socks on the floor, it’s about not feeling heard or respected. And if this isn’t addressed, usually in a humorous way, your spouse might not be able to understand it and you might not be able to convey what you really need.”
“Many of us feel backed into a corner and when we’re backed into a corner, we feel like there’s no choice,” she said. “But the reality is we always have a choice. We may not like the choices in front of us, but we can always choose differently.”
She said large problems can come out in strange ways.
“If my husband leaves his socks on the floor, I can choose to become upset about it. Or I can realize this is a habit we can either work together to change or if he chooses not to change, then I can choose to focus my energy elsewhere.”
Relationships are rarely perfect, but those built on respect, commitment, love, and laughter - a lot of laughter - usually last.
The people we met back what science seems to prove: humor is good for your soul and your soul mate.
RELATED: Woman's art memorializes her husband