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Then, when you're calmer, go after him with a smile. "Humor is very important in defusing tension," Diamond says. She describes one couple whose argument in the lab had grown extremely heated. A lab assistant intervened, suggesting they move on to the second chosen topic of conflict. And that topic was, as Diamond recalls, "the neighbor's cow." The two combatants looked at each other, dissolved into giggles, and left, minutes afterward, arm in arm. "We never found out what that source of conflict was supposed to be about," Diamond says. Whatever it was, it didn't make them angry anymore. It made them laugh. It restored their shared affection. "It's always reassuring when we see couples start to laugh."

Back in the observation room, Tim is squirming on the couch and Stacey's stare is glacial. The lab assistant, directing the interaction toward resolution, suggests that they tell each other something positive.

Tim looks at Stacey and smiles. "I think we have fun most of the time," he says. "We make each other laugh."

Stacey's pursed lips slowly relax. "Well, there was the time you wore that really tight pair of underwear." She smiles, too. "That was funny."

The research associate unhooks them from the various machines. They rise, take each other's hands—another important small gesture—and leave.

"It would be interesting to hear the conversations between these couples in the car on the way home," Diamond says. Or maybe that's one small area in which science should leave well enough alone.

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