We preen and show off. We get gushy and obsequious. Get furious and caught unawares. We lose ourselves and find ourselves. If you can’t laugh at relationships you probably can’t laugh. More importantly, it’s clear that laughing at — or at least through — your relationship may be a huge key to success.
It can lighten difficult situations. Turn a problem into the opportunity for laughable self-reflection. Make hard times easier. And make great times even better.
Not surprisingly, it’s not about telling jokes. It doesn’t mean the two of you are bantering like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday,” or playing out some romantic comedy. It isn’t biting, sarcastic, cruel, insulting, or unkind.
It’s kind of a private language based on mutual appreciation, respect, and trust. You turn the craziness of life and love into your own brand of observation and word play. It’s about having fun together. Going through life with a sense of irony. Taking the opportunity to amuse and delight each other, even in dark moments.
Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow internet service, to see who they really are.” Will Ferrell
In the not-humorous “Humor in Romantic Relationships, a Meta-Analysis,” Jeffrey A. Hall, Department of Communication Studies, University of Kansas, looked at the correlation of humor and relationship satisfaction. He reviewed 39 studies, involving more than 15,000 participants.
He found positive humor is associated with high relationship satisfaction, and negative humor is associated with low satisfaction.
He writes, “… playfulness between romantic partners is a crucial component in bonding and establishing relational security” and that laughter, “particularly shared laughter, is an important indicator of romantic attraction.”
Also, “… aggressive humor is a bad sign … mean-spirited jokes [often reflect] the relationship.”
Basically, humor is beneficial when it’s used in a positive fashion.
If you’re not in a relationship, humor can help.
Another study asked 35 volunteers to rate the Facebook profiles of 100 strangers, 300 students to fill out a survey on humor and courtship, and 51 single volunteers to spend 10 minutes chatting to a partner they’d never met and rate how attractive they were. The conclusion was when respondents made more effort to be funny, and they got more laughter in response, they had better chances of romance.
Women valued delivery and reception of humor equally, while men emphasized the importance of their partner to laugh at their jokes. But both men and women prefer someone with “a good sense of humor” as a relationship partner.
A blog post in Psychology Today revealed that women were three times more likely to give their phone number to a man who told jokes than one who didn’t. The humorous men were also considered more attractive, intelligent, funny, and sociable.
God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood to run both at the same time.” Robin Williams
Here is are some “good” and “bad” types of humor in the context of being in relationship:
Good types of humor:
#1 Self-deprecation. Accept a difficult situation gracefully or make yourself the object of humor.
#2 Gossip or complaints. As long as you both feel the same way about a situation or person, you can have some fun at their expense.
#3 Practical. If the joke is good natured, and both of you are amused by such things.
#4 Childish. Use silly names and funny voices. Make dorky observations. As long as you both find it funny.
#5 Situational. It can ease an awkward moment, bring you closer when faced with a social or cultural challenge, or make some dull moment more engaging.
#6 Bathroom. Yeah, it’s the lowest common denominator, but can also be the funniest.
#7 Contextual. Relate to a difficult situation by reflecting on similar experiences.
Bad types of humor:
#1 Sarcasm. Mean-spirited humor just creates defensiveness.
#2 Insults. An insult veiled as humor is still an insult.
#3 Self-aggrandizement. Bragging isn’t attractive.
#4 Critical. Criticism veiled as humor is still criticism.
#5 Harassment. Making your partner’s flaws or foibles the object of a joke — especially in a group situation — is not funny, it’s mean.
Divorce is possibly as old as marriage. Although I suppose that marriage is several weeks older.” Voltaire
If humor is part of your relationship, you can also learn to manage conflict with humor. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t use humor to cover up other emotions
- Monitor nonverbal cues
- Avoid mean-spirited humor
- Create inside jokes
- Tap into your playful side
Erotic, not kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and a chicken.” Terry Pratchett
Here are some physical practices that help develop and sustain good humor:
Fun with balance:
- Start by bringing to mind that this is about connection and working together. Let it be fun and silly, but not a contest.
- First, stand about three feet apart and make steady, gentle eye contact. Breathe together.
- Find your own balance in a stable tadasana (mountain pose)
- Each of you raise your left leg just off the ground and find your balance
- Then bring your left knee toward your own chest and find your balance
- Then extend your leg toward your partner, who will take it in their right hand
- Explore that mutual balance, find your stability
- Then you can make it a game by exploring imbalance, by gently twisting, tilting, and shifting together … try to maintain and disrupt each other’s balance at the same time — if you fall or stumble, just reconnect
- After a few minutes, find stability, then gently release each other’s leg
- Now switch sides and try again.
“It’s all about remembering how to play,” says Lucid Dawn, a Bay Area yoga instructor who works with partners and couples. “Laughter is a great anxiety releaser … as we dare to fumble about trying new shapes and moves, we laugh, find erotic innocence, and naturally refresh our connections.”
Fun sharing weight:
- This is best if one partner can lie one on top of the other, but you can also snuggle face to face, making as much contact as possible, hugging each other close.
- Make gentle eye contact
- Take a few normal breaths together
- Then inhale deeply and exhale with a forceful “Hah!”
- Repeat six to 10 times
- Enjoy what happens — which is usually the two of you cracking up
Dance like just the two of you are watching (thanks Theresa):
- Put on your favorite music, stand face to face, and dance, mirroring each other so one partner copies the moves of the other. Get loose and silly
Honesty is the key to a relationship. If you can fake that, you’re in.” Richard Jeni
Speaking for my own relationship, we’ve been cracking up each other for nearly 30 years. In fact, I imagine if she didn’t think I was funny, I’d probably be intolerable. And she’s one of the funniest people I know.
It’s gotten us through all the craziness of life and love. Truly made the hard times easier and the good times more satisfying.
If there really is a last laugh, I look forward to sharing it with her.
Sources and Further Reading (in no particular order)
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2000). The subtlety of emotions. MIT Press.
Butzer, B., & Kuiper, N. A. (2008). Humor use in romantic relationships: The effects of relationship satisfaction and pleasant versus conflict situations. The Journal of psychology, 142, 245-260.
Bressler, E. R., Martin, R. A., & Balshine, S. (2006). Production and appreciation of humor as sexually selected traits. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 121-130.
Campbell, L., & Moroz, S. (2014). Humor use between spouses and positive and negative interpersonal behaviors during conflict. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 10(3), 532-542.
Green, R. (2001). The art of seduction. Penguin.
Hall, J. A. (2015). Sexual selection and humor in courtship a case for warmth and extroversion. Evolutionary Psychology, 13.
Hall, J. A. (2017). Humor in romantic relationships: A meta‐analysis. Personal Relationships, 24, 306-322.
Nussbaum, M. C. (2016). Anger and forgiveness: resentment, generosity, justice. Oxford University Press.
Wilbur, C. J., & Campbell, L. (2011). Humor in romantic contexts: Do men participate and women evaluate? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 918-929.