Why Humor is Important in Relationships

Why Humor is Important in Relationships

When I was young and awkwardly venturing into my first relationships, my grandmother told me: “Marry someone who makes you laugh.” I brushed off her advice, because that’s what teenagers do, and a sense of humor seemed less important than other criteria like chemistry and romance, or even financial stability,

Decades later, I realize Grandma was right—and science agrees. There are many psychological studies that prove why humor is important in relationships. It can help two people click and feel connected, deepen the bond, and (more importantly) sustain them through tough times.

Humor can help you get a first date

According to Psychology Today, people view a sense of humor are perceived as more desirable. In one study which used fictional dating ads to measure first impressions, the ones that had included jokes were seen as warm and approachable.

Another study found that women tend to view humor as a measure of intelligence—depending, of course, on the kind of jokes you make. Needless to say, avoid racist or crass jokes that can be offensive and demeaning. Sarcasm can also be misinterpreted, so it’s best to save this until you get to know each other better.

Humor can break the ice and keep the conversation going. Once you let your guard down, you can end up having more serious and honest conversations. As the Kansas University study says, “First comes laughter, then love.”

Humor can help diffuse conflict

It’s normal for couples to bicker. However, a small disagreement can escalate into a major fight because words get misinterpreted or emotions run high.

That’s why humor is important in relationships. It can help relieve anger and tension, and help both of you step back and realize that you’re overreacting to a situation. It can help you laugh at yourself when you made a mistake, or take a partner’s idiosyncrasies in stride.

Humor can help you accept each other  

For example, every newly-married couple go through an adjustment period. You notice new habits, realize differences in personalities, and have to get used to sharing your personal space with each other.

It’s hard, especially for people who have strong or very independent personalities. But after months (or even years) into marriage, you learn that you can’t fight over every single thing. You have to choose your battles. There are some things you just need to laugh off or let go, or you’ll drive each other crazy.

That’s why relationship coaches always say that a sense of humor can save a marriage. You may not always agree with each other, but if you can laugh about it together, you’ll still enjoy each other’s company.  


Humor can help you stay connected

After couples have been together for several years, the definition of romance and intimacy will change.

You get busy with kids and housework. You’re distracted by work and the pressure of paying the bills. By the end of the day, you just want to go to bed and sleep. You simply don’t have the time or energy to go on an elaborate date. Your sex drive may also go down.

But once again, humor can save the day. A fancy date isn’t needed to feel close or have fun. You enjoy chatting over dinner. You can vent about a bad day, and count on each other to listen and make you laugh.

As the Greater Good Institute said, “Humor is a social glue.” The ability to laugh with another person makes you feel that someone understands you, and sees the world in a similar way.

That’s why social psychologist Sara Algoe tells couples to look for opportunities to laugh together. Watch a funny movie, do something silly, share a hobby you both enjoy.  “Sharing a laugh benefits a relationship the most.”

Humor helps your happy hormones  

Stress hormones can have a real effect on your relationship. High cortisol levels can make you more aggressive, so you can blow up even during small fights. It can dampen your sex drive, or affect your ability to enjoy sex because of issues like erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness. It can lead to anxiety and depression, which can make you emotionally distant and unavailable.

But there is truth in the saying that laughter is the medicine. When you laugh, your body produces endorphin or your happiness hormone. It calms you and tells your body to turn off its fight-or-flight mechanism. It boosts your energy levels.

That’s why humor is important for self-care. No matter how busy you are, find opportunities to laugh more. If you’re really stressed, take a break and watch something funny—whether it’s a stand-up comedian, or Youtube videos of kittens playing.  When a problem happens, step back and try to see the humor in the situation. Imagine yourself as a character in your favorite sitcom.

Practicing humor throughout your day helps you and your partner. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re emotionally and mentally depleted by the time you get home, it’s impossible to be able to give your partner your attention—you’re already running on fumes!

Healthy versus unhealthy humor

There are many reasons why humor is important in relationships, but all these assume that you have a healthy kind of humor.

The best humor is when you laugh together. It helps you feel closer. It relieves stress. It makes you feel you always have someone who understands you, and wants to make you happy. However, unhealthy humor can create the completely opposite effect.

Do you make jokes at the other person’s expense?

You may think it’s funny to laugh at your partner’s mistakes or snide remarks about their personality, but if they’re not laughing then it’s not a good joke. 

For example, you may joke about a partner gaining weight or eating habits. For you, it’s funny; for her, it can leave a deep scar, especially because the words were said by someone she loves and trusts.

And if your partner tells you that she doesn’t like the joke, it’s thousand times worse when you say, “Aw, come on, you’re overreacting. You don’t have any sense of humor.” You’re ignoring their feelings, and making them feel that it’s their fault that they feel bad. (FYI, that’s gaslighting.)

It’s also important to consider when you make the jokes. What seems funny when it’s just the two of you may be embarrassing when said to other people. Your partner is not “material” for your personal stand-up comedy routine.

Do you use jokes to avoid problems?

Some people use humor when they start to feel uncomfortable talking about a problem. It’s a defense mechanism: “I don’t want to deal with this, so I’ll find ways to change the topic or distract you, and then make a run for it.”

Unfortunately, that can lead to bigger problems down the road. Your partner may feel that you’re not listening, or the relationship isn’t important to you. Your jokes may even make it sound that you’re making fun of their feelings.

In this situation, humor isn’t bringing you closer together—you’re actually using it as an emotional barrier, and it will eventually drive you apart.

Do you have aggressive humor?

Aggressive humor is when you use “jokes” to manipulate, control or attack another person. You  intimidate or embarrass them so they drop an argument, or you make them feel that what they’re saying or doing is stupid.

The most common form of aggressive humor is sarcasm. While it can occasionally be funny, if you do it too often or take it too far, it can lead to several problems in a relationship. It can cause resentment, reduce trust, and foster feelings of insecurity and shame.

The power of laughter

So as you can say, a sense of humor (or lack thereof) can have a serious impact on a relationship. But how do you develop it? What if you’re not “a witty person” or can’t tell a joke to save your life?

Remember, humor is less about being funny, and more about being able to laugh with somebody. That comes from a generally positive attitude, and the ability to listen and be sensitive to each other’s emotional cues.  

So, you don’t have to be a comedian. You just have to be caring, warm, and eager to make your partner smile. The best humor isn’t necessarily witty, but it is always sincere.

If you’re lucky, you have the same sense of humor and instantly click the moment you meet. But even if you are different, the more time you spend with each other, the more you’ll know they enjoy.

In other words, humor can be developed. The point of this article on why humor is important in relationships is to remind you to do it—not make you worry that you’re “not funny enough.” Nurture your sense of humor the way you nurture intimacy, trust, and communication. Your relationship will be stronger (and happier) because of it.

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