A “good” sense of humor is
something most of us look for in a mate—but what does that mean exactly?
Psychologists have identified four main types of humor, and one stands out as
especially helpful in romantic relationships.
4 Ways to Tickle a Funny Bone
According to researchers
charged with the unfunny business of analyzing jokes and jests, humor can be
divided into four
Affiliative humor is positive and outwardly directed—and it works best for strengthening
relationships. This type of humor uses jokes or witty banter to brighten up
someone else’s day or lighten up an interpersonal conflict. You’re laughing
with—not at—another person about something relatively neutral, from a gag in a
movie to the quirks of a job. In a tough situation, this brand of humor sends a
powerful message that “we’ll get through this together, smiling.”
Self-enhancing humor is positive, but inwardly directed. It involves having an amused
outlook on life. In a difficult situation, being able to see the funny side can
reduce stress, so it’s great for psychological health. Yet self-enhancing humor
isn’t aimed directly at building a relationship the way affiliative humor is.
Aggressive humor is outwardly directed, but negative. Rather than boosting others up,
it puts them down. Aggressive humor often takes the form of cruel teasing,
sarcasm, or ridicule, and the guise of just kidding around doesn’t fool anyone.
Hostility comes through loud and clear, driving other people away.
Self-defeating humor is negative and inwardly directly. An occasional self-deprecating
remark may be charming, but making yourself the butt of every joke or laughing
along while being ridiculed by others isn’t appealing. People who over-rely on
this type of humor tend to be anxious and lonely.
If you and your partner can’t
agree over how to spend the weekend or whether it’s okay to keep texting an ex,
affiliative humor might help, based on a forthcoming study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
A team of researchers led by Heike Winterheld, PhD, an assistant professor of
psychology at Cal State East Bay, videotaped dating couples as they tried to resolve
real-life conflicts in their relationships.
Affiliative humor tended to
be well received—and the more upset couples were, the more it helped cut the
tension. People who used this style of humor not only reduced their partners’
anger, they also boosted their own satisfaction with how things turned out.
That’s not surprising. People
who are able to calm down their partners this way probably feel great about it
afterward. Past research has shown that using affiliative humor is associated
with higher self-esteem,
increased well-being, and lower anxiety and depression.
Ultimately, humor can help make—or break—a relationship. In
a study of 146 married and
divorced couples, use of affiliative and self-enhancing humor, especially
by men, was related to greater relationship satisfaction. On the other hand, women who used self-defeating humor and men who used aggressive humor were particularly likely to be divorced.