Using Humor to Boost Relationship Satisfaction

Source: photo by Dianne Grande

We have all heard about the benefits of laughter for our physical health, including the lowering of blood pressure, and the reduction of stress hormones. There are also many anecdotal reports of how laughter relieves tension between two individuals in a stressful situation. Humor is uniquely effective when shared by both partners in relationship. Social science research has shown that shared laughter is correlated with relationship satisfaction (Kurtz & Algoe, 2015). That conclusion is also reached by many psychologists, including myself, who regularly work with couples.

There are a few guidelines when using humor with your partner. It is critical that the humor is not hurtful, nor an excuse to get in a jab when you’re annoyed. If you are not sure that the other partner will be able to laugh without being offended, it’s better to keep the joke to yourself. Sarcasm is one form of humor that needs to be used carefully in relationship because it can be hurtful if directed at your partner. Teasing is another version of humor that requires sensitivity. Be certain that the other person can laugh at him/herself in the context of your teasing. For example, I have the habit of talking to myself, usually in the morning while getting myself psyched up for the day. My husband finds this to be amusing and usually asks me how my “conversation” is going. I am glad to see him amused, and I take no offense to his teasing me.  I truly believe that talking to yourself is not a sign of psychosis, as some would think. It is a healthy habit, as long as you’re saying nice things to yourself!

Having laid down some guidelines, here are my suggestions for adding laughter to your relationship.

1. You do not have to be the life of the party or the class clown to have a sense of humor. Let yourself enjoy the humor that others create. Be open to laughing at your partner’s jokes, or just re-telling a funny comment that you heard during your day. If your entire social network is a serious bunch, reach out further. Consider joining a “laughter club” or a class in “laughter yoga”. And yes, as John Oliver might say, laughter yoga is “a thing.”

2. Let the professional comedians draw your laughter. Attend a comedy show with your partner, or just watch one on TV. There are so many great comedians performing and many of them are making specials for the TV audience. Some of my personal favorites include Amy Schumer and Kevin Hart, not to mention the classic Jerry Seinfeld. If you’ve only got a few minutes available, watch a funny U-Tube video together.

3. Lighten the load of a stressful day by being silly or goofy with each other. I have worked with couples who seem to be complete opposites in personality type but who manage to defuse the tension during an argument just by being goofy together.

4. Try to see the lighter side of an issue that may cause stress in your household. After giving some serious thought to a problem and doing whatever can be done, allow yourself to move on by considering the bright side of the situation. Your oven breaks down on the day that you have a formal dinner party planned. What better excuse is there to simply order in pizza? Your guests may not believe the excuse, but at least you and your co-host can share a laugh about it.

5. Make up a funny way to flirt with each other. Maybe it’s a facial expression or a gesture. Use your imagination with this one. All that matters is that the other person gets the message and enjoys your humorous way of sending it.

6. Appreciate the humor of ironic situations that may create stress. Here’s an example: I am a couples’ therapist who works with people daily on improving their communication with each other, since open and clear communication is one critical part of relationship satisfaction. Much of my day is spent carefully listening and responding. By the time I get home, I sometimes have had enough careful listening for the day. I wonder if my husband appreciates the irony of that situation? I hope he finds that irony to be as humorous as I do.

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