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Couples who have a similar sense of humor and can laugh with and at one another—even when one partner is being teased or affectionately poked fun at by the other—are more likely to have satisfying relationships, according to a new study. On the flip side, people who are terrified of being laughed at and suffer from “gelotophobia” are less likely to be in happy and healthy relationships.
Of course, the worst laughter-related dynamic is someone who can “dish it out, but can’t take it.” These people make others the butt of their jokes, but don’t have an ounce of self-deprecating humor and hate being laughed at. This syndrome is called “katagelasticism” and is toxic for relationships.
The new paper, “To Love and Laugh: Testing Actor-, Partner-, and Similarity Effects of Dispositions Towards Ridicule and Being Laughed at on Relationship Satisfaction,” by psychologists from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany was recently published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
“Gelotophobia” is a fear of being laughed at by others or a romantic partner. On the flip side, “gelotophiles” are people who delight in actively seeking or creating situations in which others will laugh at them.
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The main takeaway of this research by Kay Brauer and René Proyer represents two sides of the same coin: (1) Joy of being laughed at (gelotophilia) is positively associated with relationship satisfaction; (2) Fear of being laughed at (gelotophobia) is negatively related with relationship satisfaction.
For this study, Brauer and Proyer conducted 154 online interviews with heterosexual couples designed to identify varying degrees of gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism in each partner.
Notably, fear of being laughed at was linked to a host of negative effects that included couples fighting more frequently and mistrusting one another. Conversely, humor-filled couples who bantered and laughed a lot—both with and at each other—reported more congeniality and a better sex life.
As would be expected, Brauer and Proyer found that katagelasticism—as marked by one partner deriving pleasure from laughing at the other in a mean-spirited way—was associated with couples arguing more and having less sex. “That is hardly surprising, considering that these people often go too far and make derisive comments which can then lead to an argument,” Brauer said in a statement.
He also points out that knowing whether someone in a relationship suffers from gelotophobia or katagelasticism is often overlooked during couples therapy and could be useful information to help couples who aren’t getting along improve their relationship satisfaction.
The Gershwin Brothers Knew a Thing or Two About Gelotophobia
The latest research on the link between romantic couples’ laughter-related dispositions and relationship satisfaction reaffirms that George and Ira Gershwin understood the importance of not being unnerved or hyper-sensitive when people laugh at you.
The Gershwin’s 1937 classic song, “They All Laughed,” provides a laundry list of famous people throughout history who were laughed at (e.g., “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round. They all laughed when Edison recorded sound. They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly; Hershey and his chocolate bar, etc.) But these notorious people ultimately had the last laugh because they didn’t have gelotophobia.
“They All Laughed” unwittingly addresses the individual and interpersonal benefits of being a gelotophile and how romantic partners can benefit by laughing with and at each other in a healthy way as posited by Brauer and Proyer. Surely, you know the lyrics to this song: “They all said we never could be happy, they laughed at us and how! But ha, ha, ha! Who’s got the last laugh now?”
If you’re part of a dissatisfied couple, the latest psychological research suggests that infusing some light-hearted humor and the gelotophilia captured in this Gershwin classic is a simple and fun-loving remedy that could improve your relationship satisfaction.
Frank Sinatra & Billy May recorded a hugely popular rendition of this song, as did Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, and Tony Bennett. The live Sarah Vaughan version (above) has an understated gravitas that drives home the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves with panache. Please take a few minutes to watch this performance and think about funny ways you can become more of a gelotophile by applying the message of this song to your romantic and platonic relationships.
Through the lens of the latest findings by Kay Brauer and René Proyer on the detriments of gelotophobia, “They All Laughed” expresses the universal message that singles and couples can both benefit from more levity and laughter in our daily lives and romantic partnerships.