Here in Latvia April Fool's day has always been a thing. However, it got us thinking, how significant is sense of humor in our relationships? We found this article by Gil Greenross quite helpful and interesting in our search for the answer.
A sense of humor is an attractive trait. There is abundant cross cultural evidence that shows that being funny makes you more desirable as a mate, especially if you are a man. But once the initial flirting is over, and you are in a romantic relationship, how large a role does humor play?
For dating couples, the use of positive humor (for example, using humor to cheer up your date) can positively contribute to relationship satisfaction. The use of aggressive humor, on the other hand (teasing and making fun of your partner) has the opposite effect. These feelings can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, depending on each partner’s use of humor.
For long-term relationships, such as in marriages, couples generally share a similar sense of humor—although similarities in sense of humor are not associated with greater marital satisfaction, nor with longer marriages. Perhaps not surprisingly, the research that resulted in this finding also found that couples with fewer children laugh more, compared to couples with a larger number of children.
In another study, conducted with 3,000 married couples from five countries, both husbands and wives were found to be happier with a humorous partner, but this trait was reported to be more important for the marital satisfaction of the wives than the husbands. Interestingly, both husbands and wives thought that the husband was humorous more often. Regardless, married couples overwhelmingly say that humor has a positive impact on their marriages.
But what happens when things aren’t going so well? Humor is a great icebreaker and a social lubricant, but can it also help resolve conflict in marriages? In one study, researchers observed 60 newlywed couples when they discussed a problem in their marriage. They coded how much humor was used in the conversation. The couples also completed a measure of life stress. What researchers found when they followed up 18 months later was quite surprising. In couples that reported high stress, the more the husband used humor, the greater the chance the couple would separate or divorce.
By contrast, in a similar study with 130 married couples, a wife’s use of humor predicted greater marital stability over six years, but only if the humor led to a decrease in their husband’s heart rate. In other words, if the humor calms the husbands, then it might be beneficial to their marriages.
These two studies show the disparate function of humor for men and women. For men, humor might serve as a way to distract from dealing with problems in the relationship, perhaps in an attempt to reduce their own anxiety. Women, on the other hand, may use humor to create a more relaxed atmosphere that can facilitate reconciliation.
Read the full artilcle by Gil Greengross, Ph.D., here.