February 9, 2021

The Ugly Side of Humor in Relationships.

“Every joke has an element of truth.” ~Russian Proverb


Humor is the inclination of an experience to provoke laughter, but before we crack that joke, shouldn’t we perhaps examine our style and intentions?

Scientists have identified four broad styles of humor:

>> Affiliative (enhances one’s relationship with others).

>> Self-enhancing (makes you feel better by finding humor in a situation).

>> Aggressive (sarcasm, teasing, ridicule).

>> Self-defeating (putting one’s self down to gain approval from others).

In the Journal of Research in Personality, psychologist Rod Martin revealed that almost everyone’s sense of humor is a blend of these different styles, but there can be a proclivity toward one or the other.

The advantages and disadvantages are many, depending on our style.

So how can we know when our humor could be destructive rather than constructive?

We make jokes about everything in today’s society. It seems as if nothing is off the table when it comes to poking fun at someone or something, most often at the expense of others.

If it’s funny, why am I not laughing? And even if I am, why do I feel my muscles tensing and a lump in my throat?

Like most things in life, humor is a blessing and a burden. It can serve as a means to peace or a weapon of war.

The irony is that many aren’t aware of the subtle, potentially destructive impact some humor can have on their self-worth, self-confidence, and overall mental health.

We sometimes ignore or trade the obvious triggers in the pit of our belly for temporal and shallow amusement.

Over a period, we unconsciously then begin to question our worth, values, and contributions to ourselves, family, and society.

There’s a price for every outburst of laughter, but whose is it to pay?

Humor is a chameleon, a double-edged sword that breaks the ice at the dinner table or smears the innocence in the human spirit.

It can diffuse difficult situations as well as sow seeds of discord.

Humor can be used to self-deprecate, a personality trait that shields the insecure from potential threats to their psyche and well-being.

What often seems like a harmless form of social interaction can also become a malicious, manipulative tool to wound, hurt, and defeat an opponent—any opponent, even our loved ones.

So why is it that so many rank a sense of humor as a top tier must-have when seeking a partner?

Ultimately, we desire someone who can make us smile and laugh. Life can be hard, and a good sense of humor often gets us through the tough times.

The joy of breaking bread and into rapturous laughter at the end of a long, challenging day is a luxury many anticipate in a relationship.

When we can find humor, even in darkness, it can lighten difficult situations.

But which style of humor are we looking for?

Just because we want someone who can provide laughter during life’s darkest hour doesn’t mean we should date any clown.

Humor is personal, with individual preferences.

Some develop a taste for the dry, sarcastic witticisms, while others crave silly, slapstick one-liners.

Some perceive themselves as funny, while those in their company scratch their heads, finding their particular style of humor questionable, boring, or outrightly disrespectful.

A joke at a funeral could be welcomed by many, yet viewed as cruel and insensitive by others.

For it to be the ray of sunshine during our darkest days, both people need to have and appreciate a similar taste in humor or they are at risk for one or the other feeling unheard and unimportant.

It is as if they are not being taken seriously by their partner, and this can distort the trajectory and dynamics of any relationship. Humor needs to be palatable and easy to digest, if it were to ever reach its full potential and provoke pristine laughter.

So how do we know?

My joke may insult you, and your joke may insult me. My humor may come with an opt-in to ensure you’ve agreed to the content I’m about to share—and that you’re okay with that.

And yours? That’s up for debate.

Jokes can often encapsulate one’s deepest thoughts and desires. And you can tell a lot about a person and their state of mind by the texture of the jokes they tell.

It also speaks volumes about who we are.

So ask yourself these seven questions to understand on a deeper level what a sense of humor actually means to you:

>> How do I react to insensitive jokes directed at other people, groups, race, gender, etc?

>> How would I want someone in my company to react?

>> If a good sense of humor is a sign of emotional intelligence, then what does a skewed sense of humor equate to?

>> And who decides?

>> Why is humor important to me?

>> How do I apply humor in my personal and professional life?

>> What style of humor am I looking for when I list it on my top tier must-haves in a partner?

If you want to learn more about humor styles, take this quiz to learn how you can cultivate your sense of humor in an effort to build rapport, strengthen relationships, and put others at ease.

When we apply humor with thought and sensitivity, we are gifting others and ourselves with an opportunity to navigate life’s tougher terrain gracefully–while helping each other through it.


For more from Erin & James:

Erin’s author’s page
James’ author’s page


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Erin Murphy & James Ezimoha

author: Erin Murphy & James Ezimoha

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