Humor: A Double-Edged Sword

Many say that being funny is a positive trait, especially in first-time encounters. In many surveys, one of the most desired qualities in a partner is sense of humor. Be it while dating or after marriage, the more a person enjoys their partner’s sense of humor, the more they will be satisfied with their relationship.

But a psychologist from the University of Western Ontario raises a red flag on all this. According to Dr. Rod Martin, humor in relationships can cut both ways. Funny people may seem to be more attractive initially, but as time goes by, the thrill of the humor wears off. Furthermore, relying too much on jokes to avoid deep relational issues can lead to more serious problems; in this case, humor may actually cause more harm than good.

This was seconded by Robert Weiss, a psychologist from the University of Oregon who studied the effect of humor in relationships. He said, “Humor is a tool like any other. People use humor in lots of different ways, including some negative ones. It’s not just one monolithic thing.” He added that almost every sweet, supportive way of using humor has an evil counterpart, the aggressive, selfish, or manipulative version. Teasing comments can either be interpreted as flattery or attack. Since these two are intertwined, it may come across as not being funny.

The most common way that humor ends up being hurtful are jokes about one’s qualities, such as clumsiness, shyness or body parts. Humor also weakens the foundation of a relationship in unseen ways, such as making a joke to change the subject when one brings up finances without even trying to be funny. In the end, one may fail to notice what important things that have been disagreed upon when humor enters the picture.

Throughout history, the basic structure of a joke, where one says one thing and mean another is a useful tool in human interaction. According to Martin, this ambiguity allows individuals to interpret matters differently and alter their stance when it is not properly received. This makes it into a flexible communication strategy as a means to explore different meanings. This includes dropping hints about marriage or dating and depending on the response, have a means to escape in the form of a joke.

Another benefit is that humor can bring lovers together as one. This was observed especially in lover’s retreats where one way to break the ice is through a joke or a funny video. This is one of the most positive ways that humor is present and because of this, many do not understand its downside. A well-timed joke can actually help cool down a tense situation. Many resort to out of this world antics to help break the tension, change the mood or introduce another point of view into the conversation. Humor through exaggeration, an unrealistic point of view is turned, allowing the recipient to regain a foothold on reality.

This may become a problem, especially when after calming a partner down and picking them up again, a pattern of demand and withdrawal ensues making it better to avoid problems through a joke instead of addressing them altogether.

This double entendre effect of jokes allows individuals to be hostile in a subtle manner, usually with a just kidding rejoinder. In many instances, the very same comments can either be uplifting or demeaning, cooptive or segregating and this depends on the situation and the context it was made. The difference is not in the way the line is delivered but how the recipient interprets it. Even good intentions can be washed away when an errant comment is doled out, as how the butt of the joke understands it is what matters most.

Between the various studies on humor, many patterns have emerged. Women use humor as a tool to enhance a relationship while men use it to increase their persona. Men often linked jokes and slapstick greater than women, while women make humor in collaborative storytelling scenarios. The difference is not about hormones but more about context. There have also been studies that show that individuals use humor differently compared to those of their inferiors. This can be seen when the boss cracks a joke, everybody laughs and when assistant offers a suggestion, she includes self-deprecating humor into it.

Humor is often at the behest of the beholder. Most psychologists agree that humor is more likely to be symptomatic of issues rather than the cause for the issues. The most important aspect of this is timing, especially in romantic relationships. If the partner cannot take a joke, then look at the motives behind saying it, as timing is crucial to making it a positive factor instead of a negative one. Even with this possible effect, humor is what makes individuals human. Humor, after all, helps put people in the right perspective, looking far beyond fears and sorrows to be able to reach out with a loving touch instead of a heavy hand.

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