Connecting over humor helps your relationship. You already knew this from personal experience: we all value a mate with a good sense of humor. You didn’t need scientific studies to prove it.
Those studies exist, though.
We’re not going to talk about those studies.
Instead, we’re going to talk about a special study published in the European Journal of Psychology that went a step further to figure out how different styles of humor help or hurt your relationship. They did this because we all know there’s a difference between the guy who drops snide put-downs at his wife and the guy who cheers her up with a cute one-liner when she’s down. So how do those differences affect marriage?
To find out, the authors divided the humor styles into five categories: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, earthy, and self-defeating. Then, they surveyed 292 couples, some married, and some divorced, to compare longevity of marriage as well as satisfaction with the relationship while married.
Types of humor:
The researchers defined the types of humor based on trends established in previous studies, and they fit with common sense stuff you see every day. Affiliative humor “involves the use of joking and friendly humorous banter to facilitate interpersonal bonds,” they quote. So like, when you and your friends drop joking references to the latest StarWars quotes into your every day life. That’s different from Donald Trump’s joking about women’s bodies, which falls under “earthy” humor: “delight and non-inhibition in joking about taboo topics: macabre, sexual, scatological, vulgar.” Obviously lines blur, and most people use multiple kinds of humor throughout their lives, but there’s some kind of categorical difference. We all know that guy who only uses that kind.
The other types of humor make sense, too. Aggressive humor “entails the use of sarcasm and put-downs to hurt or manipulate others.” Like being made fun of, instead of fun with. “And self-defeating humor represents individuals’ attempts to amuse others by making excessively disparaging humorous remarks about themselves.”
One of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan, used to excel at this. He probably still does, but I feel like his humor style’s more self-enhancing now: “characterized by the ability to find amusement in life’s stresses.” You know, like his skit about the stresses of reading ice cream labels. Michael Jr. is another amazing comedian who uses both of these, although honestly he’s so “real life” and personal it feels like affiliative humor. I feel like we’re chilling on the couch and playing video games when he’s wondering how you baptize Jesus: “Instead of in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, it’s You, Your Daddy, and Your best friend?”
So, anyway, what kinds of humor styles did these 292 couples use?
Here’s are some tables, with the statistical analysis, for you, from the study. The first three tables talk about the kinds of humor, stress levels, and marital satisfaction of married vs. divorced couples. The last one shows the relationship between marital satisfaction and humor styles. The study’s got a bunch more tables for you to check out, but I just included the main ones here. (Scroll down to skip them)
Like with most psychology studies, there isn’t a fantastic n: you can’t live your life by them like it’s absolute truth or something. However, these studies do offer a great set of trends, like guidelines, and this one in particular has several results with p values below 0.001. That is an amazing p value (it means that there is less than a 0.001% chance that these results happened by chance, which means this study’s pretty good). So these trends are real. Another good thing about this study was it turned out couples correlate pretty well when it comes to recognizing kinds of humor in each other: they both agree that Person X tended to use earthy humor, or the other partner used the other kind, and so on.
It’s a good study.
So here are the trends you can take away from this for YOUR affair with your spouse.
- Earthy humor did not correlate with long marriages for men. It correlated highly with divorce. (Maybe Trump’s wives didn’t think he was funny?)
- Aggressive humor also correlated with divorce for men, and was an indicator of low marital satisfaction.
- Women’s self-defeating humor was associated to their male partner’s marital satisfaction. In other words, husbands seemed to like when women could make fun of themselves. However, they also had a higher divorce rate.
- Married couples reported more affiliative humor during their marriages than divorced couples did.
- Married men used more self-enhancing humor than divorced men. As Table 5 shows, divorced men who DID use self-effacing humor also seemed to be more avoidant–which may mean for them, it’s a coping mechanism to create distance from their spouse.
- Anxious married men, and avoidant divorced men, used aggressive humor. Insecure divorced women, on the other hand, and insecure/avoidant married men, did not use a lot of earthy humor. This goes back to how #1 and #2 are more true for men than for women: women who used earthy humor seemed to do so because of a sense of security, which wasn’t the case for men. The kind of humor that correlated with security in men? Self-enhancing.
I highly recommend you click the first link I provided up there, to read the study and analyze it for yourself, but it’s certainly interesting to think about WHY we’re making the jokes we make, and how they can help or hurt our relationship with our spouse. It looks like for guys, it’s healthier for you to cut back on the nasty jokes, and bump up the jokes about the silliness of life’s messes. Ladies, it looks like you can afford to relax and drop a little dirt now and then. For both of you, you should joke as often as you can about things you both enjoy, and have a little bit of sexy, silly banter back and forth. It’s good to laugh about who should hang up the telephone first! And everyone might wanna stop the sarcasm and the insult humor.
So let’s laugh “with” instead of “at” each other!
Be sure to check out our comedy when it comes out, because we think it has a good dose of pretty much all the humor for you to play around with. May your marriage be hilarious!
Jen Finelli is a world-traveling scifi author who’s ridden a motorcycle in a tropical monsoon, crawled into a flaming car, found Greek wall-poetry in a city’s underground tunnels, gotten locked in a German nunnery, showered under a jungle mountain waterfall, and eaten with wonderful people on four continents. She’ll have her MD complete in 2017, right after she releases her novel about a comic book character who shoots his author. Check her out on twitter @petr3pan, or on her website, where she got a bunch of authors to give away free stories you can steal at http://byjenfinelli.com/what-you-get-five-free-reads-just-because/