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Why Your Sense of Humor Is Crucial to Your Dating Success

Certain jokes, a study found, can bring you together. Others can push you apart.

Peter Bernik/Shutterstock

Humor is one of the clearest markers of a successful social interaction. You can use it as an ice breaker, and sharing a laugh with others is a good sign that you've hit it off. Humor might be even more important in dating, where it reveals something about you or your potential partner’s intelligence, and also signals mate quality. (See my previous posts on this topic.)

But what types of humor are best for dating? Are there certain styles you should use more often to interest a date? A new study looks at this topic.

The study recruited 136 undergraduate students (35 males, 101 females) who were in a relationship for an average of 19 months. The researchers followed the students for three weeks, during which time the participants completed a diary reporting how they used humor with their partners—and whether or not they were happy in their relationship. Five months after the completion of the study, 114 of the students were contacted to see if they were still in their relationships. Of that group, 83 were still dating their partners, while 31 had broken up.

The study's analysis focused on a well-known scale that measures four styles of humor—two positive and adaptive styles (affiliative and self-enhancing) and two negative and maladaptive styles (aggressive and self-defeating):

  • Affiliative humor reflects the ability to enjoy humor with others, tell jokes, share anecdotes and so on.
  • Self-enhancing humor involves using humor as a coping mechanism—finding the funny in everything, and keeping a humorous outlook on life.
  • Aggressive humor involves disparaging others with humor by teasing, ridiculing and laughing at others’ expense.
  • Self-defeating humor is when you make fun of yourself and generally use self-deprecating humor.

Every three days during the study period, the participants were asked to report how often they engaged in each of the four humor styles. In addition, they were asked to assess how satisfied they were in their relationships.

Here are the results:

  • The students used the positive humor styles more often than negative ones. Specifically, affiliative humor was by far the most common type of humor used and enjoyed.
  • Affiliative humor was the only style to positively predict relationship satisfaction. In other words, on days that students were joking a lot with their partners, they were also more satisfied in their relationships, and vice versa. Self-enhancing humor had no influence on relationship satisfaction.
  • The negative humor styles, especially self-deprecating humor, were negatively correlated with relationship satisfaction. The more a partner was engaged with either disparaging others or making fun of him/herself, the less satisfied he or she was in a relationship.
  • Perhaps most interesting, affiliative humor was the only predictor for whether a couple stayed together. A person who scored high on this type of humor was more likely to stay with his or her companion.

In sum, positive humor benefits dating and increases the chances of staying in a relationship. It is probably especially true if both partners use it, although this study only followed one partner.

If you enjoy malevolent humor, you should be careful that it does not harm your relationship. Too much teasing and disparagement is a bad omen for togetherness.

Of course, this is a correlational study, and so it is hard to state with certainty whether humor affects the relationship or merely reflects its health. If you are in a successful relationship you are probably going to use and enjoy humor more, but benign humor can also boost a relationship. It is pretty clear that telling too many self-disparaging jokes is not a positive sign, and might increase the chances of a breakup.

Overall, this study shows the importance of humor for everyday life, and especially for dating. It is good to share a laugh with partners—and perhaps equally important to enjoy the same type of humor. This is why I believe that going to a comedy club is the best possible first date. You can enjoy a laugh without any awkward silences, and see if you both enjoy the same type of humor. It's a win-win!

More from Gil Greengross Ph.D.
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More from Gil Greengross Ph.D.
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