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Relationships

The Importance of Humor in Long-Term Relationships

How much do you and your partner laugh together?

Key points

  • Humour plays a major function in long-term relationships.
  • Men report joking more than their female partners, to advertise good traits.
  • The frequency of joking has no effect on self-reported relationship matching.
  • Affiliative and self-enhancing humour is related to greater relationship-matching.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Man joking, women unamused
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

We probably all value a good sense of humour in a dating partner. In dating profiles, we often see the acronym GSOH (Good sense of humour) used. Apart from the fact that it may be rewarding simply to be in the company of someone with a good sense of humour, clever humour can also advertise intelligence or confidence in a potential partner.

Much research attention has been given to the role of humour in romantic relationship initiation, but to what extent does humour also play a part in long-term relationship sustainability? This was investigated by Lukasz Jach and colleagues, who looked at the frequency of joking and laughing in addition to the quality of jokes, among 149 heterosexual couples in long-term relationships (Jach, Kubicius & Jonason, 2022).

The researchers assessed the frequency of laughing and joking in each relationship in addition to the quality of the jokes employed. They did so by enquiring how often participants joked with their partner, how often they reported that they laughed at the jokes of their partner, and how often they thought that their own jokes were funny. Participants also reported how often their partner joked, how frequently their partner laughed at their jokes, and how frequently they thought the jokes of their partner were funny.

The types of humour employed in each relationship was assessed using the humour styles questionnaire (Martin, et al, 2003), which measured affiliative humour “I enjoy making people laugh.”, self-enhancing humour “If I am feeling depressed, I can usually cheer myself up with humour”, aggressive humour, “If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it”, and self-defeating humour “I let people laugh at me or make fun at my expense more than I should.”

Finally, the researchers analysed dyadic adjustment between partners employed in the study. Dyadic adjustment can be defined as the degree of match between partners and was measured using the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976).

Sex differences in humour

The researchers found that men reported joking more than their female partners, which was confirmed by women reporting that their male partners joked more. However, all participants thought that they laughed at their partner’s jokes more than their partners laughed at their jokes. In long-term relationships, men may be more likely to laugh at their partner’s jokes than they did in the early part of the relationship.

In terms of joke quality, men rated the quality of their own jokes more highly than women rated the quality of their own jokes. Men also judged their own jokes to be better than those of their partners.

The study also revealed that men engaged in humour production more than women, which possibly suggests that men are still attempting to compete for female attention and also communicate to their long-term partners the traits (such as intelligence), which a good sense of humour advertises.

By the same token, the fact that women in long-term relationships might less frequently respond to their partner’s humour, might be explained by the fact that they no longer need to attract a partner in the same way that they did earlier in the relationship.

The researchers also found an association between men’s and women’s self-ratings and their partner’s ratings of the quality and frequency of their joking and laughing. However, the association between men’s and women’s ratings of men’s humour was greater than the association between men’s and women’s ratings of women’s humour.

Humour styles

In terms of the types of humour employed, the researchers found that men tended to use more affiliative, aggressive, and self-enhancing styles of humour compared to women. The difference was however small for affiliative humour suggesting that both sexes may use affiliative humour to enhance and strengthen their relationship. Finally, women were more likely to use affiliative humour compared to other humour styles.

Dyadic adjustment

The frequency of joking had no effect on dyadic adjustment, which as mentioned earlier refers to the degree of good partner-matching. However, participants’ self-reported and partners’ partner reported frequency of laughing were both found to be related to greater dyadic adjustment overall. Therefore, it appears that it is laughing and not joking which is key in long-term relationships.

In terms of joke quality, participants’ judgements of the quality of the jokes of their partners were associated with greater degrees of dyadic adjustment for both men and women. In other words, a greater appreciation of one’s partner’s jokes was related to a higher perception of match in a relationship.

Finally, in terms of humour styles, participants’ affiliative and self-enhancing humour were found to be related to greater dyadic adjustment, whereas aggressive and self-defeating humour were found to be related to lower dyadic adjustment.

Although this study employed a self-report methodology, which is perhaps susceptible to a degree of response bias, it does nevertheless indicate that joking and laughing play vital but perhaps different functions in good and sustainable long-term relationships.

References

Jach L., Dominika Kubicius D., & Jonason P. K. (2022). “Do they fit together like the Joker and Harley Quinn?”: Joking, laughing, humor styles, and dyadic adjustment among people in long-term romantic relationships. Personality and Individual Differences, 199.

Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological wellbeing: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 48–75.

Spanier, G. B. (1976). Measuring dyadic adjustment: New scales for assessing the quality of marriage and similar dyads. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 38, 15–28.

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