It’s long been a question for humankind – what makes a successful relationship? As that couple that you know that has been together for 50 years will tell you, there is no silver bullet. It takes a fair amount of work to keep a relationship strong, but also a fair amount of luck. No matter how hard they work, some people are just not compatible.
One major topic of debate in relationship psychology has been around couples who poke fun at each other. Is it a sign of a strong relationship or is it a sign of a toxic cycle? The key is in the details…
University of Kansas Studies
A set of studies conducted by Jeffery Hall, a researcher at the University of Kansas, which included around 15 000 people and was conducted over 30 years, lays the foundation for what we understand about the role that humor plays in romantic relationships. These studies describe various factors relating to romantic attraction such as humor as a sign of intelligence and thus a favorable courtship trait, or introvert vs extrovert personalities in a relationship. In short, it’s quite a wide-ranging set of studies, but it seems scientifically sound.
One of the factors studied was the effect of playful humor between couples and making fun of each other. Here are some of the things that were found.
It’s all about the humor
Hall describes that humor is an important factor in deciding on your mate. He tested several hypotheses that discuss how a person’s sense of humor can be a reflection of their intelligence and creativity. It stands to reason that people would choose a mate who is more intelligent because those are favorable genetic characteristics. The interesting thing is that since each person has a fairly unique sense of humor, their perception of a person’s intelligence may be based on them having a similar sense of humor. It’s therefore difficult to say if a person’s sense of humor is a direct reflection of their level of intelligence or if it is more about how they intellectually relate to people around them.
Creating humor together
Whatever your take on the association between humor and intelligence, the science does clearly show that humor plays a part in building a strong relationship. But why particularly does making fun of each other have such a beneficial effect? The key here is that it is creating humor together. Telling a funny joke is great, but it is one-directional and ends after a few laughs. The back and forth of teasing each other (lovingly, of course) is a shared joke that goes on and on. With the responsibility being on both people in the relationship, your perceptions of each other’s intelligence aligns and molds to fit in with your partner, creating a stronger bond.
It reinforces the romantic bond
Another benefit of making fun of each other is that it creates a sense of equality. As long as both partners are on the giving and receiving ends of the jokes, no one person is overpowering the other. It also creates a sense of security. If your partner can joke about your flaws, it means that they are aware of your insecurities, but they actually aren’t a problem for them. The key message of all of these studies though, was that light and playful teasing was beneficial while abusive comments were harmful, so keep the communication open to make sure the joke doesn’t go too far.