How Humor Heals Relationships
My partner and I had been together for 4 years and to be honest things were not going well. We had been fighting, I had felt unappreciated, he had felt misunderstood and the relationship was in need of quick and sturdy repair. I couldn’t tell you the last time we’d had fun together, enjoyed a joke, or even cracked a smile. We couldn’t remember all the reasons we came together in the first place, the joys we took in each other’s personality, or the happiness we and once brought each other. It was falling apart, we were falling apart and neither one of us knew how to save “us” or if we even wanted to.
I can remember him asking me what I needed. What I needed was to be thought of, shown that I was important, that he still knew me, and most of all, I needed to laugh again. I needed our relationship to have the humor and levity, the fun we once had together.
Humor is important in relationships.
“Life cannot be serious all the time, you have to make room for lightheartedness in relationships if you want to have balanced love.
My partner was very interested in his goals, his goals of work, creative pursuits, and leisure. I felt that I did a lot for him and I felt like there had been little acknowledgement of my efforts to help him achieve those goals. I felt like the romance in the relationship had died and our lives together had been reduced to a series of grocery store trips, cleaning, and getting laundry done. I felt like all of the fun things in his life he had been doing with his friends, leaving all the day to day chores as the only time we really spent alone together.
These are common complaints in relationships that have progressed past the honey moon stage; I hear them all the time from my clients. A relationship like this has settled in to a comfortable zone of day to day necessary chores and activities and leisure time is spent doing activities with respective girl and guy friends.
At some point during the argument I can remember throwing my hands in the air and saying to him, “We’ve been together for four years and you’ve never even brought me flowers.” The argument went on of course and ended in time. We went to bed not angry but also not knowing what would become of “us”. It’s a frightening feeling to want to make things better, like they were in the beginning and not knowing if that is possible. And worse, wondering if things could ever be fun again or if the relationship has fizzled out and it’s time to call it and move on.
To his credit my partner always heard me. He may not have responded immediately or in the way I would have expected but he did listen and he did process my needs and respond. The following day when he returned from work he had something behind his back. As he approached me he handed me… a cactus. There was a smirk on his lips. I looked up at him, paused for a moment, and died in laughter, I couldn’t stop laughing. He had heard me, and he had responded with both acknowledgement and humor. That night we had a dinner date, just the two of us, and made love like we had not in ages.
Our problems were not solved of course but the humor had returned. Days later I reflected on his gift, had he just brought me flowers it would not have had the same effect. He would have heard me, and given me a gift of acknowledgement and appeasement. But this gift, this gift gave me what I needed most. It reminded me why I loved him; it brought levity and life back to “us”. It showed me that he understood how to both listen and to give me what I needed in that moment. He showed me that he still gets me and my slightly twisted since of humor. That was what I really needed acknowledged, that we still knew each other and could still give the other what we needed most. That was what we both feared had been lost, we feared that we were now somehow incapable of giving the other fun and spontaneity, and those needs would have to be forever filled by other friendships and relationships. In this ridiculous gesture of humorous placation I could see that he got it and more importantly that we still had “it”.
It is important to remember that the use of positive humor is important both to keep relationship satisfaction but also in conflict resolution. In research published in the Journal of Psychology 2008, Butzner and Kniper note that, “individuals who were more satisfied in their relationships reported higher levels of positive humor use and lower levels of negative humor (use of sarcasm or condescending language) or avoiding humor.
Positive humor is using humor in a respectful way as well as having fun together. Positive humor is not cutting come backs, sarcasm, or any humor that objectifies or belittles your partner. Positive humor builds love and lets the other person feel known by highlighting the lighter side of the relationship and current problems.
This is what my partner did with the cactus; he highlighted the issue at hand with a little lighthearted poke at my complaint. He knew me and that I would find this funny, not insulting. He used positive humor to let me feel heard, loved, and safe. We can all learn to bring humor back to our relationships if we can see that it’s missing in the first place, this takes awareness. When things get too serious, find a funny way to show your partner that you can see what’s happening, you acknowledge the seriousness, but you also love them enough to bring a smile to their face. This is love, this is love with humor.
Barton Golddsmith PHD, In love and life, keep a sense of humor; A laugh goes a long way. (PsychologyToday.com/blog/emotional-fittness) 2012
Butzner and Kuiper; Humor use in romantic relationships: The effects of relationship satisfaction and plesant versus conflict situations. Journal of Psychology May 2008;142(3)