The importance of humour in a relationship

Research on relationships suggests humour doesn’t just land you that first date or first kiss, it’s also associated with keeping a relationship together.

When we eulogise someone’s life, having a sense of humour still stands out. When reflecting on the life of a loved one, we tend to treasure their capacity to laugh and make others laugh.

Why are we so serious about not being too serious? One reason is that laughter is enjoyable and laughing with someone is even more enjoyable. Part of the value of a sense of humour derives from its ability to counter negative emotions with positive ones. We want to be with people who can make us laugh, especially if they can help us laugh at the things and situations that cause us stress, anxiety, or despair. But there are lots of ways to enjoy life. Why do people value humour more than, say, being a good cook or owning a holiday home?

When we think about having a sense of humour, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is stand-up comedy. These people are in the business of producing humour and making people laugh.

But of course, someone needs to be there to consume humour as well, to do the laughing. And in the typical case, humour is also about someone or something. This producer-consumer-object triangle is the matrix in which a sense of humour finds its home.

To have a good sense of humour, you must be skilled at occupying each of the corners of the triangle. Someone who can’t make us laugh is deficient in humour. And there is nothing less attractive than a person who laughs at their own jokes while everyone else sits in stony silence.

Likewise, someone who isn’t able to laugh at the absurdities of life is a humourless boor. Of course, different people find different things laughable. It depends on what you value, what you expect and what you hold sacred.

This explains why we feel so in tune with someone who both laughs when we do and doesn’t laugh when we don’t. Testing the boundaries of someone’s sense of humour is a shortcut to discovering whether you share their values. People prize a sense of humour in a potential mate because this is one of the best clues to compatibility.

The third corner of the triangle is probably the hardest to occupy. In general, it isn’t very fun to be the butt of the joke. But an inability to admit your own faults and laugh at yourself is a sign that you either have an over inflated ego or take yourself too seriously. Someone who can’t take a joke is bad at being the object of humour. They’re unwilling to admit their own foibles and flaws, and therefore unable to correct them.

And so it makes perfect sense that, when we look for a partner, we’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints!