Is a Sense of Humor Key to a Successful Relationship?

A good sense of humor may not be the skeleton key to unlock a person's heart, but it's a key element of universal romance.

Is a Sense of Humor Key to a Successful Relationship?
Image via William Stitt

A sense of humor often seems to be one of the most important elements of a romantic relationship. So often, when someone is asked why they love their partner, they will reply with a shrug, and just say "He makes me laugh." That's all that is needed for the romantic floodgates to open.

But why is that? Clearly, not everyone needs to be a walking comedian to be a good match--some people prefer serious, calmer partners--but it is apparent that many people require someone who can make them laugh. A good sense of humor may not be the skeleton key to unlock a person's heart, but it remains a core element of universal romance--not the foundation of successful romance, but a key component therein.

Social Behavior

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In broad terms, relationships are built upon social interaction. Social behaviors are a key to a successful relationship. Communication. Acceptance. Warmth. If all this is true, then it follows to that a sense of humor is a good means to open social interaction.

A study done by The University of Kansas showed that couples who can make each other laugh are more interested in one another than couples where either one partner can make the other laugh or neither can.

Their initial belief going into the study was that humor and intelligence were somehow linked. The idea that a sense of humor made sense from an evolutionary biology perspective, that partners are attracted to partners who are physically and intellectually superior. A sense of humor, they rationalized, was indicative of higher intelligence.

They found no such connection.

Instead, couples who could laugh together or make each other laugh were a better fit than ones who were not, regardless of intelligence. The key here is social interaction.

Maybe. Other scientists have different theories.

Power Play

A study done in Westfield State College found a different interpretation for humor's role in a successful relationship. Their approach took numerous heterosexual partners (200, in fact), and examined their perspectives on funny partners.

Their conclusions differed from the University of Kansas's. They found that humor has less to do with social interaction, and more to do with power play. They hypothesized - and, from the evidence, concluded - that men enjoy being funny, while women like funny men.

In short, their conclusion was that humor functions the same way as the male peacock showing off the colorful feathers for the women. They need to out-perform the other men with humor to catch the female's eye, while feeling appreciated in the process.

Naturally, some people have problems with this.

This study clearly played to the conservative male-female power play, with men being the "strong" partner and women being the "weaker" sex. For this reason, it may be a difficult study to apply to the universal sexual interplay.

After all, a homosexual/bisexual/queer couple will not align to the study's conservative power dynamic. Nor will a couple with a dominant female partner and a submissive male one. Nor, for that matter, would a couple that dares see one another on the same field really align with any sort of dominant/submissive or breadwinner/homemaker dynamic.

Furthermore, this article implies that humor is one of the core elements of a relationship, as if a male can have, somehow, a quantifiable level of humor. For example, a woman will find a male more attractive if they are "funnier," but, in actuality, humor is a more subjective concept. Humor works better when both parties find it funny. There is no universal sense of humor.

No Universal Answer

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The truth also is, sadly, that any attempt to paint all romances under the same brush will be destined to fail. While studies can note trends among smaller populations, they cannot uncover universal truths that are always true.

Sociological theories are good when dealing with large parties of people, but there is no way that a prospective partner should consider these studies as a means to court an individual. An individual can stand apart from the crowd.

But, what purpose do these studies serve if they may not help your specific dating life?

Well... they pick up on trends.

The Westfield study certainly shows that traditional power dynamics do influence our perspective of partners. Even if we may find the dynamic problematic - which you may or may not - it remains clear that traditional power dynamic influences our perspectives on love.

On the other hand, the Kansas study indicates that humor is a form of communication. Numerous relationship therapists will tell you that communication is a clear element of a healthy romance. But humor can also be a tactic to deflect discussion away from serious issues that need to be discussed. Additionally, as not all senses of humor align, what one partner thinks is funny could sincerely be offensive or triggering. In this sense, a sense of humor, rather than bring a couple together, could be the divide that breaks them.

These are all speculative possibilities, but that is the nature of relationships. They are speculative. They are complex. The reason power dynamic structures fail to rationalize relationships is because they are too nuanced and varied to be categorized.

Is humor an essential part of romance? It can be. It isn't always, but it can be both a means to establish a power dynamic or communication. That much is clear... but all that depends on the type of relationship you have.

Humor in an important factor. It can make or break romance. Can. Not "will," but can.

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Anthony Gramuglia
Anthony Gramuglia
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Anthony Gramuglia

Obsessive writer fueled by espresso and drive. Into speculative fiction, old books, and long walks. Follow me at twitter.com/AGramuglia

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