One of the most desirable qualities in a husband is a good sense of humor, according to women’s polls. A man who makes us laugh lifts us from everyday doldrums, exudes an understated self confidence and is plain pleasant to be around. But there are different types of humor, and some enhance the marital relationship while others can erode it.
The following categories of joking are based on research from “The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach” (Academic Press, Kindle version, 2006) written by Canadian psychologist Dr. Rod A. Martin. Does your husband’s sense of humor fall into any of these categories?
The Put Down Joker
“Rick was always a jokester in college,” said Mary. “Everyone thought he was funny, but I noticed that his jokes were always at the expense of other people. Someone usually was the butt of his jokes, and most of the time people were good sports about it, but sometimes, I could tell it was humiliating.”
Rick’s style of humor is categorized as “The Put Down.” Sarcastic barbs, ridiculing stories and relentless teasing target someone’s weakness, and they’re all usually followed by an escape clause: “Just joking!” The put down joker adds that line to absolve him of any guilt. If anyone objects, he obviously can’t take a joke. But this aggressive type of humor can be hurtful. According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, these “Freudian jokes” are thinly veiled honest feelings of the joker.
It’s especially harmful when the spouse is the target of the jokes. Gentle or affectionate ribbing is one matter, and nearly every couple engages in it on occasion. But when the “teasing” is merciless and hurtful, the joker needs to find another comedy routine.
The Hate-Me Joker
This self-deprecating comic makes himself the butt of the joke for a laugh. “I used to have a six-pack,” Charlie would say at a party, rubbing his rotund belly. “But now I have a keg!” It’s a friendly, non-threatening way to break the ice, but going overboard with the self-ridicule can make people feel uneasy. It also takes a toll on the joker’s esteem because the subconscious hears this “negative self-talk” and believes it.
“Enough already!” Dora would think when her husband went into his usual party shtick that poked fun at his baldness and his bad job. After a while, it made him appear pitiful. “I think he did it because it was the only way he felt comfortable adding to the conversation.”
The Bonding Joker
Think of a group of giggling girls that share jokes that only their group is privy to. Or the college frat that laughs at special wise cracks. You have to be a part of the group to get the “inside” jokes. Bonding jokers make every feel closer unless you’re on the outside--and then you feel left out.
Flo dreaded getting together with Ken’s firefighter pals because they’d circle around and regale themselves with jokes that she never got. It made her feel as though she was a bore who lacked a sense of humor. The bonding joker needs to be aware of potential “outsiders” in a group so they don’t feel left out of the fun.
The Laughing at Life Joker
There’s no victim in this type of humor except for life’s silly moments we all can relate to. We laugh when someone trips or finds himself in an embarrassing situation that could happen to us. It’s the Jerry Seinfeld type of humor that finds laughs over a loaf of marbled rye or a parking space. There’s no personal threat with this type of humor and thus it is generally welcomed.
Desperate for Laughs Joker
This category is not a part of Dr. Martin’s research but springs from my own observations of my husband. He has a quick wit and he elicits chortles from those around him so one might say he has a good sense of humor. But his type of humor crosses all categories because he will say and do anything for a laugh. Although sarcasm is rarely in his repertoire, he’ll poke at my flaws, make fun of himself, engage in private jokes and laugh at life. There are few safe subjects. My mother is not a safe subject.
The other day at a family dinner, I marveled at how tall my nephew had grown. “I measure him when I hug him,” my mother mused. “His head used to reach my tummy and now it is at my chest.” “Yes, he sure grew tall!” I smiled. “Or maybe mom’s boobs just fell,” my husband chimed in.
It was then I realized that better than a husband with a sense of humor was a mother-in-law with a sense of humor. Mom just laughed.
If your spouse’s sense of humor makes you cringe more than chuckle, it’s time to sharpen his routine. Gently explain the difference between humor that is hurtful (put down), uncomfortable (hate me), exclusionist (bonding) or ruthless (desperate). Help him come up with more socially acceptable ways of getting laughs.
Share a new funny story a day at the dinner table. See who gets the most laughs. Learn fresh lines and comedic timing from the pros by watching comedy routines and funny movies. I realized that a lot of my husband’s shtick was borrowed from professional comedians. Soon, we slipped into a Gracie Allen and George Burns type of routine naturally.
And don’t forget: the best thing you can do to encourage your spouse’s sense of humor is laugh! There’s no better incentive than an appreciative audience.