Humor is an inexpensive yet priceless tool in your relationship toolbox. But, it is a tool that needs to be sharpened regularly!

  • 1. Use humor as a tool, not a weapon. The first rule of relationship-building humor: Do No Harm. Laughter at someone else’s expense ruptures relationships. Sarcasm, ridicule, and put-downs are hurtful humor. You can also hurt or offend by making comments on controversial or personal topics such as race, religion, sex, weight, appearance, etc. Even “good-natured” teasing can backfire if the other person is not receptive. When my husband and I were dating, his efforts to connect with me by affectionately teasing were rewarded with a blank or confused look. My teasing-impaired younger self just didn’t get it.
  • Don’t laugh at others; laugh with others. Laughing with others brings people together and pokes fun at our common challenges.
  • 2. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at yourself, or leave the job to others. If you can learn to laugh at yourself, you will never be short of humorous material. Self-deprecating humor lowers the walls between yourself and others and can be disarming. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield was best known for his self-deprecating humor in his stand up acts, with his famous line “I get no respect.” Watch modern-day self-deprecator, Tonight Show Host Conan O’Brien, as an example of how to make fun of yourself. Conan frequently makes fun of his own hair, his paleness and even his jokes that flop. Tell funny, self-deprecating stories about yourself. People love stories. And here’s one for the guys: Anthropologist Gil Greengross, who conducted a two-year study into the role of humor in seduction found that self-deprecating humor was the most attractive kind of humor. Here’s a link to the article:
  • 3. Use humor or laughter to reduce tension. This works especially well combined with #2, laughing at yourself.
  • As a small child, I learned the power of laughter to reduce tension. One day, when I was 3 or 4, my mother had brought me to work to meet her boss and coworkers. One look at her boss and I was in awe. She was just about the ugliest woman I had ever seen—long pointy chin, hooked nose, dark, bushy eyebrows over beady eyes. I blurted out, “Mommy! She looks like the Wicked Witch of the West!” Suddenly, there was complete silence. My mother turned toward me with a pleading smile and a high, falsely pleasant voice, “Diane, don’t you mean, Glenda the Good Witch?” At that moment, I thought she had lost her mind. We had just watched The Wizard of Oz a week earlier. I looked up at her, incredulously, and said “No. Glenda was pretty!” After a few moments of tense, stony silence, my mother’s boss started laughing. And then everybody laughed. The boss lady’s laughter gave the others permission to laugh and the tension dissipated like fog at sunrise.

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