How funny saves relationships


by Robert Biswas-Diener


At a recent family gathering my wife wore a T-shirt that read “I moved a heavy piece of furniture, ask me how!” And when my large brother-in-law asked her “how” she recruited him to move the furniture! My wife is, as you might have guessed, funny. It turns out that funny–especially on the part of wives– can keep marriages together.

You may be familiar with the research of John Gottman, who has studied the communication styles of couples for decades. In 1999, Gottman and his colleague published a paper in which they claimed to be able to predict, with 93% accuracy, the health of marriages 4 years down the road by taking stock of the amount of affection, anger and disgust during a 15 minute interview of a couple. Humor, however, did not predict those who stayed together or those who divorced.

In two separate studies researchers have found that when husbands use humor during heated discussions, the couples were more likely to be separated or divorced a year and a half later. On the other hand, when wives used humor during a fight, and when this humor lowered the heart rate of the husband, couples tended to be MORE likely to stay together. Humor expert Rod Martin says that husband humor may lead to couples avoiding dealing with problems while female humor may help to sooth partners and set the stage for more productive discussions.

When I told this to my wife she merely said “Great! I do all this work around the house and now I’ve got to be the funny one too!”