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  • Killing Each Other Softly: The Critical Role of Gentle Humor in Intimate Relationships

    A common problem I deal with in couples therapy is people often a) don’t use nearly enough humor in their relationships, and b) use humor in a way that hurts more than it heals. Let’s face it. When you try to make a well-intentioned joke to your partner, and it ends up hurting their feelings, it’s usually embarrassing, frustrating, or both. In this post, I want to address how important it is that humor is used often, while emphasizing also that it must be used skillfully.

    [read this post on Medium]

    Never Hurt Your Partner With Humor

    First, let’s get clear on this: anytime your partner is hurt on your account, whether hurting them was your intention or not, a small tear has just opened up in the relationship. It’s small, but it’s not nothing. Small tears have to be repaired, or they will often get bigger and bigger. The bigger they get, the harder they are to repair, and the longer it will take.

    Men — At all costs, avoid jokes about your partner’s weight, size, body, hair, makeup, clothing, skin, or anything else related to her physical body that she is insecure about. You can tell what she’s insecure about by the types of negative comments she makes about herself, or how deadly silent she is on certain topics. Is she heavier than she’d probably like to be, even just by a little? Have you noticed she never, ever talks about it? If so, that’s likely because it’s a tender spot.

    Often when a man discovers his partner is sensitive about something, he will make jokes to lighten things up and help her feel less insecure. This usually does more harm than good. Stay away from things she is sensitive about, and one of the main things most women are sensitive about is their appearance.

    Women — Avoid jokes about or comments on your husband not making enough money. Never make a negative comment about him on social media, even if you’re just responding to what you think is a funny cartoon about men posted by someone else.

    Women often believe there’s very little they can say that will actually hurt their big, strong, silent husband, but this is rarely the case. Chances are your words have potential to hurt him way more than you realize, because so much of his ego is based on being able to please you and keep you happy.Those are important areas to avoid.

    Topics to Avoid

    Other things to be careful about when joking: each others’ families, sexual issues, mental health, fears and anxieties, and quirks. This isn’t to suggest there’s never any effective way to make a good-natured comment about some of these areas, but they are highly sensitive, and unless you and your partner are very close emotionally, and very in-tune with each other, these are things you’d probably be wise to avoid.

    I have sat through so many times where one partner makes what they think is a joke about the other person, and I can tell that person is deeply hurt, or offended, and the person who made the joke doesn’t even notice.

    How do you know, when you make a joke to your partner about something, that they feel you are laughing with them and not at them? Because your partner always needs to feel you are laughing with them.

    Laugh With Your Partner, Never At Them

    There is never a time you can laugh at your partner and have that be okay for your relationship. Do you ever find yourself making jokes to your partner about your partner, and you know that underneath the joke, you actually are angry with them, or hurt, or frustrated about something? If so, you need to be able to have a straight-up conversation with them about that, not disguise your agenda with a joke so when you hurt them you can retreat to the safety of, “Geez, I was only kidding!”

    I think often partners make jokes about things they actually want the other person to change, but they don’t know how to have an honest conversation about it.

    “Oh yes, I can always depend on you to leave dishes in the sink.” (Rolling eyes and half-laughing)

    “We both know I can’t go anywhere without you needing to interrogate me about every detail!” (Said while smiling)

    “Being married to my partner is just like having a third child.” (Said sweetly, with a hand gently on his arm, but his expression belies that this is just a joke.)

    The Purpose of Joking in Intimate Relationships

    Joking in a relationship, really, is for one purpose, and that is the strengthening of the bond between the partners. “How does it do that?” you ask? By aligning them with each other. When you and another person laugh at the same joke, you are aligned. Humor has this amazing power to unite, to lighten the loads of both people laughing, to show them they have something in common. The more you and your partner genuinely laugh together, the closer you will become. And the more one of you laughs while the other isn’t laughing, the bigger that tear is getting in the fabric of your relationship.

    If you don’t know how to truly laugh together right now, you can still improve your relationship simply by making sure that neither of you are frequently laughing alone. Bring more gentleness and joy into your humor, and you will be amazed how much it will do to heal you both.