Is it something I said? Sense of humor and partner embarrassment

The potentially harmful effects of humor in romantic relationships is explored in a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Jeffrey A. Hall was exploring uncharted terrain in this study. ‘Taboo’ humor, in the context of romantic relationships, has not been studied previously, although the negative effects of ‘off-color’ jokes, along with the positive effects of humor in romantic relationships, has been.

Drawing on previous studies regarding embarrassment and sex differences in humor, Hall developed the following three hypotheses:

  • Understanding will have a positive association with embarrassment for women, and a negative association with embarrassment for men.
  • Men will self report, and women will perceive, that men use more negative humor.
  • Women will be more embarrassed by their partners’ use of humor than will men.

One hundred and six couples separately completed a survey which measured the partipants’ sense of humor, their evaluation of their partners’ sense of humor, and their embarrassment regarding their partners’ sense of humor.

Results suggested that men who perceive greater similarity with their partners’ aggressive style of humor had partners who were less embarrassed, and women who perceived greater similarity in aggressive humor were less likely to be embarrassed by their partners.

These results also inform our understanding of the relationship between embarrassment and humor. Feeling embarrassed by an inappropriate joke requires a different perception of what is socially acceptable, and about what is funny. Couples who feel that they have a similar sense of humor are less likely to be embarrassed by each other’s jokes, because possessing a similar sense of humor implies similar interpretations of the message and the context in which it is delivered (Billig, 2001).

Click here to read the study in its entirety.

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