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How being able to laugh at yourself affects the quality of your relationships

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Moya Crockett
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How being able to laugh at yourself affects the quality of your relationships

According to a new study, the ability to handle being the butt of a joke may influence our romantic lives. 

I have spent much of my life having the p**s taken out of me. I don’t say that to make you pity me – quite the opposite. Having grown up in a sarcastic, quick-witted English family where someone would mock you as soon as look at you, I take great pleasure in being made fun of, so long as it’s done without any underlying malice. I’m well aware that I say and do stupid stuff on a regular basis; being affectionately ridiculed for it makes me feel closer to the person lampooning me.

Similarly, I can’t imagine being good friends or romantic partners with someone who wasn’t comfortable being laughed at. I once dated a guy who would get prickly and defensive whenever I made a lighthearted joke at his expense, which made our fling feel like more of an awkward drag. In all honesty, teasing is the only way I know how to flirt; if I can’t do that, I’m lost. 

Now, a new study suggests that how people deal with being laughed at can affect how satisfied they are with their romantic relationships – and even their sex lives. Psychologists at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany conducted separate interviews with more than 150 heterosexual couples, asking them questions designed to provide a snapshot of their relationship satisfaction.

The researchers also investigated how the participants felt about being laughed at, and whether they enjoyed laughing at others.

Some people enjoy being laughed at, say psychologists, as it means they are the centre of attention 

The study, which was published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that people who encouraged others to laugh at them generally reported positive effects on their relationship. In particular, women who deliberately provoked their partner to poke fun at them “reported more often that they tended to be satisfied with their relationship and felt more attracted to their partner,” said Kay Brauer, one of the lead authors on the study.

Brauer added that women who were able to laugh at themselves “also tended to be equally satisfied with their sex life” – as were their partners.

Men and women who disliked being laughed at, in contrast, tended to feel less happy in their relationship and were more likely to mistrust their partner.

When women were nervous about being mocked, this also had a knock-on effect on their partners: the researchers discovered that men were more likely than women to say that they didn’t feel satisfied with their sex lives if their wife or girlfriend was scared of being laughed at.

The psychologists didn’t dig into this gender discrepancy, which seems like it could do with more investigation. If men are more likely than women to be turned off by an inability to laugh at oneself, does that mean that a sense of humour is more important to men? Does it suggest that heterosexual women are more used to having to tread delicately around their partner’s self-esteem? Do we all just need to be more willing to laugh at ourselves in the bedroom? How would this study play out with same-sex couples?  For now, we’ll have to draw our own conclusions. 

He didn’t know that she’d drawn something rude on his back in sunscreen 

Professor René Proyer, a co-author on the study, said that there are three main characteristics that psychologists look at when examining how someone handles being laughed at and laughing at others. Some people are afraid of being laughed at, while others revel in it. The third trait is enjoying laughing at others, and intentionally making them the butt of jokes.

These traits can be combined to create an individual profile – for example, a person might like laughing about others, but hate it when the tables are turned. Ultimately, Proyer said, “all of these characteristics are normal, up to a certain point – including being afraid of being laughed at.”

And while compatibility in how you handle being laughed at appears to be linked to relationship happiness, both Proyer and Brauer emphasised that a romance isn’t doomed to failure if you and your partner respond differently to mockery. Ultimately, there are many other factors that make for a contented relationship.

But if you meet someone who’s willing to take the mick out of themselves as much as they poke fun at you, it could be the start of something good. At the very least, you’ll get a good laugh out of it.

Images: David Calderon/Unsplash, Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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