Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Aggressive Humor as a Negative Relational Maintenance Behavior during Times of Conflict

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Aggressive Humor as a Negative Relational Maintenance Behavior during Times of Conflict

Article excerpt

Humor is an important part of romantic relationships. It inspires laughter, provides perspective, lightens otherwise troublesome situations, and gives life to relationships. In fact, humor is key to bringing individuals together in the first place, as it plays a critical role in attraction (Bressler & Balshine, 2006). Further, humor helps sustain satisfying intimate relationships (Alberts, Yoshimura, Rabby, & Loschiavo, 2005; Driver & Gottman, 2004; Ziv, 1988). Although humor contributes positively to couples' lighthearted interactions and long-term stability, it also plays a prominent role in more challenging relational circumstances, including conflict situations. Humor used in conflict situations can serve a variety of purposes (Norrick & Spitz, 2008). For instance, humor can be used to alleviate tension in conflict situations (Butzer & Kuiper, 2008; Campbell, Martin, & Ward, 2008), to avoid or resolve the conflict (Norrick & Spitz, 2008), or to veil a more serious remark (Bippus, 2000).

Although the importance of humor in romantic relationships has been well established, using humor becomes complicated when individuals are engaged in conflict. During these heated situations in committed romantic relationships, individuals are faced with maintaining relational bonds while emphasizing their opinions, thoughts, and feelings. Aggressive humor may allow individuals to maintain their relationships during conflict while satisfying personal needs for assertiveness (Goodboy, Myers, & Members of Investigating Communication, 2010; Stafford, 2003). Aggressive humor is a "disintegrative form of humor that serves to diminish morale and to create distance in relational bonds" (Miczo, Averbeck, & Mariani, 2009, p. 445). Although aggressive humor typically manifests as ridicule, disparaging comments, teasing, or criticism (Campbell et al., 2008; Miczo et al., 2009), the enactment of this type of humor is much more complex than making a joke at someone's expense. Individuals using aggressive humor may cloak hurtful information to their romantic partners with humor to avoid the alternative, such as an argument or shouting match. Individuals on the receiving end may experience a variety of emotions when confronted with aggressive humor, ranging from relief, to disgust, to confusion. Given the variability in individuals' motivations for using aggressive humor and the reactions that may result from relational partners, it is necessary to further explore this interpersonal phenomenon.

The purpose of this research is to first understand why individuals use aggressive humor during conflict situations in their romantic relationships. Colloquially, we know disparagement and hurtful teasing is harmful to relationships, and empirical evidence has also associated aggressive humor use with less satisfying relationships (Campbell et al., 2008). Yet, individuals may be motivated to use aggressive humor to make a point to their partner under the guise of humor, among other reasons. Using relational maintenance as a guiding framework, we argue individuals use aggressive humor as a negative behavior to satisfy individual needs while still keeping their romantic relationship "in existence" (Dindia & Canary, 1993, p. 163). The second purpose of this research is to uncover the methods individuals use to communicate aggressive humor with their romantic partners. Although research has broadly identified teasing and ridicule as aggressive humor, we seek to qualitatively understand the enactment of aggressive humor in participants' own words.

This research benefits romantic couples and therapists who advise couples on their conflict management behaviors. Examining the motivations individuals have for using aggressive humor and the techniques they use to communicate this humor can illuminate relationship functioning in tense situations. Conflict can be a common and healthy occurrence in romantic relationships, and uncovering the ways aggressive humor appears in romantic relationships can help individuals foster more satisfying conflict discussions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.