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Laughing With the Enemy

Is love funny? It may be something most of us want to have in our life, but its doubtful many of us would call it a source of humor. The best relationships take hard work. Far too many are full of frustration and misunderstandings. This causes stress which can affect our emotional and physical health. To the extent that we live with and do not resolve our relationship problems, our lives become starved of hope and trust. Love can't live long in a climate like this. Many people seriously underestimate how complicated relationships are, and just wanting to keep things simple won't make them so. How can humor help?

Too many relationships are poorly balanced ones. Humor has much to do with power. If you are someone with less power on a regular basis, i.e. less able to express yourself, less confident than other people in your life, you will, most likely- not be the person to use humor on your partner, at least not openly anyway. If you are someone with too much power in a relationship, your style of humor may be something that is much more like a weapon to put others down. You laugh at, not with your partner. Mature humor has more complexity and creativity and it develops best in a democratic relationship.

Women, STILL, generally have less power in relationships than that other sex and this inhibits the sort of free and open milieu necessary for ripe repartee' to flourish. Even with couples where the woman "wears the pants", the power dynamic is the same...i.e. rigid. So again there cannot be a healthy, happy exchange of creative banter between the two.

And humor is really all about fun, at least it should be. In the past, far too much that has been passed off as humor was more about the abuse of power. Usually, it was a sport of the more powerful at the expense of the less powerful, and those with too much power are very good at cowardly hiding behind the skirt of humor to obscure their bullying games. At the same time, they often accuse those they tease of not having a sense of humor. Get it? It reminds me of the old joke about it being your fault if I punch you in the face because you put your face in front of my fist.

There is always static "I've heard that one before" quality to the types of jokes/stories that ridicule groups or individuals with less-learned ability to defend themselves. Those who get good at being mean rarely develop any honesty about it. Humor works on a continuum of power that many of us recognize, in spite of the current conservative political climate: rich - poor, male - female, white - non-white, straight -non-straight, and the continuum goes on. These scales are, of course general and not mutually exclusive but who is funny to you has a lot to do with what groups you are part of. This is true unless, of course, you've outgrown your group(s), and if you're been in one of those exclusive powerful groups, good for you. Anyone who has ever belonged to a less-powerful group (which is most of us sometime, if we're honest or empathetic enough to know this) can tell you that what people in these groups laugh about is not always a reliable indicator of what they may honestly believe is funny. Unfortunately, those accustomed to little real practice in speaking their minds have probably developed too little of their own mind to use it honestly. We do gain confidence (and the power to be honest) in supportive, equitable relationships rather than controlling, suppressive ones. Becoming funny in an honest way takes a certain degree of confidence, and practice as well.

Well-balanced relationships give both parties ample opportunity to practice on each other. What's the fodder for funny stuff? Anything and everything. We human beings are pretty strange creatures with an unending supply of stuff worth making fun of. But not understanding how power relates to humor could have us laughing at things that hurt those we care most about.

Couples that play together don't just stay together. They keep liking one another, and that's not a small thing. We all get on each other's nerves with our strange (to the other person) little habits and annoying ways. If we're honest, we‘ll admit this. Although we should all be working on reducing our less-positive features, it's much less difficult to accept our partner's imperfections if we get to make a few good quips about his/her screw-ups or that which we do not love about those we love. On the other hand, if we happen to be a perfectionist, well, that's another problem our partner can have some fun with.

Being male or female can provide plenty of good material to get us through at least one lifetime. The more interesting games we play as guys and gals can relate to exaggerating, or ridiculing those rigid gender roles we all had to learn and practice in our youth. Some of the best things about getting older is that we can learn what's worth making fun of and what isn't. Exaggerating our conventionally-perceived weaknesses / differences if we are female or exaggerating our power/importance if we are male (and sometimes reversing the roles ) can be a delightful source of amusement. If you are a confident man, playing a Casper Milquetoast may tickle your woman. Think of SpencerTracy in “Adams' Rib” demonstrating to Katherine Hepburn that he can make himself cry (and use crying) the same way many women have done. Some men are also quite good at playing dumb, in case any of you don't know this. Think of how many men” can't” change a diaper, fill in for household chores properly (or ask directions when lost.) "I'm sorry, hon. I tried but I just couldn't do it as good as you." uh hmm. And what about sex? Is sex a good target of humor? You're kidding, right?

Play fighting is one of the most creative ways to avoid doing the real thing. You get your point across by amusing yourself and minus the fury. And if's still honest. You just have to exaggerate, of course, to make sure they get it. If your partner is reasonably fair and honest, he/she will smile or laugh (depending on how well you performed and/or how witty your material was). In this respect, good humor can challenge your partner's character. If can be an opportunity for them to grow morally, (you may want to remind them of this once in a while…say it's a test…see if they believe you. O.K. it could be a test of gullibility too.

If we do truly love someone, they can hurt us. And we, of course, have that power as well. When this occurs, our "darling", "sweetie", "honey", becomes "the enemy". Learning how to fight in healthy ways helps to keep us close by teaching us MUTUAL respect. Saying that you respect someone is not the same as treating someone with real respect. Just as saying you love someone till you're blue-in-the-face doesn't make up for treating them in disrespectful ways on a regular basis. Too many batterers are great at saying they love their women after they beat the hell out of them. Most of us know that well-matched fighters are infinitely more interesting than a match between two people of unequal strength. Only brutes and sadists like highly predictable fights. When each person has a healthy sense of concern about their partner's potential wrath, a more permanent détente' is possible. In the arsenal of necessary battles, humor can make things less bloody, more interesting and even prevent future wars. It's hard to somebody who just made you laugh.

The passion and affection that stays alive in the healthiest and happiest love affairs keeps its vitality and zest with mutual contributions of humor. The more we learn how to make one another smile and laugh, the less we will be each other's enemy and the more we will be loving friends.


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