Conflict is an inevitable part of life, and humour helps in resolving it in a healthy way, leading to stronger bonds. Hyderabad-based Kavita, a practicing psychologist, tells us the importance of humour in resolving conflicts between partners, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Conflict is a part of life. It exists as a reality of any relationship and is not necessarily bad. In fact, a relationship with no apparent conflict may be unhealthier than one with frequent conflict. Conflicts are critical events that weaken or strengthen relationships. They can be productive, creating deeper understanding, closeness, and respect, or they can be destructive, causing resentment, hostility and divorce or fallouts. How the conflicts get resolved, is the critical factor in determining whether a relationship will be healthy or unhealthy, mutually satisfying or unsatisfying, friendly or unfriendly, deep or shallow, intimate or cold. Conflicts can range from minor unimportant differences to critical fights. There are conflicts of needs, wants, preferences, interests, opinions, beliefs and values.
The Role of Humour in Conflict Resolution:
Humour plays an important role in all kinds of relationships. In a new relationship, humour can be an effective tool not just for attracting the other person, but also for overcoming any awkwardness or embarrassment that may arise during the process of getting to know one another. In established relationships, humour can keep things fresh and exciting. It can also help overcome past disappointments, disagreements and the small aggravations that can build up over time and destroy the strongest of bonds.
The Use of Humour in Managing and Defusing Conflicts
When used skillfully and respectfully, a little-lightheaded humour can quickly turn conflict and tension into an opportunity for shared fun and intimacy. It allows you to get your point across without hurting the other person’s feelings. For example, Reena’s husband, a construction site manager, often comes home dirty and sweaty from his job. Reena finds this very repulsive and turns down all advances made by him, citing this issue as the deterrent. This infuriates her husband and he accuses her of not appreciating his job and hard earned money. To resolve this conflict, Reena has started getting his bath ready before he reaches home, and playfully guides him into the shower and keeps his clothes ready in the meanwhile. Her husband finds this, a much-needed stress buster and feels relaxed, while she feels happy at having achieved her goal without hurting him any further.
Managing Conflict with Humour:
- Make Sure Both Parties Are Involved In The Joke: Humour can only help you overcome conflict when both parties have a similar insight on the joke. One has to take care to be sensitive to the other person’s feelings. When the joke is one-sided, it can have adverse reactions and a bigger conflict is born. Humour should be equally enjoyable for everyone concerned. For example, Meena’s hands are always cold when she gets into bed, after cleaning the kitchen. She derives warmth by placing her cold hands on her husband Vikram’s back. Vikram has detested this and has started sleeping in the corner of the bed, creating distance in their relationship.
- Never use Humour to cover up other emotions: There are times when humour is not healthy when it is used as a cover for avoiding rather than coping with painful emotions. Laughter can be a disguise for feelings of hurt, fear, anger and disappointment, that you don’t want to feel or don’t know how to express. Take the case ofF Priya. She is often jealous and possessive with her boyfriend Anand, but she has never learned to openly discuss her feelings and insecurities with him. Instead, she often uses, what she thinks is humour, to express her feelings. Her jokes are usually sarcastic, rude and hostile, which irritate Anand. He has started staying away from her now, creating distance and the possibility of a breakup.
- Develop a smart sense of humour: It is important to monitor non-verbal cues, avoid mean-spirited humour and create private jokes between the two of you. If you are comfortable, you could crack light-hearted jokes on yourself to ease the situation. A case in point, John and Helen joined a dancing school. While Helen is a quick learner and moves with ease, John seems to struggle with each step. Once he tripped over Helen’s feet and landed on his face on the dance floor. He eased Helen’s anger and tension by innocently uttering “my two left feet never seem to co-operate with each other.” This made sure that Helen remained cheerful during their dance classes.
- Bring out your playful side: Play with animals, watch funny movies, dance around when alone, sing in the shower, daydream, read funny comics. Interact playfully with customer service people; play with children, waiter, receptionist, hostess or salesperson.
So, when conflict creates trouble in your relationships, humour can help ease things and restore the bond. A simple measure to take off complicated pressure. Why don’t you try it out and see for yourself?
Photos sourced by the author and the internet.
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Kavita Panyam is a Counselling Psychologist by profession and a freelance writer by passion. She has won competitions in various magazines for slogan writing, reviews, and several blogging competitions. Her work has been published in reputed magazines across India and abroad. She writes for several well-known ezines and for print magazines. She also features as a guest contributor for various websites.