We know by instinct that humour is pretty important in relationships. But the reasons are often left a little vague. It isn’t that we crudely want entertainment – there are enough comedians on TV. We don’t just want a laugh per se. For two people to be able to tolerate one another over time we need to laugh. In the nicest way at our partner and at ourselves. Spending time closely around someone inevitably exposes us to constant departures from what we can call normality or balance. Our partners will be a little crazy in many areas and we will be too of course. They might turn out to ring their mother five times a day, clean the kitchen as if surgery was going to be performed there, always insist on inviting friends around or want to arrive at the airport six hours before a flight. We need to say something, but doing so directly and in a serious voice can be painfully counter-productive. Too often, the partner just feels swiftly attacked and refuses the insight. Leading to stifled irritation and bitterness. This is where humour comes in. Humour is the most effective way of criticising another person without arousing their irritation or self-righteousness. Their laughter isn’t just fun it’s a sign that they have acknowledged an attempt to reform them. If people tend to get annoyed when criticism is delivered in a serious tone, it’s It’s that they can’t see the extent to which their attitudes have abandoned proportion and balance. They are unable to spot their deviation from the mature meme. So the comedic gesture involves subjecting the troublesome aspect of the other to extreme exaggeration – which then jolts them into recognition of a problem, while at the same time offering them the relief of feeling that they arn’t, of course, quite that bad. In the late 1980s, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher grew increasingly authoritarian with her colleagues and fellow politicians. Serious-minded articles appeared in newspapers urging the Prime Minister to be more collegiate and empathetic. It didn’t work at all; Mrs Thatcher simply got offended and dug in. But then a comedy show using puppets called Spitting Image turned the Prime Minister into a deep-voiced, psychopathic matron with a tendency to whack her naughty colleagues over the head with a truncheon. This obviously wasn’t how Mrs Thatcher actually behaved, and yet it was a tenfold exaggeration of a real – and painful – truth about her. Remarkably, presented in this form, the Prime Minister could see the point, felt assuaged by the wildness of the exaggeration and was in a position to laugh at herself. In her memoirs, she recalled tuning into the programme and chuckling – realising that she would henceforth need to learn to reign in a tendency that had clearly gotten out of hand. The comedy show was rehearsing a move we all need constantly to make in our relationships. Here too we should use the tacit of kindly comic exaggeration. To point out the failings of another person. Imagine responding to a partner who had become overly agitated about signs of dirt in the kitchen in answer we might massively over-play the gravity of the issue and insist: ‘Let’s commit suicide over the bread crumbs by the sink: you’re right, life is no longer worth living on these term; We could nip round to the late night pharmacy and get a bottle of sleeping pills or take the bread knife to those larger veins in our ankles. Soon, we won’t have to worry about this messy world any longer. Come on, it could even be fun.’ One would during the speech need to be chirpy, relaxed, with just a playful twitch of the lips as one elaborated the technical details. As comedians know, tone is everything. The comic move is to blow up departures from the norm to such manifestly absurd proportions, that even the partner can see them for what they always were: over-reactions. Comedy skilfully teaches us that the way to get someone to see that they have over-reacted is not to sound mature and reasonable. It’s to continue to pump up the problem until the over-reaction becomes so clear, so benign by its outsize dimensions that our audience starts to laugh. We’ll have learnt to criticise through humour – and our relationships will be a whole lot more secure as a result, especially when we allow our lover to magnify our own failings into jokes in turn.