This study explores how aggressive humor is used as a negative relational maintenance behavior during conflicts in romantic relationships. Negative relational maintenance behaviors are questionable interpersonal behaviors romantic partners use to relieve personal tensions about the state of the relationship while still keeping the relationship in existence. Twenty-six participants in committed romantic relationships participated in seven semi-structured group interviews, and transcripts from these group interviews were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. This analysis revealed participants were motivated to use aggressive humor in conflict situations to cover up topics of discussion, elicit a response from their partners, and ease tension. Aggressive humor was enacted through sarcasm, repetition, and mimicking. These findings extend existing research on negative relational maintenance behaviors and provide insight to the “dark side” of maintaining romantic relationships.


Aggressive Humor, Interpersonal Conflict, Negative Maintenance, Relational Maintenance, Group Interviews, Thematic Analysis

Author Bio(s)

Whitney Anderson (Ph.D., North Dakota State University, 2016) is a Senior Managing Associate at Fox Advancement, Minneapolis, MN. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: whitney.a.anderson@ndsu.edu.

Nancy DiTunnariello (Ph.D., North Dakota State University, 2016) is an Assistant Professor at St. John’s University – Staten Island Campus, Staten Island, New York.

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