By Shawn Boggs Counseling, LMFT
Sarcasm in Marriage
Are you a big joker or a big jerk?
Everyone enjoys a good laugh. It can make difficult moments easier and provide healthy perspective. Remember the character John Bender in The Breakfast Club as the sarcastic teenager who asks his arrogant teacher, “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?” It’s hard not to laugh since we’ve all had a teacher like that.
But what about sarcasm in your marriage- is that a good idea? Well, what is sarcasm? Like some of you might do, I asked Siri. She led me to this definition: “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt”. I would define sarcasm simply as humor with hostility.
Marriage is altogether different from what most people expect. In reality, people expect it mostly to be an extension of their dating relationship. They know there are going to be responsibilities to rise up and meet, but they tend to expect the positive feelings, the affection, and the fun will continue for the most part. They expect they’ll be supported and together they’ll find a way to resolve all of their differences.
But the reality is conflict in marriage can get quite deep and personal because no one is in a greater position to do more good or more damage to you than your spouse. Married people can be downright hostile toward each other, and despite protestations, hurt one another on purpose. As a marriage therapist, I’ve heard many patients say to their spouses, “I didn’t mean to hurt you”. But sometimes they do. And it happens because people get so frustrated that they believe some satisfaction will come from a great put down. Enter sarcasm stage left.
Think about this. In marriage, it’s normal that some conflicts will never be resolved. This scares a lot of people and angers others. So how you handle what appears to be unresolvable is critical. Sarcasm only makes matters worse, even though it may be thought of as a coping strategy.
So what do you do instead? First, remember who you are speaking to. This is the love of your life. If this is not the case at the moment, at least the person that knows you best. Next, if you’re going to use humor, playful, harmless humor is the way to go. The kind of humor that says you’re on the same side. Most importantly, just be honest and respectful about how much something bugs you or hurts you. There’s a much better chance the two of you will resolve a chronic problem if you aren’t spending your time, energy, and creativity insulting one another. You are bound to find someone much more reasonable than you realize. And even if you can’t resolve the matter, at least you won’t have the infection of sarcasm weighing you down.
I know a couple that did just this. They had ear marked money for several adventures they both looked forward to. Sometime later the husband felt compelled to give this money to a relative who felt entitled to it. The wife, left out of the decision, responded by refusing to engage with that relative. Despite the husband’s efforts to justify his actions, ongoing conflict continued. Eventually they resolved the conflict the best they could by her agreeing not to discuss the plans they once had. And he agreed to stop asking her to visit his entitled relative. It isn’t a story book ending, but it was significantly better than exchanging hostile barbs.
It is in handling well the chronic problems that keeps the good will going in your marriage, builds confidence in resolving issues, and pulls you closer to one another. And that’s probably a lot more of what you signed up for.
For more blogs such as this one, visit me at www.shawnboggs.com
Shawn is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Grapevine, Texas with over 20 years’ experience.