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Using Sarcasm: A Joke or Just Mean?
Why do I make sarcastic remarks to my spouse?


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Sarcasm is more than being funny, it's expressing feelings you have a hard time letting out.


When youíre angry or feeling insecure, jealous or possessive in your relationship, you may find that you make sarcastic remarks that hurt or put down your spouse. Your spouse may look confused and hurt and may ask, "Whatís that about? Why are you being so mean?" You typically answer, "I was only joking. Youíre too sensitive. Canít you take a joke?" But, if itís just a joke, why is it at the expense of your spouse? And can you learn to stop being sarcastic in favor of more direct, supportive communications?

Sarcasm is a weapon used by those who want to even the score but are too afraid to communicate that they feel jealous, anger or inferior to their spouse. Sarcasm is a passive-aggressive shield we hide behind in order to say something hurtful, mean or angry without taking responsibility. Because youíve cloaked the attack inside a joke, you think youíre not responsible for the hurt youíre causing. You say that youíre just being light or humorous and that your spouse is "being too sensitive." What youíre really saying is, "Canít you just let me be a little nasty and rebellious without taking it so personally?"

What you might say, if you were honest and more straightforward is, "Iím annoyed that you seem to be right all the time, so perfect. Sometimes I need to act as if Iím more independent and donít have to consider your feelings. I guess Iím feeling a little stuck or confined in our relationship. Instead of being sarcastic or attacking, I could just let you know that I need some time to get in touch with who I am and what I want without having to worry about our relationship."

Thereís nothing wrong with a bit of teasing when itís mutually understood as such. But thatís quite different from expressing a criticism of your spouseís driving, weight, or habits in the form of a seeming joke. When youíre being sarcastic youíre revealing a thought, opinion, or judgment that youíre afraid to express outright for fear of being seen as vindictive, mean or judgmental.

How to replace sarcasm with honest communication.

* Remember that clear, straight communication is essential to a healthy, long-term relationship. And sarcasm is a confusing, twisted message that is the opposite of honest, effective communication.

* Donít let your hurt or anger build up. Practice writing out what you want to communicate about your own feelings rather than targeting your spouse with a hurtful put-down. By the way, itís called a "put-down" because it is an act of aggression by an Alpha dog subduing an "under-dog." It attempts to put them in their place if they hurt your pride. Sarcasm is actually used by those who themselves are thin-skinned or egotistical.

* Become more courageous. Learn how to directly express your anger, your need for greater independence, or your competitiveness. Learn the middle ground of assertiveness rather than shifting from the extremes of passivity to aggression.

What to do if your spouse is sarcastic.

* Don't get caught in the trap of accepting blame for not having a sense of humor or for being too sensitive. Take seriously the hidden message that they are the one who is feeling vulnerable.

* Encourage them to speak directly about what they need. Ask, "Are you angry at me for something? I donít understand what you need when you act as if itís a joke. Tell me directly. Do you need more time alone? Please give me a clear, direct message."

Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. His bestselling guide to overcoming procrastination, The Now Habit [Putnam, 2007], is revised and available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com. You can find Dr. Fiore's "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com. and a copy of Regardless Affirmations at neilfiore.blogspot.com.

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