Sunday, August 19, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Tell Me About It: Wife's teasing is more abusive than funny

Q: I know teasing can be a playful way to get close or nudge us not to take ourselves too seriously. But sometimes I feel my wife uses it to express an opinion about me without saying it straight out.

These exchanges always seem a bit off, like little sidelong digs, but if I look at her inquisitively she says she was "just teasing," implying that I missed the harmless fun. I end up feeling off-balance, like the episode served more to divide than join us.

If I'm misreading her, I want to stop and lighten up. If my sense of these situations is accurate, I want to respond more constructively. How do I know which is which?

Too Sensitive?

A: Read your letter, and note how distant you sound from the person you married.

It's a surmountable problem, though, once you learn to identify and stand up to it, and determine that your partner is a decent person who is acting unawares on unhealthy reflexes, as opposed to someone who knowingly seeks (and justifies) the upper hand.

She'll reveal which one she is when you articulate your discomfort with communication by snark.

If she responds with more blame, then you'll know she's not willing to build trust through openness. Counseling would make sense in that case — just you, though, not with a domineering spouse.

If instead she drops her defenses, enough to treat your feelings as valid then there is a constructive path for you to follow:

First, you find the courage to communicate clearly — "That sounds like a dig. If there's something you'd like to say to me, then please say it directly." Next, she finds the courage to accept that: "You're right, I wasn't being direct: It bothers me when you do X." Then you accommodate as you want to and can while remaining true to yourself.

This leaves plenty of room for harmless teasing — mutual, joyful, ulterior-motive-free.

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