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Dennis Azaroff, Relationship Therapist: Sarcasm and Relationships

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By Dennis Azaroff, Couples Counselor

I read your article Is This True Love and Will it Last? and I saw a lot of issues that apply to my marriage.  I think I'm guilty of using "contempt" by insulting my husband with sarcasm. 

I'm not the type of person to resort to name-calling, unless it is in self defense and things have really gotten out of control, but even then I'm more likely to use what you call "hostile humor" and/or "sarcasm or mockery."

I tend to use a lot of sarcasm and I have a quirky sense of humor. Some people (usually those who are similar in age and temperament to me) can tell when I'm trying to be funny, but a lot of people (my husband and a few others) don't always get my humor.   I think we have a bit of a disconnect because my husband's formative years were during the early 50s and early 60s, while I'm a bit more offbeat and quirky because my teenage years were during the late 60s "hippie era."

He's not a baby boomer, but I am.  And, most of my sarcasm is based upon the time period when jumping through hoops "to be like everyone else and have a TV in every room" was ridiculed, and "being your own creative self" was admired.  So, my sarcasm is seen as a personal attack on his more bourgeois lifestyle.  Admittedly, I sometimes use sarcasm as a passive-aggressive weapon but that is not always the case.  Most of the time, I am just making an observation about the ironies of life.

Also, I am capable of extremely blunt and biting criticism...which can be very accurate and, therefore, extremely hurtful. I only do this with people I am very, very close to. Should I put a piece of duct tape over my mouth when I start to get frustrated or upset or do you have a better plan?

Sincerely, Tina

read thoughts from a couple's councelor

Dennis Asaroff, Couples Therapist

Answer by Dennis Azaroff: How to Deal With Sarcasm in a Relationship

Hi Tina. In answer to your earlier question, don't dumb yourself down, you need to be who you are. However, make it clear to those who are more sensitive or don't understand your kind of humor that it's well intentioned. Smile, give a pat on he back, wink. Do something loving and personal along with your humor.

Regarding your husband, could you ask him if your humor sometimes hurts him? ... If it does, have a talk about it. Ask him when it's OK and when it hurts. Ask him if he could give you a signal (like holding up his hand) when it's too much for him.

Can you differentiate between when it's passive-aggressive, and when it's in fun?

Those times when it is passive-aggressive, perhaps you could ask yourself what you're actually trying to express, and say that directly and clearly. Perhaps you're feeling hurt, and it's coming out passive-aggressively? Then say you're hurt rather than have it come out sideways. Perhaps you're feeling disappointed and it's coming out passive-aggressively, then realize that, and have a conversation about that, or do some writing about that.

In regard to your second question, you're very intelligent and probably pretty perceptive. Don't stop sharing your insights, it would be a loss for your friends and family. However, it's all in the presentation. The truth doesn't need to be delivered harshly (not that you do that). Say it in "I" statements, such as "I worry when you do this", "This behavior scares me","I notice that you do this, I do it too" etc.

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Dennis Azaroff L.M.H.C., the founder of LovingPartners, has been in private practice in the Seattle area since 1980. Dennis has extensive experience in treating a variety of issues including mood disorders, marital problems, mild bipolar disorders, unfinished grieving, and recovery issues. Dennis is comfortable and experienced working with these issues in individual, couples and group settings.

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