Do not let their cruel or careless comment slide!
Does your husband or wife regularly make jokes at your expense, or take cheap-shots at you in front of others? ... It hurts, doesn't it? It can feel earth-shaking and downright humiliating when your partner puts you down (however playfully) in front co-workers, family or friends.
Regardless of your culture, socio-demographics, income, religion, or the fact that this behavior is common among millions of couples, your feelings still matter. And the behavior is not OK if it doesn't feel OK to you.
So what does this behavior look like? Whether followed with "I'm just kidding. Don't take everything so seriously!" or just hurled at you outright with no attempt to cover it up, this is often what your partner's potshots often sound like:
- Sharing your embarrassing moments: "You should have seen her on the day we went to my boss’s house for dinner. She tripped going up the front steps, tore her dress, scraped her face — What a mess! I was mortified."
- Comments about your body or looks: "Why did you wear those pants?" or "Oh, she didn't go in the pool on vacation; she's still trying to lose all that baby weight she's still carrying around."
- Openly comparing you to someone else's better spouse: "You're so lucky to have a husband who's so attentive and actually communicates like an adult."
- Criticizing you in front of the kids: "Ignore your mother! Did she tell you that? That’s ridiculous! Go back and tell her Daddy said, 'Yes'!"
When scenarios like the ones above happen, you don't have to shrug it off and act like it doesn't hurt you. Of course, the common response to your protests is typically "Oh, you're too sensitive."
Here's a better way to deal with stinging comments that make you feel humiliated or put down:
1. Identify your own feelings.
It's important to clarify your own perception of the situation — the thoughts and feelings the get stirred up by your partner's comments. What specifically comes up for you? Are you mad, sad, disappointed, frustrated? The more mindful you are about the specific feelings within yourself, the better you can identify what you need from your partner.
2. Announce your feelings to your partner — don’t act out your feelings
Say clearly, "I am angry!" instead of slamming kitchen cabinets and stomping around the room.
This is key, because your partner is NOT a mind reader. They feel your vibe, but are confused when you say — "Everything’s fine!" — while slamming doors and clearly acting hurt. Avoid giving mixed signals which confuse them. This makes them uncertain of what to say or how to act.
3. Check in with your partner
It's important to find out what their intention was. Were they just trying to have a good time and tell a great story, not thinking about how it might hurt you?
Or, was it deliberately mean-spirited? Are they actually angry at you, so they brought up past hurts and threw them in your face on purpose? Or, did they knowingly bring something up when you've previously agreed not to talk about it?
Find out what they were thinking and why they said what they did. An occasional slip up is one thing, but abuse is a pervasive, consistent and on-going pattern. Abuse is all about power and control over you. Recognize the pattern if you see it.
4. If your partner apologizes, do not say, "that’s OK!"
You just undermined the effort of speaking up for yourself. If it's really OK, why did you raise an issue about it then? Again, this sends mixed messages.
A better response is: "Thank you, I accept your apology," creating a clear premise that your partner must own their actions. When they apologize to you, this better response acknowledges the offending behavior rather than minimizing it's impact on you with a trivializing "it's OK."
5. Truly forgive when it's appropriate to do so
Forgiveness is magical. If you harbor resentment, it just continues to fester and, ultimately, tears down your relationship. Remember to forgive yourself for how you possibly reacted when the comment hurt you, and then also forgive your partner (even if your forgiveness comes in small tiny steps … begin the process).
If any of the above techniques are new to you, try them on for size. It may take a few times to respond this way naturally. Practice over and over.
You don’t have to tell anyone you're changing, just start approaching these situations differently on your own ... with a different attitude (thoughts and feelings) and with a different response. Your quiet shift in a healthier direction might be the only thing needed to prevent this unacceptable behavior from repeating.
And if you need a default reply to keep in your emotional hip pocket ... one to pull out the next time this situation happens, here is one to practice:
"What you just said is NOT OK with me. That was private between us. You said it in front of others. That's a problem and I need us to talk about that."
Most importantly, remember: YOU ARE IMPORTANT (and so are your feelings)! The good news is that by reading this article, you've already started taking care of yourself.