4 Easy Ways To Curb Your Partner's Bad Humor

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How to let your partner know a joke is offensive without shutting him (or her) down.

It's painfully true that everybody has a different sense of humor.

It's painful if you're the one whose joke is met with silence, eye rolls, or groans and painful if you're The one having to listen to (yet another) “A guy walked into a bar...” story that is not funny at all to you. It's extra upsetting when the one you love comes up with a one-liner that he (or she) thinks is hilarious, but you find it offensive and maybe even personally hurtful. But what forms of effective communication can you use to shut down the offensive jokes without offending the one you love?

Louis C.K.'s controversial monologue at the start of the season finale for “Saturday Night Live” is only the most recent example of this. There's a fine line between edgy comedy and comments that are merely racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, or in some other way prejudiced and hateful. There are mixed reviews about whether or not Louis C.K. crossed that line, but the audience's reaction to his monologue, that included segments on racism and pedophilia, showed discomfort with and possible disapproval of his humor. 

If you don't find the jokes of a comedian funny, you can always turn off your television or the computer and choose not to go see him or her perform live. When the one you spend your time with is spouting humor that feels obnoxious or even unforgivable, what do you do?

The unfunny jokes may cause you to question not only your partner's sense of humor and good taste, but also his or her capability for compassion, integrity and open-mindedness! A habit of offensive jokes may drive a wedge between the two of you not only because of the subject matter, but also because of your reaction to it.

What if you want to let your partner know that the joke was not okay, but you don't want to come off as controlling or bitchy? Nobody wants to be viewed as having no sense of humor, so how can you navigate the tricky waters of this difficult conversation?

Follow these 4 effective communication guidelines for an honest response that won't push your partner away.

1. Understand Your Reaction

Anytime you feel irritated, annoyed or pissed off, it's always smart to take a few moments to get curious. Try to set aside your fury and ask yourself exactly why the joke is offensive to you.

By the way, we're not trying to talk you out of your convictions, but we do want you to be clear about how you feel and where what you're feeling is coming from.

Whatever you decide to say to your partner about the joke and what you'd like to happen differently in the future, make certain that you understand your own self first.   Ask yourself a question like: “What does this remind me of?” This offensive joke may have tapped into a sensitive or raw and unhealed place within you.

Again, this doesn't negate how you feel or mean that the joke is suddenly okay. Effective communication is so much easier when you have a full view of why this upsets you.

2. Question Your Thoughts

The story you're telling yourself about why you think your partner is telling you this joke is causing an even more intense reaction than you might otherwise have.

“Does it mean he thinks I'm as fat/stupid/gullible/naive/suspicious/ridiculous as the person he's joking about?”

A thought like this could inflate the offensiveness even more because it feels personal. This isn't the only reason why certain types of humor and jokes seem inappropriate, but it's a common one.

Whether you're thinking that your partner is subtly poking “fun” at your expense or that she is flat-out prejudiced and being a hater, pause to question your thoughts. Gently ask yourself the question: “Do I really know this is true?” If you don't know that it's true, back up and ask your partner to, “Please help me understand what you just said.”

3. Own Your Feelings

When you tell your partner that you don't find his or her joke funny, do it in a way that won't put distance between the two of you. Don't bark out an exasperated, “I can't believe you just said that!” Instead, try a phrase like: “I feel sad/disappointed/worried/frustrated when I hear you joke like that.”

Take ownership for how you feel about the joke (be specific) rather than laying on judgment or criticism. This is more honest, and it encourages your partner to engage with you instead of shutting down emotionally.

4. Make A Request

If your partner has a habit of cracking jokes that make you cringe or feel disrespected, ask him or her to stop. It's okay to make a request about how your partner expresses his or her sense of humor -- especially if you feel offended by it. Create agreements if offensive humor seems like a habit.

The key is to be specific and then talk about what you do want. Say, “In the future, please don't joke about sex or women's bodies around me.” And follow up that request with, “I am happy to hear more about _____.”

Finding the right words to say what you need to say in a delicate situation (like when you don't think your partner's jokes are funny AT ALL), can be a big challenge. We tell you which phrases will close your partner down and which will help keep him or her open and communicating with you in this free video.