Hurtful Humor in Marriage

Hurtful humor that Hurts AdobeStock_159311782 copyHave you been with a couple where one spouse makes a cutting remark about the other? Then you see the reaction of the other spouse and he or she does NOT think this is funny. We sure have! And when it happens we’re embarrassed to be in this situation. We want to quietly slink away. This is what we’re talking about in this Insight —hurtful humor in marriage.

Often these barbs are treated by the one giving them as if they are a joke. But if the one who is receiving them isn’t laughing, it truly isn’t a joking matter. Sadly, we both confess that we’ve been there, and have even done that in the past. We’ve fallen into the trap of zinging each other with sarcasm. Sometimes we have even had an audience that has witnessed this. And for that we are sorry and wish it never happened. We claim we were “just kidding.” However, as we’ve talked things out, we see that our kidding was no laughing matter.

Hurtful Humor

There are some situations where the offending spouse WAS “just kidding.” But, if the spouse on the receiving end doesn’t view it in that way, it becomes problematic. Humor is as it is perceived and received. We are marriage partners, not opponents. When a “joke” isn’t received as being funny, the offending spouse needs to take note. That way it won’t be repeated in the future. Also, apologizing for the offense at that time can go a long way in healing the hurt. Don’t let it just lay there. Even if we didn’t mean to hurt our spouse, it’s important to own up to the fact that we did.

If we run over our spouse’s foot with a car, even if it was truly an accident, it still hurts them. Apologizing for hurting our spouse is an appropriate thing to do when we deliver pain—whether it was intentional or not. Here’s something that a blogger named Naomi wrote on this issue:

“When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as ‘I want’ or ‘I don’t want,’ or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them. Don’t tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy. It denies the validity of the things they care about.

“Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!). But you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.” (From the Power of Two article, “How Humor Can Hurt Your Relationship”)

Other Hurtful Humor

Other times certain humor isn’t appropriate. It could be that is the type of humor we like but our spouse doesn’t. If so, save that type of joking for others who enjoy it. Don’t keep subjecting your spouse to it.

Or it could be that it’s a passive aggressive situation. That is another issue that needs attention. (Here are two articles that deal with that issue: • The Passive Aggressive Spouse and • How to Love a Passive Aggressive Husband.) We should be mindful that we cause a lot of damage to the relationship when one AIMS their humor at the other. Humor is to be shared, not thrown at each other like hand grenades. Hurtful humor can cause a lot of destruction.

We’re told in Proverbs 26:18-19 (as worded in The Message):

People who shrug off deliberate deceptions saying, ‘I didn’t mean it, I was only joking,’ are worse than careless campers who walk away from smoldering campfires.

Cutting Humor That Hurts

Author Rodney A Wilson talks about sarcastic humor that damages in a Home Life Magazine article titled “Cut the Sarcasm.” In it he writes:

“My dictionary is ancient, but its definition of sarcasm is classic. ‘Sarcasm’ comes from a word meaning ‘to tear flesh, like dogs.’ It means to be brutal, have no mercy, be vicious, go for the jugular, tear flesh the way a dog would.”

That doesn’t sound like something marriage partners should do to each other. This is especially true for spouses who love God and pledge to love and honor each other! We are to protect and respect each other’s feelings. We shouldn’t embarrass or “cut” each other down. By doing so, we reveal just how unsafe we can be —which is not becoming of a “child of God.”

In the magazine article previously referred to, Mr Wilson also wrote:

“While humor may appear to soften the blow, the unseen emotional damage of sarcasm can be devastating. I’m convinced many marriages die of a thousand emotional cuts instead of one deadly blow. A steady diet of sarcasm poisons a marriage. So it needs to be eliminated. No good comes from using it.

“Trust, a vital ingredient in a healthy marriage, won’t be present when a husband or wife is always braced for the next public or private cutting remark from a spouse. And respect won’t be found in the midst of ridicule. A sarcastic environment robs a marriage of peace and joy, two parts of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. (See: Galatians 5:22-23.) In essence, sarcasm severely limits the intimacy between a husband and wife.

“There are plenty of healthy ways to fit humor into your marriage. Choose to break the sarcasm habit, and die daily to yourself. (See: 1 Corinthians 15:31.)”


In another article authors Dale and Jena Forehand also speak about sarcasm and hurtful humor. They write:

“Sarcasm is one of the most harmful verbal tactics used against a spouse. It destroys communication and unity in marriage. One of the oldest military strategies is to divide and conquer. Our enemy, Satan, still uses that tactic to destroy families. Satan first seeks to separate you and your spouse emotionally. Then he moves in and seeks to separate you and your spouse physically.

“When this occurs, he is in perfect position to conquer your marriage. In the midst of conflict, the enemy begins outside the gate of your marriage, cunningly tempting you and your spouse to wage war through verbal attacks. And sarcasm often is Satan’s weapon of choice.” (From the web site article, “Sarcasm: The Verbal Enemy at the Gate”)

The authors then give an acrostic “to help you to understand why sarcastic remarks are so damaging to marriages.” We can only give you a thumbnail sketch of what they say. (We recommend you read the rest in the article linked to above.) But in essence:


S = Stings
A = Aggravates
R = Retaliates
C = is Controlling.
A = It Alienates
S = Shames
M = Manipulates.

Near the end of the article, the authors challenge us to “Lay It Down.” It’s something we should never forget:

“If we know the enemy uses sarcasm to tear down marriages, then what can we do about it? We need to lay down the weapons of our enemy. And we need to pick up the weapon God has given us through His Word. Colossians 3:12-17 provides the perfect answer.”

We are told in Colossians 3:12-17:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We can all learn from each other. Lets laugh together and enjoy it “as good medicine” being careful to humor, not hurt each other.

Cindy and Steve Wright

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Filed under: Marriage Insights

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8 responses to “Hurtful Humor in Marriage

  1. Wish my husband would have heeded this. His humor at my expense has taken a lot of joy from our marriage.

  2. Hi Steve and Cindy, I really want to commend the ministry that God called you guys in. It is a great ministry indeed. I’m also amazed on how prophetic it is. I have subscribed to Marriage Mission for more than 10 years ago. Back then I and my wife were laughing when we shared these messages. Unfortunately, my wife passed on but this ministry remained relevant to me.

    I got another Christian partner and I introduced her to this wonderful marriage ministry. We shared and rejoiced together in these ministry messages. It seemed she was enjoying the messages and that was her way of life. We did not only read the messages but we would always scrutinize and try it against the word of God. She also lost a husband and has children.

    Two years ago we got married and everything changed. We cannot read the word of God together, let alone these marriage messages. She blamed of choosing verses that are insulting, aimed at putting her at blame. And accused me that I’m party to this ministry, that you cannot be telling things exactly as they transpire in our lives. We even reached the stage where we parted ways. I thank God that we managed to come together again and I trust God that he will help us to stay together and forever. I really appreciate the relevance of this institution. It is a God given institute. May bless you, and give all the wisdom that you enjoy because there is a reward at the end. God bless.

    1. Moses, Thank you SO much for your encouragement. Your testimony affirms for Cindy and me that as we pray for God’s wisdom as to what we write and send out every week it is HIS Holy Spirit that guides us. And I’ll let you in on a secret: Every week just before I click the “send” button for the Marriage Insight to go out around the world Cindy and I pray again. And my prayer is always that God will use this Insight as He sees fit and that it will find open hearts and minds to receive it in the way God intends. And you can show your wife this: I, Steven Wright, hear by attest and affirm, as God is my witness, that you have never e-mailed us and asked us to write on a particular topic. :-) Blessings!

  3. My Husband will “joke” around saying I have a boyfriend… I’ve told him it bothers me, but over 20 years of marriage he still does it… it hurts me. He’s joking that I’m cheating on him? I don’t know how to get him to stop.

    1. I sure don’t blame you for seeing this as hurtful humor. It sure would be for me too! It may be that eventually your husband will stop using this type of “humor” (even though nothing is funny about this). I’ve seen where people eventually wake up and stop doing some of the toxic things they have done for years. But I don’t want to mislead you; it’s rare.

      If your husband has been doing this for over 20 years, he’s pretty steeped in this pattern. And unless he has a wakeup call or an ah-ha moment, he most likely won’t stop this type of behavior. Actually, it speaks more of him than you. It probably stems from insecurities and patterns he learned earlier in life… not sure. You may or may not give him any reason for feeling insecure or for thinking this is funny, but there’s something in him that drives him to keep repeating this type of behavior. Prayerfully examine your behavior and his. Ask for wisdom on what can be done.

      As far as what you can do to get him to stop–I honestly don’t know. As I said, some people will wake up and stop this type of behavior. For some reason they finally “get it” that this is not healthy (even after years and years of doing this). But when a path is so well traveled, they often don’t hop off of it.

      I can’t really tell you what to do; all I can tell you is what I believe I would do. I believe I would see this as a type of emotional hook. Your husband gets some kind of satisfaction from putting this emotional hook out there; so, I would look at the ways I have reacted in the past that he obviously isn’t giving consideration, and see how I can stop grabbing onto this hook. Here’s something that Pastor Roger Barrier wrote about emotional hooks (as it pertained to another marriage situation). I believe it applies here, as well: “An emotional hook is a guilt producing comment designed to make you feel bad unless you do what the ‘hooker’ wants you to do. He has cast out a number of emotional hooks. Let’s be certain that you see them for what they are and not swallow any of them. Frankly, as best as I can tell, you don’t have to do or respond to anything he has said to you. Emotional hooks are dangling; don’t bite.”

      That seems wise in this incident. I’d prayerfully look to see how I could de-fang these types of comments. I would try to NOT attach resentment or ill feelings toward my husband. (That will just further hurt your marriage relationship and you personally.) I’d see it as, “He just doesn’t get it, so I’m not going to feed these kinds of comments with any additional energy. Let these types of emotional hooks dangle and ‘don’t bite.'”

      Also, if you haven’t already, I would find a non-toxic time to talk to my husband over this matter. (We call it a H.A.L.T. Time, which you can read about on this web site.) I’d ask, “What can I do to have you stop emotionally punching at me this way? It’s hurtful, and it’s not true. I love you and I don’t want this to continue to be an ongoing issue that is causing problems between us. What can I do to stop these types of comments?” Now, if he responds in unhealthy ways and keeps doing this, then I would see that he will not change no matter what I do. There is something dysfunctional going on here. I would pray over this and pray for him and ask God for wisdom on how I should handle my behavior when he puts forth this type of emotional hook.

      That’s just my take on this. Can’t tell you what to do. But this gives you some things to prayerfully consider. I hope and pray your husband gets an “ah-ha moment” where he wakes up and stops doing this to you.

      1. I’m grateful I read this message and have seen your ministry website. I will explore it further. This is helping me at this moment. I’m receiving truth and being admonished to see biting humorless statements as dangling hooks that are not about me at all.

        This feels empowering. I have 1000s of cuts all over me from 30+ years of this behavior. He NEVER apologizes, or I should say occasionally, when confronted I hear ‘sorry, but…’, so that he can turn it back on me again. I really need to work through this with the help and discernment of the Holy Spirit. I’m very angry though and it’s only getting worse. I’m sad, angry, lonely, frustrated and very unhealthy living in my unhealthy, unredeemed marriage.

        This quote describes the current situation: “Satan first seeks to separate you and your spouse emotionally. Then he moves in and seeks to separate you and your spouse physically.” But I claim the victory that Jesus Christ has already accomplished. In this marriage, he gave me salvation and I received it! I pray that Jesus will continue to strengthen me to more than just survive and actually grow in grace despite this bleak relationship AND will cause a new thing to happen. I fear my husband will only become more ugly as he ages and harder to live with; thoughts that steal my hope in the power of my faith and my Lord. I lay these thought down at the foot of the cross and ask Jesus to redeem my thinking.

  4. This is a very powerful resource for marriages and indeed an eye opener just because it is where we least expect that Satan waits to kill, steal & destroy. This article is so rich that I think every marriage should partake of it. I will definitely share this with my family and friends.

    1. Thank you Sharon, for your supportive words. We pray it makes a positive difference in a multitude of marriages. We appreciate you!