One Sided Teasing Humor

One Sided Teasing Humor - AdobeStock_209523508 copyLaughter is as good medicine.” That’s what the Bible says, and it’s true! It can be the best thing for you! But when you feel the laughter is directed AT you instead of WITH you, this “medicine” can be bitter to swallow. It’s important to acknowledge that one-sided teasing humor can be problematic.

We want to ask you… does your sense of humor make your spouse feel better (as good medicine)? Or does it actually make him or her feel worse? Keep in mind that the Bible also tells us:

Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.(Ephesians 4:29)

So, here are the other questions we’d like to ask: Is your humor hurtful or helpful? Does it benefit and build your spouse up? Or does he or she PERCEIVE that you joke around in a hurtful manner?

Perception of Teasing Humor

First, please realize that a lot of what humor is all about is perception. What may be funny to one person may not be interpreted as being funny to another. For this reason, we sometimes forget that.

One of the many qualities I most appreciate about my husband is the way he makes me (Cindy) laugh. Sometimes I take life too seriously and often, just at the right time, Steve finds a way to make me laugh —which makes life much more enjoyable. As Drs David and Jan Stoop say, “Show us a marriage that is faltering, and we’ll show you a marriage where the fun is gone.”

As married couples it’s important to find ways to INFUSE fun into our lives. We say infuse because it doesn’t always come naturally. Life can eventually drain humor right out of our married lives so sometimes we need to look for things to laugh about together. It’s a matter of being INTENTIONAL in bringing laughter into our homes.

One Sided, Teasing Humor

But we want to make sure that the humor isn’t one-sided and teasing doesn’t get to the point where the other spouse is offended. Boundaries are needed.

“Teasing can be a normal and healthy part of any relationship. No one is perfect, and there’s nothing wrong with making playful jokes. That is, so long as you stay within certain boundaries. You know your spouse so well that it’s easy to forget to be sensitive. But it’s never right or acceptable to make a joke at the expense of your partner’s feelings. If teasing becomes seriously offensive and hurtful, it can create a major dent in your relationship.” (Gillian Markson, from the article, “Teasing”)

It also can cause trust issues. If one spouse doesn’t feel emotionally safe with the other, he or she will hold back emotionally. Who wants to subject themselves to hostility and hurtful teasing humor about sensitive issues?

Disguised “Humorous” Messages

Here’s what Dr Betty Philips says about teasing that hurts:

“Hostile teasing, picking, biting humor or sarcasm too often are insults poorly disguised as humor. They also are ‘double bind’ communications, which cause confusion, frustration, personal pain and anger in the recipient. The disguised message runs as follows. ‘I’m making fun of you and belittling you, but it’s only humor. I don’t really mean what I just said. There’s something wrong with you when you don’t accept my statements at face value as teasing even though my words are in fact critical and hostile.’ The more clever and witty the comment, the more difficult it is to respond.” (From the article, “Teasing: Just Joking?”)

It’s a confusing situation. In a Marriage Partnership Magazine article titled, “What Joy Isn’t” written by Nancy Ortberg, she writes of ways we “misuse or abuse joy.” One of them is on this very topic. Here’s what she says on this subject:

Hurtful Teasing Humor:

“This is what I call the sword and shield approach. With the sword you inflict intentional pain, and then you hide behind a phrase such as, ‘I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?’

“It’s the coward’s approach. It’s saying, I have an issue with my spouse, but I’m too chicken to bring it up honestly where I might face disapproval or anger. So rather than facing it head on, often in the company of other people, I’ll come up with a joke that’s intentionally designed to hit at the heart of some tender area between us.” [OUCH!]

Nancy goes on to say:

“Humor that’s based on ridicule is using joy destructively on your relationship. True joy comes when we vow to laugh with each other, not at each other. Personal shortcomings, areas of tenderness between the two of us, are not material for jokes or the use of humor.”

We couldn’t agree more. Please prayerfully consider the way you and your spouse tease each other.

The Lord’s Nudging on Teasing Humor

Is there some shred of truth in what’s written above about your own brand of humor and teasing? Could the Lord be nudging you, trying to get your attention about this matter? Could it be that He is telling you to be more careful in how you’re “just joking?”

It says in Proverbs 26:18-19:

Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows, is a man who deceives his neighbor (or spouse) and says, ‘I was only joking!’

We need to be careful not to shoot deadly arrows at our spouse, trying to disguise it as “joking.” If your spouse doesn’t perceive your humor as being funny then it’s deadly and hurtful. And not only isn’t your spouse laughing, but neither is the Lord! The applicable term in this case is: “madman.”

Boundaries on Teasing Humor

So, to deal with the madness here are a few tips to follow:

• “Take responsibility for your words.

“Understand that every word you say to your mate either builds them up, or tears them down. Every attitude you bring in the door of your home either is uplifting, or degrading. Watch how you communicate and be open to feedback about what kind of language you use in your marriage. (Dr. David B. Hawkins, from the article, “Hurtful Words, Healing Words”)

• “Establish the difference between playful joking and verbal attacks.

“Respect your husband or wife’s individual preferences. A husband may consider it playful and flirtatious to tease about the shape of his wife’s body, but his mate may be absolutely mortified. Keep in mind that people develop these sensitivities and insecurities because of past experiences and perceptions. It’s simply mean and disrespectful to provoke them.” (Gillian Markson)

• Recognize: “All of us have sensitive areas or weak spots in our self-esteem.

“It’s not something that is readily shared. So if your spouse objects to your teasing, accept that the teasing is not liked or appreciated and knock it off! Don’t try to throw if off by saying that you were only joking or that your spouse is a poor sport. …The key is being able to recognize good-natured, healthy teasing from teasing that attacks. If your spouse doesn’t stop teasing when you ask, or if the teasing becomes even more vindictive and hurtful after you’ve discussed it, then there could be some serious problems in your marriage, including emotional abuse, that require professional help.” (Sheri Stritof, from the article, “Do You Wish the Teasing Would Stop?)

With this in mind, from this day forward, may our humor cause laughter as “good medicine.” May it HELP —rather than hurt our marriage partners.

Cindy and Steve Wright


We talk about this issue and so much more in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. Just click on the linked title or the “Now Available” picture below to do so:



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