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SO's "Kidding" Hurts My Feelings

QUESTION: My significant other (we are not married but do live together) constantly makes fun of things I do. He asks me a question that requires an explanation. When I try to explain, he makes fun of me and says I take a simple question and make it difficult. He asked me why it would take two days to set computers up. He has no clue about computers at all. so I started by saying that first they have to come in and set up the equipment (I should have said installed the equipment) then I was going to say how they have to download the software, make sure all the equipment works, etc. but he never gave me a chance. I only got to say, first they come in and set the equipment up then he started laughing at me saying I was making it more than it was, etc.

He had been doing this to me constantly for about six months now. I got angry and slammed a pop can down and told him to not cut me down, that I had been put down enough in my life (I am 43 years old and am 2 years out of a physically and verbally abusive 22 1/2 year marriage). Then I said don't ask if you don't want an answer. and he said well I don't care now.

I love this person alot. He treats me special in every other way. But I feel inadequate when I communicate with him. I don't know how to tell him sometimes his "kidding around" hurts my feelings.

ANSWER: It can be difficult to pierce humor when it is used as a defense. Your husband may have developed his humor to protect him from feelings of inadequacy. Putting you down may also be something that was done to him by his parents. But this is no excuse for continuing to make himself feel better at your expense!

You have taken the first step by being aware that you feel devalued when he uses sarcastic humor. Let him know there is a difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them. Tell him that while you do love him and appreciate the ways he does show his caring for you, that this is one style of communication that is damaging your affectionate feelings towards him.

The joining of two individuals in a long term relationship requires that you develop your own customs and rules about family interactions. Naturally, since both of you come from different childhood experiences, you have internalized ways of relating that may have worked in that family, but do not work for the two of you with each other. You must come up with acceptable compromise based on your unique differences in order to forge a new "culture" of your own if your relationship is to succeed.

Ask your partner where his patterns of humor come from. Did they exist in his family? Or did he begin this way of putting others down as an adult? Let him know that you feel particularly vulnerable to "put downs" because of earlier abuse, as well. Ask for his sensitivity to this issue. Also ask for his feedback about anything that he feels you put him down about in any way. Let him know that you are willing to look at your own behavior and caretaking his needs, too. And continue to work on strengthening your own self-esteem and communication skills to increase your resiliency, too.

If your partner truly wants to "kid around" ask him what effect he wants to have on you by doing so? Perhaps he will begin to see that the effect he wants is not the effect he is getting!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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