Dear Bitter Butch,
I’m a lucky woman in many ways. I’ve been married for 12 years to a great guy who earns well, is a great dad to our two boys and is mostly fun to be around. Trouble is he can’t seem to tolerate any teasing from me. I always back it up, apologize honestly because I don’t want to cause pain but this is getting really old. Teasing and ribbing is supposed to be fun for each other. I welcome his jesting and laugh uproariously when he gets a good jab in but he can’t seem to accept it from me. We’ve talked about it in therapy but we don’t seem to get anywhere with it. How can we get past this?
– Bored in Baltimore
You want to get past this? Then stop. You’re bored, but he’s hurting.
Then, get different help from just couple’s therapy: He needs individual therapy to pull apart why he can dish it out, but he can’t take appropriate teasing and ribbing from his spouse (if that’s what’s going on). Or maybe you need individual therapy to pull apart why you confuse cruelty for humor (if that’s what’s going on). I’m guessing both would help.
There are so many reasons that a person might be too touchy to accept ribbing but might dish it out: he might have some childhood issues from having been emotionally abused by someone who was supposed to love him and he might hate teasing, and he might dish it out to you just because he thinks that’s what you want. Or he might not really understand that sort of humor at all.
Or he might be abusive himself and using his hurt feelings to prevent you from getting back at him when he says truly nasty things. (You said ‘when he gets in a good jab,’ which could mean something sinister or funny or neither or both.) Or, he might suffer from fragile masculinity and feel that a woman cutting him down is ‘ball busting’ but when he does it, it’s all in good fun. I dunno. But he needs to figure that shit out. HE does.
As for you, there’s something that jumped out at me in your letter that I want to address: you didn’t sign it ‘baffled’ or ‘hurt’ or ‘worried’ or any number of ways you could have signed it. You signed it ‘bored.’
Your description of him is astoundingly boring. He is a ‘great’ (very very vague modifier) guy who earns well, (yawn), is a ‘great’ (there’s that vague description again) dad to our two boys (yawn) and is mostly fun to be around. (mooooostly. yaaaawwwwwwwwwwwn.)
I don’t think you’re just bored with the lack of clever repartee. I think you’re bored with HIM, and possibly covering up resentment toward him for being so goddamned boring to you that your jabs have far more barb and venom in them than you realize, because you are feeling stifled and bored— and maybe even a little angry.
Did the two of you tease each other before you married, or before you had kids? Did you both enjoy it? Is this something that used to be there and no longer is? It sounds like this was never part of your relationship, but you have some idea that marriages are ‘supposed to’ contain this sort of humor.
Your marriage is not what you felt it was ‘supposed to’ be. Maybe you feel a little swindled, as you checked off everything you thought you wanted, but it’s not satisfying.
- In our society, you’re ‘supposed to’ get married. Check.
- You’re ‘supposed to’ have two kids. Check, check.
- He’s ‘supposed to’ ‘earn well.’ Check.
- “Teasing and ribbing is supposed to be fun for each other.” NOPE.
Perhaps being married to the same ‘great’ guy for 12 years is not satisfying to you. Perhaps parenting isn’t what you thought it would be. Perhaps the job he has that earns the paycheck you like keeps him away too much, or the money doesn’t satisfy you like you thought it would. But you are focusing on the lack of teasing and ribbing, because that seems like the most obvious issue.
I think you might be miserable, and I think your boredom might be part of that misery, and I think THAT is what you should focus on instead.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.