She Teased Me, I Teased Her, She Blew Up!: What Do I Do Now?
My wife and I banter back and forth in our relationship, and most of the time it is just good-natured kidding and playful "name calling." But last week on vacation she called me a "name" and I shot back calling her another "name" and she became very, very mad at me. So mad that the last two days of our long-awaited vacation was ruined because she stopped speaking to me! I apologized profusely, said I didn't mean it, but it took until we got home before she warmed up. There is still an uneasy distance between us. I didn't say anything to her that I had not said before. Do I just let this go to fade away over time, or do I talk to her about it? ~ Hurt and Bewildered
Dear Hurt and Bewildered,
Whatever "name" you called your wife, you meant it; at least at that moment. Most likely she hurt your feelings when she first called you a "name", and you shot back at her from a place of hurt. Though fun at times, this type of teasing banter is provocative. Eventually, one or both people are going to become hurt and upset. I suggest that all couples stop this potentially painful behavior.
Here's why: Every long-term committed relationship has an emotional "slush fund" that collects pain and resentment; a secret hole where people squirrel away resentment that nobody else is supposed to know about. Both people in a marriage often choose to not speak up about things that cause anger and hurt in the spirit of trying to get along and to not appear to be "too sensitive." Eventually, the collected, hidden hurt that you carry reaches a high enough level to boil over, and you lose control and act it out during unrelated events and activities. You may joke about your spouse in public, tell friends bad stories about your spouse, spend the day thinking about your spouse in resentment, call her names with a smile, or snap back over something small. This loss of control most commonly happens in the middle of good-natured teasing when the pent-up hurt and anger stored in the hidden emotional slush fund bursts out of its secret lair and bites harder than you consciously intended. The underlying truth, however, is starting to emerge, and no matter how hard you try to take it back, the message has been sent and accurately received in a nanosecond.
Your wife is not being over sensitive. She did feel what you intended at that moment, and that was to hurt her back. She, however, might not realize that you felt hurt from her teasing in the first place. This is why I suggest an on-going being upfront about the little things that bother you. Talk these things over in a series of brief conversations until there is some way to resolve them or at least to consciously live with them with the least amount of resentment. John Gottman's marriage research revealed the number one way to tell if a couple was headed to divorce was the level of contempt each had for the other. Resentment is what builds contempt. These little things become bigger more destructive things. By eliminating provocative banter and teasing while getting to what is really going on under the surface emotionally, together you can reduce the inevitable hurt that happens in long-term committed relationships, and learn to live with the rest.
So, what do you do now? First, apologize to your wife one more time. Say, "Honey, I apologize for not being direct with you about how I felt when you called that name. I really felt hurt, and I snapped back and meant to hurt you in the same way. I am sorry about that, because you deserve to hear how I really feel without it being hidden in teasing. I felt hurt by what you said. I have tried to make it not matter, but it does."
Stop there. Listen to her response. Then continue--NOT ABOUT HER, but about how you feel about what was really bugging you. This will invite her to talk about herself. If she doesn't, that is okay, keep your focus on your business of being more respectfully direct with this woman that you love: not about how her behavior is wrong, but how her behavior AFFECTS YOU.
And, yes, she might say, "You are just too sensitive." Respond with, "I think it is more about my not being direct with you when I feel treated badly by you. I will work on that."
Again, I do suggest, no matter how fun and sexy your banter is with her, that you stop it all right now and practice being more respectfully, direct for a while. Once the directness from you both is in working, you can experiment with teasing and see what happens. Possibly you might find the need for teasing of this nature just fades away and something more enjoyable happens: warmth, honesty, closeness, and laughter from a more pleasurable source that needs no stinger to get the other's attention. And, if this doesn't work, it will be worth your while to get professional help to face what you both are doing that is causing this resentment, and replace it with something that helps build a stronger foundation of friendship that every marriage sits on.
Now, let's get to it!
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