What can I do to stop my spouse from hurting my feelings with careless and cutting remarks? He's always making what I consider extremely insensitive comments, and when I protest, he laughs and says he's only teasing or tells me I'm too sensitive. I can assure you it's no joke to me. Any suggestions?
Sadly, many couples suffer from a perpetual case of individual or mutual heartlessness. Even more tragically, a good number of them seem to regard this state of affairs as "business as usual." This is a huge problem, especially for husbands and wives who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ. The Bible repeatedly instructs us to treat each other with kindness, honor, and respect. These commands ought to be applied to every relationship, but they're especially important in the marriage. Marriage is sacred to God, and we can be sure that it displeases Him to see husbands and wives wounding each other's spirits with potshots like, "Can't you do anything right?" or "You always make dumb choices like this!" or "You act just like your mother!"
That said, we should point out that ongoing patterns of hurt feelings in marriage can stem from two possible sources: a hypersensitive spouse or an insensitive one.
Being overly sensitive can be just as destructive as its opposite. If you take offense at every perceived slight, your spouse probably will walk around on eggshells, trying not to upset you. People who live with hypersensitive mates often respond by withdrawing, becoming resentful, or being terrified to say or do anything. We'd suggest that you approach this problem by examining yourself, seriously and honestly, to see whether you might fall into the hypersensitive category.
Hypersensitivity is common in people who allow what they feel to become the primary factor in determining how they see themselves and others, and how they respond to criticism and perceived threats. It can be a precursor to deeper, more destructive emotional and relational problems. It can also be a symptom of Avoidant Personality Disorder, a condition marked by timidity, low self-esteem, and excessive sensitivity to rejection. If you or your spouse fits the criteria for this disorder, professional intervention in needed.
The opposite of being too sensitive is insensitivity, which can be just as debilitating. An insensitive person "throws" his thoughts, words, and behaviors out there and lets the chips fall where they may. Insensitive people are habitual violators of the command to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). Insensitivity sometimes indicates a serious personality disorder called narcissism. People with this problem are excessively self-centered, lacking concern or empathy for others. Often they're unable to recognize when they've hurt another's feelings. If you believe your spouse can be described as narcissistic, we suggest that you urge them to seek professional help. Without it, they won't be able to control their hurtful behavior.
Apart from personality disorders, if you or your mate has allowed insensitivity or hypersensitivity to set up camp in your marriage, you should be aware that it can destroy your relationship if left unattended. There's just one way to avoid this negative outcome: by making changes in attitude, behavior, and spiritual direction, including genuine remorse and repentance.
Start by educating yourself about the problem, whether it's yours or your spouse's. Knowledge often leads to understanding, which in turn can facilitate resolution. Once you feel clear on the causes behind the problem you're facing, make your concerns known to your spouse in a non-threatening way. Don't use accusatory language. Instead, for example, describe how you feel when your mate uses hurtful words and how these hurt feelings may influence you to respond inappropriately – perhaps by withdrawing or becoming resentful. Be as honest and transparent as you can about your own sensitivity or insensitivity.
Throughout this process remember that God will judge us according to the way we treat others. As Jesus said, "I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). If the problem is chronic, or if you feel that insensitivity has actually escalated into verbal abuse, locate a Christian psychologist or psychiatrist who can assess and treat personality disorders. Even if your spouse doesn't want to participate, a professional therapist can often offer direction on how to live with someone who has verbally abusive tendencies and how to manage the situation.
If you need referrals to counselors who are qualified to help assist, don't hesitate to give us a call. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with a list of professionals in your area who specialize in communication issues. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Hurtful Husband: Gary Smalley discusses how to deal with a spouse who is always causing hurt feelings.
The 'Love and Respect' Principle