Like many people, I have the gifts of sarcasm and snark. OK, maybe they aren’t really gifts, but I’ve got them, and they work when I’m with my buddies at the gym or mountain biking or hanging out. I’m always good for a witty comment followed by some friendly chuckles.
While sarcasm and snark are often acceptable communication strategies used among like-minded peers, they are not really a great fit for building intimate relationships among engaged and married couples.
In three decades of marriage, it’s taken focus and hard work (amid many failures) to restrain my “gifts” in the presence of my wife, Cathy. Any time I “express these gifts” it hasn’t been good for our marriage.
Cathy tells me that from time to time that I spill and leave protein powder on our kitchen counter after I’ve made a post-workout shake. She has eyes like a hawk, I swear. One day she remarked on the mess I left behind and her desire for me to clean up after myself. I was amazed at how quickly my mind concocted a fantastic zinger in response. My thoughts were along the lines of how miniscule the powder on the counter was compared to her piles of junk on the counter, and how I believed that a family of armadillos had already taken up residence among them.
Wow! I was impressed with my skills. Fortunately, a wave of sanity rolled over me and I suppressed the urge to speak what I was thinking. Instead, I apologized and told Cathy that I would be more careful in the future and better at cleaning up after myself (which was a totally reasonable request).
Among couples, it’s just so easy to default to sarcasm and snark when your partner points out your error or careless act. But sarcasm and wit can wound the person you love, tear down good communication between the two of you, and can inflict long-term damage to your relationship.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a champion of sarcasm and snark. Really. Wherever you are on the journey of marriage—whether you are just preparing for marriage or if you’ve been married for decades—you can start building three skills that can help keep your communication strong and your relationship healthy. These skills take practice, and boil down to exercises in self-control. And the sooner you start working on them the healthier your relationship become.
1. Don’t Say Everything You Think.
As sure as the sun rises each morning, there are going to be times when you will think up snappy, cutting remarks and comebacks. You’ll probably even rehearse them in your head. They will probably sound really good rolling around in your brain.
But just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it. It sounds simple, but it’s tougher to follow thru than you might imagine. When you are irritated at your partner, give yourself a timeout to cool off. Think about what you need to say before you say it. Then, make an appropriate and constructive comment in a loving way. Try it! Keep that sarcasm and snark to yourself—you won’t explode.
2. Keep Your Body Language in Check.
Communication science tells us that the major part of any message is conveyed through body language rather than the verbal component. So you might think you are doing well by not saying everything you think to your partner, while your body language is loudly screaming snark and sarcasm. Your eye-roll, your vacant stare, your crossed arms, your furrowed brow and your fake smile will always communicate what is going on in your head. These messages can be just as damaging as hurtful remarks. It will take practice, but work on controlling your body language.
3. Schedule a Weekly Summit.
Use this as a regular meeting with your partner to discuss family and relationship issues. This provides an alternative to saying something in the heat of the moment that you’ll likely regret, while providing regular opportunities for important conversations.
You have the power to change the snark and sarcasm behavior in your communication. And when you do, it will change your relationship! Don’t allow your remarks to cause nasty effects in your partner, like defensiveness, anger and shame. You will never win that way in your marriage.
Snark and sarcasm communicate a lack of respect and reinforce any preconceived notions that your partner is married to (or is about to marry) a jerk. On the other hand, learning to master what to say—and what not to say—will work wonders to protect and build unity and intimacy between the two of you! Your marriage will thank you for it!
Doug Fields is a communicator, resource-provider, writer, pastor & leadership mentor. He’s the author of more than 50 books including Getting Ready for Marriage and is currently working with Youth Specialties & Azusa Pacific University (HomeWord’s Center for Youth/Family). More information about Doug is available at dougfields.com.