Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have a close group of other couples whom we spend time with regularly. The problem is, my husband is often the butt of the joke in our group. I guess you could say he’s an easy target. He’s easygoing and hates conflict, so he would never speak up and say it bothers him.
I don’t think it is mean-spirited, and in most cases it truly doesn’t bother him, but after 10 years of it, it’s starting to bother me. The couple who do it most often are his oldest friends, so maybe they see him more as family, so they think it’s appropriate?
Anyway, is there a way to handle this? Since the jokes are directed at him and not me, I’m not sure it makes sense for me to speak up. And I know he is unlikely to say anything because he doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Help, please!
Butt of the Joke
I don’t know if it makes sense for you to speak up, either, because I don’t know how your husband feels.
You don’t seem to know how he feels, either, and that strikes me as the nub of the problem. I actually find “easygoing” and “hates conflict” to be mutually exclusive. Either you are easygoing, and therefore you are internally not conflicted unless pushed to the extreme, or you are conflict-averse, in which case you do feel conflicted but prefer to stay that way in silence than to address problems openly.
So the answer here hinges on which one your husband actually is. I suggest you ask him. Explain that the friends’ “friendly” ribbing is starting to bother you, and you wonder how — or whether — he stays so comfortable with it.
I also think it would behoove you to figure out why you’re bothered, and why now. It could be straightforward – some jokes get pretty stinkin' old after 10 years – or not-so-straightforward: Maybe you’re tired of feeling like a joke yourself, as the person who married their punch line, and you’re just projecting that and assuming it bothers him, too.
Maybe the ribbing bothers your husband, too, and you’re tired of watching him volunteer himself to suffer. Less likely but also possible is that the friends see how much it tweaks you when they joke about your husband, and they’re piling on accordingly.
Since each option warrants a different answer, dig in a bit to see what’s there.
Dealing with the former is pretty easy, by the way — “I think that joke has had its decade in the sun. How about a new one?” They may not drop it, but you’ll have the satisfaction of having been perfectly clear in a tonally appropriate way.
If he’s volunteering to get hurt, then the answer gets a little more complicated, because he’s the one who has to do the emotional hard work, but you can lovingly nudge him that way.
If you’re just feeling maligned by association, then the work is yours to do — but you can still include a party-appropriate mention of the fact that the gag is wearing thin. That is, speaking only for you.
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