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  • Dr. Gil Stieglitz

Eliminate Toxic Speech Habits that Hurt Your Relationships


One of the most destructive relational habits that I see is the habit of sarcasm. It is considered clever and fun to be sarcastic with our friends and spouse, but it is actually the height of rudeness and will ultimately destroy the relationship. One of the things I must constantly tell couples is to stop being sarcastic. It does not help. It always hurts. That's because with sarcasm, one person is always gaining at the expense of the other-the very opposite of loving others as yourself (Matt 22:39).

I blame a lot of our culture of sarcasm on the sitcom. People see this destructive habit of sarcasm modeled on T.V. and in movies and it has become the norm for real life. We are now used to watching people who are "married" insulting, cutting, and sarcastically commenting on everything that their spouse does for the laughs of an audience. Another sitcom destroys our culture by showing that one should be openly rude, cutting, sarcastic, and even mean to their family members. But your life is not a comedy sketch. It is not a T.V. show with laugh tracks and paid actors. Your life is the real people that you care about and hurting them is terrible.

The first rule of relationships is to not offend or abuse the people you want to be friends with. And yet this is what sarcasm actually is ... it is clever rudeness and witty criticism. Isn't this an obvious rule? Be nice to the people you want a lasting relationship with. It shouldn't be too hard, yet our culture implies that we can have a relationship built on put downs, sarcasm, and making our friends the butt of the joke. This will not work for the development of a healthy relationship. If you think it is working for you, then you are the one telling the jokes not receiving them. You are the one with the power and not the person dealing with the verbal abuse coming from your friend. Relationships work so much better when people are nice to one another.

I can remember in high school having a relationship with a young lady in which the sum total of our relationship was two hours talking on the phone each evening insulting one another. It's no wonder that the relationship did not last. It was a relationship built on attractiveness and verbal abuse masquerading as witty conversation. I thought I was so clever and so good at the put down. Unfortunately, I was. This was one of the major things I needed to unlearn as I grew up and wanted to follow a Christian way of life.

As a pastor and counselor, I listen to married couples talk to one another all the time. If I hear them putting each other down or being sarcastic, I know it is not a healthy relationship. Sarcasm destroys the potential of a marriage because they are sarcastic with each other instead of encouraging. Develop the habit of saying positive rather than cynical comments to your spouse and friends. Sarcastic comments work on T.V. for laughs but they destroy actual relationships. There is no laugh track in your home. No one applauds when you unleash a zinger against your spouse. Your marriage ratings do not improve with biting wit and intelligent cynicism; in fact, your relationship is destroyed by these behaviors.

Look at what Scripture says:

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Eph 4:29)

Sarcasm is the very opposite of wholesome, edifying speech. I am appalled by our cultural value of sarcasm. It is one of the big reasons our relationships don't last. This funny, witty, cynical response to everyone else's comments and everything in life destroys the fabric of relationships. A relationship is built on trust and care and it is impossible to keep trusting when you are butt of jokes and comments regularly. Let me give you a different concrete example to help you see this.

What if I had a friend Bob who every time I saw him I always threw a glass of cold water in his face. It wouldn't take long before Bob would start avoiding me. He would start looking for ways to minimize any times with me. Throwing cold water in someone's face is what sarcasm is emotionally and psychologically. It backs a person up rather than draws them near. It is offensive, but in a way where you are not supposed to show that you are offended.

So how can you eliminate sarcasm? I try to follow these simple do's and don'ts:

  • Don't say it hidden in a joke.

  • Don't say it hidden in a negative riddle or clue.

  • Don't say it in a way so you can deny you said it.

  • Do say it boring.

  • Do say it lovingly.

  • Do say it positive.

  • Do say it straight.

See if you can be clever enough to have a normal conversation with your spouse or friend that does not include sarcasm of any kind. I am amazed at the number of people who cannot do it. It is hard-baked into our culture that this is funny when it is really destructive. But I have watched marriages significantly improve when sarcasm has been banned as a form of communication. Make thoughtful requests. Be positive toward the person who is one half of your most important relationship.

Keep in mind that T.V. marriages do not last and neither will yours if you keep being sarcastic towards one another. This is not a marriage; it is a comedy sketch. These people are not really married and are paid to tell jokes and be the straight person for a T.V. show. They become famous for being cruel and mean. In real life, these kinds of comments are like acid that burns everything it touches. Don't be foolish and believe that what is popular on T.V. works in real life. Take a hard look at your relationships and ask yourself if any of them are built on sarcasm. If they are, do the work to eliminate it so the relationship can be strong and life-long. In the end, that's what we want isn't it?

In Him,

Gil Stieglitz

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