What's even more difficult than dealing with other people's cutting remarks can be recognizing when you're about to launch one of these covert missiles. If this behavior seems uncomfortably familiar—or if you've felt an uncomfortable pause descend after a spouse-targeted remark—Miller advises practicing a little mindfulness. Before you blurt out that your partner failed the bar (for, hey, the third time in a row), examine your motive. Is it to entertain? To shock? Are you mad about something he said or did earlier? If your partner made a similar remark about you, would you cringe? "Rather than being lost in a kind of automatic behavior," he says, "you've got to step outside yourself so you can catch yourself in the act."
I myself have been guilty of zinging. Once, at a family gathering, I was telling what I thought was a knee-slapping story of how my husband and I met: He had been terribly quiet but doggedly followed me around a party while I ignored him. I imitated his clumsy attempts at conversation, complete with stammering. "So, then, ah, wh-where are you, um, where are you from?" I stuttered, while my family chortled away.
Later he pulled me aside. "You're an outgoing person, so you think that shyness is charming," he said. "It's called 'painfully shy' for a reason."
Goldstein says he has a point. "You were trying to make yourself look good at his expense by showing that you were pursued and the life of the party," she says bluntly. And you know what? She's absolutely right. If we're starkly honest with ourselves, most of those little zings can be boiled down to the most childlike of impulses: "I was showing off" or "I was mad because she gets more attention" or "I know him better than anyone else."
Once I became aware that I was fricasseeing my husband for a few laughs, I stopped. It dawned on me that couples are privy to tender information about each other, and, as Goldstein says, a mate is supposed to protect that knowledge, not employ it as a joke or a bludgeon.
That's the ironic thing about those stealth humiliations. When someone needles her partner, her hope is that others will rally to her side. Remember my friend Janet, the one who said her husband got his jollies from phone sex? She did it expecting we'd all be clucking in sympathy. But when we were heading home that night, it wasn't his bad habit that we were talking about.
We Hear You!