Are You Being Hurt by Snide, Abusive Remarks from your Husband?

Two Caucasian adults arguing, displeased with relationship difficulties, young adult males and females experiencing frustration in their lifestyles.

Public Humiliation by Your Husband: Breaking Free from the Shackles of His Emotional Abuse

Have you ever experienced the odd situation where someone is putting you down, with a funny joke, just in your face?

The person is making fun of you, highlighting a personal characteristic of yours in the worst possible way…and is it supposed to be funny?

For the other person, of course, it’s funny!

We in society are somehow allowed to make fun of each other, and so many people develop full-time jobs criticizing others in caricatures, editorials, comic stumps, or “roasts.”

At least, you know what is coming from one of the “professional jokesters”

“I’m better than you, and I will show the world how stupid you are”

What you don’t expect is that the same attitude will appear in a relative, co-worker, or best friend, and sometimes when you least expect it! For the receiver, it feels very much like a personal attack, and worst because it is coming from someone near us.

Now, imagine for a moment, that this person is your husband, making fun of you, using an aspect of your personality that he knows very well because you live together!

Can you imagine a more humiliating situation than that?

Do you have to deal with someone who tries to manipulate and intimidate you with insults or put-downs veiled as “jokes”? Is there someone who speaks to you, or about you to others, in a way that reveals a lot of hidden anger?

Even when it’s used in the context of “joking,” it’s abusive if it puts you down in some way, or destroys your positive aspects. Verbal abuse can come from your boss, coworkers, family, and friends. And of course, it can be coming from your life partner! Snark behavior is another word for this attitude, that allows people to get away with abusive behavior because it is explained away as a joke: “I’m just kidding..”

Of course, the first impulse is to move away from mean critiques and demeaning comments, isolating or removing these snarky people from our lives. Sometimes it is not possible, like when the person is our spouse or our boss. Perhaps, finally, we have to come to the conclusion that we need to learn how to deal with abusive people very near us and stop verbal abuse cold. It’s time to confront your husband about his hidden anger, expressed as “jokes.”

The first question that pops up is: is he choosing to do verbal attacks hidden by the name of “jokes”?  Could be that he has a hidden resentment that can only express using verbal abuse? If you are a quiet, nonargumentative, non-confrontational, friendly, and sympathetic person, who tends to give a patient and gentle response, he can believe that is safe for him to express his anger in this way: doing “friendly jokes” in front of his friends and family.

Perhaps he thinks that you will take the abuse and keep going. This attitude has a high price tag for you because constant negative comments bring anger and resentment and other negative emotions. Now we know that this kind of verbal abuse has an effect that is accumulative and finally destroys your self-esteem.

Is there a way that you can be who you are and stop verbal abuse at the same time?

Of course: you can be nice and patient, while at the same time being on the lookout for snarky comments.

Once you get the first, you can stop it dead in its tracks by saying:

“I like being with you and doing things together. However, when you feel the need to put me down with snarky comments like the one you did just now, all my motivation is gone and I want to leave this activity immediately. Are these the results you want? Your feeling smug and funny at my expense destroys any respect I can have for you. Let me know what you want to do just now.”

Of course, you still have the choice of either getting angry or losing your temper with the abusive person, however, answering back the perceived aggression with more anger will escalate the conflict. You will be called names and insulted even more if your husband considers your “rebellion” as an attack against him.

Sometimes, people don’t have any idea of the nasty impact that their comments are having on others: they grew up in a very abusive environment, where these kinds of nasty jokes were the norm, and don’t realize that other people can be hurt by their “jokes.” Just asserting yourself back to the offender can give this person an opportunity to assess the damage done and correct their ways of relating to you.

Now, let’s imagine that this “funny expression” is part of the abusive package that your husband uses to demolish your self-esteem. If he uses those jokes frequently, regardless of who you are visiting, and continues mentioning some aspect of your personality as the “joke of the day,” it can have a traumatic effect on your self-image.

Is this the person who promised love and respect for you, before when you two got married? Then, why is he doing this destructive attack as an “innocent funny joke.”? First, obviously, he is an ignorant person who is blind to the permanent impact of this public denigration…There are impacts on the different body systems that cascade into permanent functional damage.

Here is a personal story about the process of leaving the humiliation behind:

Johanna: I understand what you say about not wanting to twist yourself any longer to suit him, I’ve been doing the same thing and like you, I’m fed up with it too. Mine also didn’t take the time to care about my feelings and nurture me or support me or our marriage during the times that hurt me and our marriage due to his doing and disrespectful decisions. I want only to look after myself now.

My husband came home in the middle of the day two days before our anniversary wanting to talk about our situation. He looked so distressed, obviously because of my different reaction to his last outburst towards me the day before. We talked about some of the issues between us that have hurt me him saying I should let things go from the past and move forward, etc. I held my composure for the first time and continued to hold him responsible for his hurtful actions toward me.

I told him he has no idea of the hurt he has caused me and that he never will understand it as I have never put him through the same. But it hurts even more that he denies the gravity of the hurt done.  Is sad that he uses the time when he is in front of his friends, to make fun of me. Keeps saying that was a good joke! dismisses me for it but I would not tolerate it any longer. I told him we have reached the point of risking our marriage and family. He asked me if that is what I wanted, to end our marriage.

It is always the same conversation style, I express my sad feelings and he ignores them, but seems to want reassurance that I’m not leaving him. I kept my cool and stayed firm and calm and did not cry or plead with him like in the past. It’s funny how he turns into a scared sheep when I send the signal that I’m done with him!

He ended by telling me I am a good woman, a good wife, and a mother and he sees how he has hurt me and I didn’t deserve that. His apology always sounds fake…I told him we have a serious communication problem: I constantly feel hurt and disregarded by him. After this talk, my husband has been very warm and loving towards me, he is constantly all over me to the point it is frustrating me at times. Am I wrong to feel annoyed at him about this change of behavior? We have been through this cycle before and I am still on guard. I know I have NOT to believe him now…I am working on staying strong for myself and reacting differently making obvious changes. Now I hope I can salvage myself and find a new me.

The long-term impact of negative remarks on a relationship

DNA is like a blueprint for life and if something goes wrong with the blueprint, it can cause problems. If the DNA in our energy factories (mitochondria) gets damaged, it creates harmful chemicals that cause even more damage to the DNA. This creates a cycle of damage and can be passed down to future generations. The chemicals also damage the DNA in our cells’ control center (nucleus). When cells die too soon, we die too.

Our bodies have a system to help us deal with danger. When we feel threatened, our brain signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. This gives us a burst of energy to either fight or run away from the danger. If the danger continues, our brain signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone helps our body have more energy, a faster heart rate, and less inflammation. But, cortisol also weakens our immune system and causes weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. These problems can lead to heart disease. Chronic stress, like abuse or trauma, can cause high levels of cortisol, which can damage our DNA, weaken our immune system, and lead to health problems.

Nearly every cell in the body has receptors for cortisol, showing how important it is, and how the whole body is involved in the fight or flight response. Cortisol mobilizes glucose into the bloodstream, giving the body energy for a longer period of time to either fight or flee. In order to keep the glucose in the blood so that it is available for your muscles, cortisol inhibits insulin from storing glucose in cells. Cortisol also narrows the arteries, which increases blood pressure and forces the heart to pump faster. It reduces inflammation in the body as well. All of these effects help your body in the short term to cope with danger. Thanks to cortisol, your muscles have more energy available to them, your heart speeds up (which brings more oxygen and glucose to your muscles), and you are more able to cope with injury. This system protects us when we face unique threat episodes.

When people are stressed for a long time, o have repetitive episodes of psychological attacks, cortisol builds up in their blood. This causes a lot of problems for the body, like a weak immune system, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Cortisol also makes the blood pressure go up and increases the risk of heart problems. The American Heart Association is worried because kids who experience abuse and trauma have high levels of cortisol, which can harm their bodies. Because when a stepmother slaps an 8-year-old’s face, the kid goes into fight or flight mode. Adrenaline and cortisol gush into his bloodstream. And if she criticizes him repeatedly, the stress hormones fill his blood time and again. His DNA breaks down faster than his body can repair it, glucose is in his bloodstream for too long, and his blood pressure is too high. The body always remembers this experience of humiliation as a physical experience also.

Growing Up Does Not Heal You

The child is not healed of this destructive pattern simply by growing up and moving away. Terrifying events (such as being molested by a swimming coach) are imprinted on the amygdala in the brain as soon as they happen. Because the event was frightening and dangerous, the brain constantly scans the environment, looking for any signals of danger. When it sees, hears, or smells anything that is associated with the original trauma, it triggers off the fight or flight response, in order to mobilize the person to get away from the danger.

This alters the brain of the child so that the regions involved in fear, anxiety, and impulsive responses produce too many connections between the brain cells.8 This can change the stress system so that it responds at lower thresholds to events that might not be stressful to others. And if it is activated, it can take a lot longer for the traumatized child to calm down than a child without any psychological injuries. Therefore, the stress response system activates more frequently and for longer periods than is necessary, like revving a car engine for hours every day.

Now we see why getting older and moving away does not heal the child. Because their brain is over wired for fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions. And leaving home does not rewrite damaged DNA. Psychological injuries produce a huge web of destructive effects. People freak out over small things, and cannot calm down. The mistakes in their DNA get passed on as their cells divide, a ticking time bomb of disease. The person carries shame, guilt, anger, and more from the abuse. They believe they cannot reach out for help, because of the humiliation feelings. It is important to connect any sardonic and critical comment with this heavy emotional impact.


It can be useful to learn some effective phrases to say when this kind of abuse happens.

As you told your husband: “STOP IT!   This is no joke and you are attacking me with your fake humor! you can prevent any other sarcastic comments to follow.

You can repeat the assertive comment several times to give the other person time to catch up with the message and really know that demeaning comments are out.

It’s only up to you to decide if the other person is really trying to stop using verbal abuse to control and humiliate you, or if the situation, in general, can’t be healed.

In that case, you will know when to move on and leave the verbally abusive situation.

It will train you also to protect yourself if this happens in other environments, like your workplace, or your extended family.

To your success!

NoraNora Femenia is a well-known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc.
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