June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

When Jokes Make Us Cringe

By Gabby

Dear Gabby:

We have friends (a married couple) whom we go out with frequently. Whenever we are together we are appalled at the way that our friend Mike (not his real name) treats his wife. He is always putting her down and actually frequently makes fun of women in general. We have been together with them and other couples when this happens and notice how everyone sort of looks at each other but no one says anything. Is it our role as a friend to tell Mike that we do not like the way he speaks to his wife? We wonder if this behavior manifests itself in other ways in their home, and worry for Sherry (his wife).

Many thanks.

Concerned Friends

Dear Concerned Friends:

It is very difficult to ascertain Mike’s intention when he talks down to or about his wife. How does he act with her? Is he helpful or does he ignore her? How does Sherry respond when he makes one of his comments? Is it a lifelong tendency in his interactions with women, perhaps something that he learned long ago by the comical, or quiet response of others, seeming to think it’s “cute”? Does he treat his wife well, listen to her, and is he, in fact, generally very respectful of her? Or perhaps it represents a barely hidden resentment to women or something more sinister, like anger or rage at women whom he sees as inferior or perhaps wanting or needing to be controlled? Whatever it represents, it is terrible and needs to be stopped. By sitting quietly by, you have become a major part of the problem.

The truth is, this predicament frequently occurs with couples who socialize with each other often. The husband occasionally tells negative jokes with his wife smiling nearby. While his comments sometimes seem funny and many people (especially the men) laugh heartedly, others sit quietly by and then simply continue with the conversation. In spite of Mike’s occasional behavior, a lot of people would consider him a basically good husband and feel that they have a good, sharing marriage. In fact, though, many are cringing as he makes these comments. We must know that it is never OK to just overlook this. It is perhaps somewhat similar to being very uncomfortable when one sees someone terribly mistreating a child, but keeps quiet. The story is told of a woman standing on a subway platform with a young child who was screaming and repeating to her mother that she had to go to the bathroom while holding her legs tightly together. The woman began viciously beating the child. Most people stood in silence until one person spoke up and suggested that it would be much easier to just take the child to the bathroom. The woman started screaming at the innocent bystander who was trying to be helpful, and fortunately a police officer nearby intervened. But most people don’t say anything and by their silence indirectly aid and abet sometimes terrible behavior. It is never acceptable to make negative comments about one’s spouse, even if “just in jest.” (This is true about women as well, but is much more common and MUCH more dangerous when done by men. Every one of us needs to learn to treat our spouses with respect even in the midst of a difficult argument.)

You as a friend must speak with Sherry privately and ask if she needs help, and at the same time your husband should speak with Mike privately and ask him if he needs help. He may not even be aware of what he is doing. Intervention is complicated and you need to be brave to get involved but it should definitely be done.

Yours truly, Gabby

Questions can be asked anonymously to [email protected]

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