Let's Talk About Snark

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Emily McGaughy

I used to believe that snarky comments were an inevitable part of long term relationships.  Once we merge our separate lives into one and begin building something alongside another person, expecting to be in a constant state of “like” with our partners is unrealistic.  And I thought accepting this as truth meant also accepting that the passive aggressive may frequently creep into exchanges between two people who otherwise love and respect one another.

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Something significant I’ve learned during this most recent phase of growth is that the thoughts, feelings, ideas we carry on the inside will never remain there.  No matter how strong or collected we are, we’re ultimately human. 

And being human means we really suck at keeping things inside.

While I consider myself to be a person of conviction, I’ve always struggled to express certain thoughts and feelings of which I believe will be difficult for others to accept.  I’ll gladly argue my political views or feminist ideals with you until you concede, if only to shut me up.  I have no problem debating issues surrounding race, class, and gender in environments which most would deem highly inappropriate to have these discussions. 

However, when it comes to taking responsibility for and communicating my own unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings, I freeze.

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Most of my adult life I’ve been aware of this flaw in me.  I knew it was something on which I needed to improve in order to create the kind of life I desired, but I failed to see the harm it was inducing in my relationships.  When we don’t the negative effects of our undesirable behaviors, changing these behaviors just doesn’t seem as urgent.

Somewhere along the way I began to make the connection between the frequency with which my passive aggressive digs found their way into interactions with my wife and the feelings I had toward her that I’d chosen to leave unsaid.  Though I believed I was picking my battles and electing not to sweat the small stuff, I started to realize that, when I thought I was letting things go, I was actually just sweeping them under the rug. 

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Before too long, my rug could no longer contain the mess.  The dirt and dust and unsightly pieces I thought I’d hidden began to spill over – and keeping my area tidy became increasingly difficult.

I noticed Char questioning from where these snarky statements were sourced again and again.  In general, I wasn’t even aware of the tone with which I spoke to her or that I was coming across tightly wound and with no time for fun or humor (one of the main reasons she fell in love with me in the first place).

Though the snarky comments never truly became a focal point for us as far as areas to be improved upon in our marriage, the decline of this kind of communication was a welcome side effect. 

Communication in general has always been a struggle for us and I’m certain we’re not alone in this.  As we worked on having the especially difficult conversations and facing the flawed parts of ourselves as individuals and together as partners, the passive aggressiveness lessened. 

The proverbial rug was gradually being lifted.  We looked at every little piece of ugly underneath even when the sight of it was almost unbearable.  We discussed from where all the dust originated and why we’d swept it under the rug in the first place.  And eventually, speck by speck, we began sweeping it out rather than under.  We knew that in doing so, others might notice the unseemly dirt we’d allowed to build up in our home and in our hearts.  But, we decided it was worth risking the judgment to save our marriage and to save ourselves.

And it was.

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The more dialogue we engaged in about the hard stuff – sharing things we knew the other didn’t necessarily want to hear, addressing the unpleasant – the less the snark manifested.  The need for swallowing our uncomfortable feelings was no longer required. 

I’d love to report that the catalyst for my snarky digs has been eliminated – that I’m healed.  I wish I could share with you that I’m a master of communicating unpleasant thoughts and feelings with those I love, knowing it’s what’s best for my relationships.  But, the struggle for me continues – every, single, day. 

I’m learning to accept that an issue which began during my formative years and grew more powerful throughout my adolescence and early adulthood will likely be one that I’ll be managing many years to come. 

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It took me a long time to get here and it’ll take me a long time to pull myself out.  I’m far from all the way up, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting larger by the day.  And, for now, that will suffice.

Here's what y'all had to say on snarky comments in love relationships...

"I'm personally okay with snarky as long as it's followed up with a wink.  I'm also a huge fan of good communication skills.  Passive aggressive behavior leaves too much ambiguity in the air and has never brought forth a positive outcome.  Your partner deserves more honesty and respect." - Shirl Roccapriore

"I think you have to know your spouse.  My wife has PCOS, a hormonal disorder, so I know if she makes a snarky comment, it's likely related to hormones.  But, in general, we do not do passive aggressive comments to each other.  We believe that is not the way to communicate." - Kristin R. Thomas

"It depends.  Jokingly is okay but passive aggressive is a slippery slope.  There's usually resentment involved.  Also, 'teasing' about something they're sensitive about is a no no.  Playing is cool until someone is no longer playing, so to keep the space safe, we just say what's bothering us and figure it out." - Goody Howard, Sexologist - askgoody.com

"My husband and I are super-snarky with each other all the time.  There is some passive aggressive behavior, I'm sure.  But we also know that it's just our banter.  I pick on him like a brother a lot and I know he sometimes hates it, but it's my way of showing affection in an otherwise closed emotional state.  I think it's fine as long as there's a line."

"We have noticed from the both of us that we came from families where we weren't allowed to share our feelings or thoughts.  It's created a dynamic where my partner is incredibly passive aggressive about most things he is uncomfortable discussing - it's like a way to say he's upset without actually saying it.  I turned my childhood trauma into being overly aggressive and angry in situations regarding disagreements, so this was a pretty difficult hurdle for us to cross and are still crossing.  I've learned to calm down and am trying to allow/hold space for my partner to feel comfortable sharing, knowing it's not a bad thing, but an incredibly necessary and healthy part of a relationship."

"Passive aggressive is much better than aggressive aggressive.  It usually gets the message across without coming across naggy."

"Harmful and should be avoided as much as possible.  Sometimes my wife and I may say something snarky when we're hangry.  Then we eat and apologize."

"Someone once told me, if prolonged and mean spirited, it's a sign of some underlying need not being met."

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