8 Reasons Why Sarcasm is So Damaging to Relationships

8 Reasons Why Sarcasm is So Damaging to Relationships

It was his humor that so quickly drew me to my now-husband. His wit is so quick and particularly clever that sometimes I still find myself wondering if maybe he has a tiny earpiece through which someone is feeding him his comedic material.

We both have a deep appreciation for laughter. We find that our friendships are fast-tracked when we meet someone with a dry sense of humor and an affinity for sarcasm. There is, however, a line that must be honored when using humor—particularly sarcasm—in our relationships. I love a sarcastic remark as much as anyone, but I’ve seen firsthand how damaging sarcasm can be. While there can still be a place for sarcasm within relationships, its impact should be continually monitored.

Here are 8 ways sarcasm can damage your relationships, within marriage but also within work relationships, family and friendships:

  • 1. It Disguises Insults.

    Sarcasm is an easy way for us to share our feelings without being confrontational. Buried within many sarcastic remarks is a nugget of truth for the person making the comment. What’s delivered as a joke can actually hold real feelings that end up causing real pain for the person on the receiving end of the sarcasm. Just because a comment is wrapped up in a joke doesn’t mean it cannot cut another person. 

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  • 2. Trust is Eroded.

    When sarcasm is used with great frequency, trust within a relationship can erode over time. It can grow more and more difficult to decipher which remarks are sarcastic and which aren’t. After a while, people may begin writing off everything you say as being sarcastic, leaving you with little to no credibility when you’re trying to be serious. A pattern of sarcasm might create some laughter, but it doesn’t lay the groundwork for a foundation of trust and vulnerability. 

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  • 3. It’s a Method for Shaming.

    The relationships we invest in should be safe places where we experience iron sharpening iron. Our partner, family members, and friends should be sources of support, infusing us with life and joy rather than fear and shame. If sarcasm is being used as a method for shaming others, it’s being used maliciously. When a sarcastic comment makes someone else feel a sense of shame, its power is no longer in being funny, but in being harmful. Are others cringing at your sarcastic remarks because of the shame they bring another person? 

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  • 4. It Doesn’t Promote Encouragement.

    Is it possible for a sarcastic remark to be encouraging to someone else? Sure, probably. However, why not deliver honest words of encouragement in an authentic environment instead of a sarcastic one? There are too many opportunities for well-intentioned words to be misconstrued through sarcasm, making it a less than desirable form of flattery. Our relationships should be breeding encouragement and that’s particularly hard to do within a sarcastic framework. 

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  • 5. It’s a Tactic for Manipulation.

    Maybe it’s not done consciously, but sarcasm can certainly be used to manipulate the people in our lives. Although sarcasm may be considered less aggressive than being brutally honest, it can be utilized in a manner that serves us and our desires without making space for anyone else’s needs. When our sarcastic remarks shame, discourage, or emotionally harm someone, we are making them feel inferior and, in silencing them, we open the door to make our own decisions or act in a manner that dismisses others and promotes our own agenda. 

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  • 6. Insecurity Can Thrive.

    Sarcasm fosters insecurity for both the person using it and the person receiving it. Using sarcasm frequently can hint at our own fear of sharing our true feelings or reveals the lack of confidence which leads us to utilizing sarcasm in the first place. On the other end, the person receiving our sarcasm can grow insecure because of our comments. When our sarcasm continually includes a jab at their character, their self-doubt will build. Insecurity from one or both people in a relationship creates a number of challenges in being vulnerable, experiencing joy, and maintaining intimacy. 

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  • 7. It sticks.

    Sticks and stones can break our bones and words can also hurt us. An occasional sarcastic remark that stings another person might be shaken off pretty easily, but frequent sarcastic remarks that insult, shame, manipulate, or discourage don’t disappear once the sentence is spoken. The harmful words of a sarcastic remark can stick with a person, growing contempt and dissatisfaction within a relationship. It can take years for a person and a relationship to heal from sarcastic jabs. 

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  • 8. Intimacy is Shattered.

    Sarcasm can grow the distance between two people, even if they never even leave the same room. It will be increasingly difficult to grow closer to someone else when we rely so heavily on using sarcasm. After all, we are deflecting opportunities to be honest, straightforward, and vulnerable every time we make a sarcastic remark. While some comments might be light-hearted and funny, a habit of using sarcasm will not create an environment in which a healthy relationship will flourish.

    Sharing laughter is such an important part of a healthy relationship. Humor, after all, is what led my husband and I to continue pursuing one another. It’s vital, however, that we consistently keep in check how we are using humor and if it is at anyone’s expense. If you find yourself using sarcasm frequently, it’s time to evaluate how it is impacting those around you and what is at the root of your sarcastic remarks. What drives you to be sarcastic? What do you feel internally when you’re using sarcasm? Are you feeling self-doubt, contempt, or jealousy?

    Well-intentioned sarcasm is certainly possible (and can be really funny!), but it’s important to remain aware of the impact of our “jokes” — for the sake of our relationships. 

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    I am Mallory—a wife, a writer, and a dog mom to Roger. I love dry humor, clean sheets, sunny days, and frequent reminders of grace. These days, I hang out at malloryredmond.com, where I tell my stories with the hope of uncovering places of connection in our humanity. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter