DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Justin," and I have been together 12 years, married for five. We get along well, except for one thing, his so-called "jokes."
Rather than coming out and saying I've done something that bothers him, Justin will make a sarcastic comment, then insist he's "just kidding." If I forget to turn off a light, he'll say something like, "So, you're trying to make sure the electric company doesn't go out of business -- right?" If I tell him his unshaven face hurts when he kisses me, he'll say, "Most women would love it if their husbands gave them kisses all the time ... maybe I should have married one of them." No single remark sounds that terrible, but it's been going on for 12 years and I've had enough.
No matter what he says, as long as Justin claims to be "kidding," he doesn't think I have a reason to get angry. He'll say I don't have a sense of humor, or that I'm "thin-skinned." I tell him frequently that it bothers me. I have asked repeatedly that he just say what's on his mind, but he doesn't. How can I get through to him that what he's doing isn't "joking"; it's avoiding accountability for his comments? -- NOT AMUSED IN VERMONT
DEAR NOT AMUSED: It would be interesting to know something about the atmosphere in which your husband was raised, because emotionally, he's a coward. The term for what he's doing is "passive aggression." People who use it aren't secure enough to be directly confrontational, so they beat around the bush -- taking little jabs here and there, not enough to do serious damage. The measured doses of venom keep their victim off balance and in a constant state of irritation. (If the targets react, it becomes "their" fault.)
You must be a very strong person to have tolerated this for so long. I'm sad to say, your husband may be incapable of changing. However, a way to get him to recognize what he's doing, and how damaging it is, would be through marriage counseling. If he won't go, go without him. It will give you insight and perspective.