Q: Our family enjoys laughing together. Sometimes this includes poking fun at each other. Do you think there's a problem with this kind of humor?
Jim: Your family humor dynamics sound like those of the Daly household -- but they're not necessarily for everyone. Everything depends on your distinctive family "culture." Because you are interconnected in ways unlike any other group of people, you take certain things for granted and know things about one another that no one else can know. You have a common language. If it's understood that teasing is part of that, then you probably can't eliminate it without damaging your ability to connect.
Tone and motives are also important factors to consider. Are the jokes and stories designed to hurt or embarrass someone? Or are they meant to express affection and appreciation? The real litmus test should be the reaction of the one who's getting "roasted" and whether or not they think it's funny.
It really boils down to two basic principles. First: Never sacrifice respect for humor. There are jokes that demean and jokes that can preserve the self-esteem of family members. Make sure everyone understands the difference.
Second: Whatever happens, make sure that every person in your family feels that home is a safe place to be. If humor comes across as threatening, communication will cease. This can cause all kinds of negative fallout. In this case, Mom and Dad need to dig deeper and find out what else is going on.
There's an old saying that "many a truth is spoken in jest." But when teasing becomes a way of rubbing salt into open wounds, it's time for people to put all joking aside and to air genuine grievances in open and honest dialogue.
Q: I'm newly married and have been surprised and disturbed by the amount of conflict we've experienced in our relationship. This rarely happened when we were dating. Is something wrong?
Dr. Greg Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation: The first thing that's important to understand is that conflict is inevitable and unavoidable in any relationship -- even those of marriage "experts." Conflict isn't always a bad thing. In fact, when handled with a respectful, nonabusive spirit, it can lead to a stronger, more satisfying marriage. If you want to resolve conflicts effectively, commit to confronting issues as soon as they arise. Simply suppressing your differences is not an effective way of dealing with the problem. The longer a disagreement stews, the bigger it becomes.
Once you've initiated a discussion, be sure to communicate your concerns clearly and specifically. Avoid generalizations, ambiguities and absolutes. Using words like "never" or "always" to describe your spouse's undesired behavior are rarely accurate and usually produce a defensive response. Try saying something like, "It frustrates me when you don't take the trash out on Mondays," rather than, "You never do what you say you're going to do."
Along these lines, remember that it's important to use "I" rather than "you" statements. For example, "I feel hurt when you don't follow through," versus "You're so irresponsible." In other words, be careful to attack the problem, not the person.
Stick with the issue at hand and resist the temptation to support your argument by generalizing or following rabbit trails. Work hard to understand your partner's point of view, and be sure to keep your discussion private.
After you've expressed your viewpoints and reached an understanding, share your needs and decide where to go from there. Be willing to ask forgiveness, and always remember that maintaining the relationship is more important than winning the argument. Finding a solution that benefits both spouses lets everybody win.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.