Teasing DOES relieve tension in a relationship provided it’s used sensitively
- Be very attractive.
- Be very good at giving and taking teases.
We can only do so much about number one, and anyway it’s the less essential since none of us stay attractive forever.
But the teasing? That’s important. It keeps many couples in love way more than looks or love at first sight do. Teasing, jiving, kidding, not taking our quirks too seriously–that’s the lubricant that makes partnership work long-term.
In the movies, the teasing signals instant chemistry. We’re made to believe that the couple will continue teasing happily ever after.
In real life, it’s a little more complicated. Maybe you fall in love with your partner’s sense ofhumor, but once you’re together, sensitivities arise and teasing can become more barbed than fun.
Picture two dogs kenneled together. Mostly they have a scrappy good time of it, but then something snaps. In seconds, the play becomes a dogfight.
Partnership can be like that. Kenneled together, the stakes get high. You’re committed, so you’re bound to get wary if it starts to look like your long-term company is going to turn into tough company. You try to lighten things up with teasing, but humor can turn into a dogfight.
Teasing is a great coping strategy, but it’s a gamble, a lubricant made of potential barbs.
It’s a gamble even when we tease ourselves. You’ve probably witnessed people scare themselves with self-teasing. They say something self-effacing, laugh nervously and look stung by their own joke. Their effort to lighten things up ended up making them feel heavier. We’re each of us kenneled alone with ourselves, and can stir inner conflict just by teasing ourselves. Put two teasers together and there’s a risk of scaring each other. Fear becomes fierce and the dogfight follows.
Sometimes the tension in partnership gets so thick that teasing isn’t a gamble worth taking. But that doesn’t mean the teasing stops. Instead it gets increasingly barbed. We feel laughed at, not with. And why doesn’t the teasing stop? Because with heightened tension teasing is one of the only ways to relieve it.
The simple solution is to tease only about those things your partner can laugh at with you. That requires some trial and error learning during which you’ll come across as insensitive sometimes. But live and learn you eventually figure out how to tease only when it relieves rather than raises tension.
Some couples leave it at that, but many would actually like to expand the range of what can be teased about comfortably. That way both can feel increasingly safe and free, less like they have to walk on eggshells. So they push the envelope, gingerly pushing each other’s buttons a little, teasing at the edges of each other’s sensitivity, hoping to make them less sensitive.
Tease-expansion campaigns are calculated insensitivity aimed at reducing hypersensitivity. We’re familiar with culture-wide tease-expansion campaigns. Charlie Hebdo a few weeks ago, for example, one cultural group teasing another so they’ll take themselves less seriously.
Tease-expansion stirs debates about who is crossing the line and who has the line drawn too wide, in other words, who is being insensitive and who is being hypersensitive. In a couple, for example:
“I was kidding.”
“Yeah, well that stung.”
“I’m sorry, but I was hoping you could lighten up a little more about it. I think you’re taking it too seriously.”
“Don’t accuse me of hypersensitivity when the fault is yours. Admit it. That was just insensitive.”
“Look I don’t know why you have to take it so seriously.”
“And I don’t know why you have to poke at what’s obviously a sensitive issue for me.”
Tensions can escalate quickly and stay high if you don’t manage a tease-expansion campaign efficiently. Here are a few tips on how to manage one right:
- Consciously: Talk about whether tease-expansion is something you’re both into.
- Slowly: Don’t pretend that since you’re both into it, it means you’re both already free to tease about anything.
- Conscientiously: Be gentle especially teasing at the edge. And be brave when you’re teased at your edge.
- Even-handedly: Cultivate the ability to take it as good as you dish it.
- Curiously: There is no formula for determining who is being insensitive or hypersensitive, so when conflict arises, don’t leap to accusations, pretending you know for certain whose fault it was. Instead, wonder together about whether it was an edge to back off from or an edge to push.
- Empathetically: Don’t say, “I don’t know why you have to…” like the partners in the example, because really, you do know why someone would take things seriously or push the edge. You too have been the bold teaser and the sensitive teased.
- Honestly: Don’t say, “I was just teasing” when you weren’t, and don’t say “That hurt” when it didn’t.
- Optimistically: Keep your eyes on the prize: eventual room for both of you to feel both more safe and free, cooped in your connubial kennel so you have more of a scrappy good time.