Do You Wish Your Partner Would Stop Teasing You?

Chinese woman laughing at boyfriend with coffee froth on lip
JohnnyGreig / Getty Images

Some psychologists believe that teasing is an important tool in building healthy relationships. The more satisfied a couple is with their partnership, the more playful they can become. However, since teasing is ambiguous, the desired effect can backfire. Additionally, people respond differently to teasing.

Even if said in jest, some jokes and forms of teasing are just not funny or acceptable. For many people, some areas of life are considered off-limits when it comes to teasing and joking.

Even though you know your partner well, your teasing can still be offensive and can hurt your relationship. Cutting remarks can wound deeply.

Why People Tease in Relationships

Just as teasing can have both positive and negative consequences, it can also be the result of positive or negative intentions.

On the positive side, teasing can be a way of showing love and affection. For some, teasing is a habit and a way of interacting with people. You might notice that your partner just tends to tease people that they care about as a way of expressing affection and closeness.

However, teasing or joking in a relationship can also come from a negative place. Teasing may be a power play or a way of asserting dominance in a relationship. It can also be a way to try to be the center of attention.

Other reasons why people tease include:

  • To liven up a dull conversation or to try and come across as clever and funny
  • To keep the focus on others and not on themselves
  • To say something negative they've been wanting to say
  • To disguise abusive comments as teasing or joking

Hurtful teasing may have started as affectionate teasing. In some cases, the person making such comments may not realize the effect that their words have on their partner. Even well-intentioned teasing can be hurtful, so it is important to communicate your feelings and needs to your partner.

Teasing that once felt harmless can also take on a different meaning because something about the situation has changed. You might feel differently about the subject or have had experiences that have affected how you feel about yourself or the situation. The problem is that your partner may not recognize or understand these changes. 


There are many reasons why people tease in relationships. Sometimes they do it to show affection, but in other cases it might be a way to appear clever, assert dominance, or disguise negative comments.

Keep Teasing in Relationships Positive

All of us have sensitive areas or weak spots in our self-esteem, so if your spouse or partner objects to your teasing, take responsibility for any hurt feelings and apologize. Shifting blame and saying that they need to “learn to take a joke” or “shouldn’t be so sensitive" just makes the situation more uncomfortable and could damage an otherwise healthy relationship.

Here are a few more tips to make sure that teasing creates positive feelings for you and your partner:

  • Tease in a way that compliments your partner. For example, you might say at a party: "Mary is an organizing machine. If the neighbors would let her through the front door, she would clean out their closets just for fun."
  • Tease only about things your partner can laugh about with you. This may take a little trial and error, so be aware of when teasing raises tension rather than releases it.
  • Don't attack or be malicious, especially when it comes to your partner's capabilities, appearance, weight, or what you perceive to be a physical flaw.
  • Don't overdo the humor bit. Yes, every relationship needs some fun and laughter, however, you can give too many gag gifts, make too many so-called witty remarks, tell a few too many funny stories, and engage in too much horseplay. Keep it balanced with some down-to-earth, real, serious conversations with your partner.
  • Recognize that teasing can snowball, with one partner wanting to top the other's last remark.

Humorous joking and affectionate teasing can be positive as long as you keep it light, focus on your partner's positive qualities, and don't overdo it. If you are ever in doubt, check in with your partner to make sure that your comments are kind and not cutting.

Coping With Teasing in Relationships

If teasing is having a negative impact on you and your relationship, there are steps you can take to help make it stop.

  • Address it immediately. Try to respond to the comment immediately after it happens.
  • Be honest. If you are being teased by your partner and don't like it, say so. Even a simple, "that hurts" can communicate to your partner that a teasing remark crossed the line.
  • Be direct. If your partner has made a hurtful joke directed toward you, tell them that it isn't acceptable. "Please don't say that again," is direct and sets a clear boundary about what you are willing to accept in your relationship.
  • Question the teasing. Ask your partner, "Why would you say that?" or "Did you intend to hurt my feelings?"
  • Create a plan. If teasing is a problem primarily when you are among friends, decide in advance how you want to handle the situation in front of others. Whether you address it then and there or you choose to redirect the conversation, just be sure to follow up later; it's important that you discuss with your partner why the teasing wasn't funny and how it affected you.

If your partner continues to make unacceptable joking comments, it is time to discuss the problem and how it affects you and your relationship. This kind of talk can be difficult, but it can be an important way to make your needs known and improve communication in your relationship. Choose a time when you can both calmly discuss the problem. Utilize the "I statements" to focus on how the comments make you feel. 

In addition to discussing why these teasing remarks are hurtful, work together to come up with ways you can address the problem. If teasing in your relationship seems like a sign of a deeper issue, consider talking to a marriage counselor.

Recognizing Teasing vs. Verbal Abuse

At times, when people are “just teasing” or “just joking,” they are really just hiding behind these words to get away with mean or manipulative behavior. In these instances, the teasing can cross the line and become abusive.

The following red flags may indicate that the teasing is in fact an excuse for verbal abuse:

  • Name-calling or shaming such as fat-shaming or body-shaming
  • Insults and put-downs disguised as jokes
  • Jokes that attack your weak or vulnerable spot or that hone in on a sensitive subject, and don't let up
  • Teasing that humiliates you, especially when said in a public setting
  • Gaslighting, or minimizing hurtful teasing by saying “I was just joking" or "you are too sensitive"

The key is being able to recognize good-natured, healthy teasing from teasing that attacks. If your partner doesn't stop teasing when you ask, or if the teasing becomes even more vindictive and hurtful after you've discussed it, then there could be some serious problems in your marriage, including emotional abuse, that require professional help.

A Word From Verywell

Taking or joking in a relationship can sometimes be a way to show affection or engage in shared humor. However, such comments are not always welcome and can sometimes cross the line into being hurtful.

If joking too much in a relationship is taking a toll or leading to hurt feelings, it is time to have a serious conversation with your partner. Such discussions can be difficult, but they can also help strengthen your bond and communication. Addressing the issue now can also prevent it from escalating into a deeper problem that causes serious harm to your relationship.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Keltner D. Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 2009.

  2. Proyer, RT. To love and play: Testing the association of adult playfulness with the relationship personality and relationship satisfaction. Curr Psychol. 2014;33:501. doi:10.1007/s12144-014-9225-6

  3. Office on Women's Health. Emotional and Verbal Abuse. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

  4. Mills, CB, Muckleroy Carwile, A. The good, the bad, and the borderline: Separating teasing from bullying. Comm Educ. 2009;58:276-301. doi:10.1080/03634520902783666

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.