When 'Harmless Jokes' Are Actually Signs Of Problematic Behavior

Let's take a trip back in time to when you were in elementary school and a boy was making fun of you or pushing you around during recess. Odds are, someone told you he's only being mean to you because he likes you. It's a trope that's been around forever — that being cruel to someone is their way of hiding their true feelings about you. As you can imagine, this practice has serious consequences. According to The Good Men Project, telling children this teaches them that pain and love go hand-in-hand, which can cause harm in future relationships.

This isn't to say teasing is always a bad thing, but there's a thin line between harmless jokes and problematic behavior. If you aren't mindful of your words and actions, things can go from playful to harmful in an instant. As adults, there are better ways to express yourself that don't involve mental or physical aggression. They might seem funny to you at the moment, but these "jokes" can greatly affect the person on the receiving end.

Verbal teasing can lead to toxic behavior

Perhaps you've had — or currently have — a partner who always puts you down or makes you the butt of the joke, whether you're alone or in a group setting. If this is the case, it might be a sign your partner is trying to assert their dominance over you by making you feel small, via Boo. When you're constantly the victim of their teasing, no matter how innocent they think it is, it can be a warning sign of verbal abuse, says Nancy Nichols.

If you express your concerns about how they speak to you and they come back with the "you're too sensitive" defense, that's a major red flag. It's a slap in the face when your partner doesn't respect you enough to change their behavior. This can really affect your mental health. As your partner continues making "harmless jokes," it can slowly chip away at your self-worth. If they won't stop belittling you, it might be time to end the relationship. Always remember, you deserve much more.

Physical jokes are possible signs of abusive tendencies

To an onlooker, physically joking around with a partner might seem playful at first, but if it's a constant occurrence, it could be domestic abuse behavior in disguise. Some say tickling is a safe way of teasing, per comments on this TikTok video, but always pushing you down or dragging you around is a whole other level of "harmless fun." If you aren't sure whether or not this behavior is a sign of abusive tendencies, refer to the way they respond to your concerns.

If their response is telling you they're just playing, they're manipulating you into believing it isn't a problem, according to Oprah. They'll be super defensive instead of apologetic, which is another clear sign of abusive behavior. If a partner really believes they're just playing, but you express how it makes you feel uncomfortable, they would say they're sorry and change their behavior. It's crucial you identify the difference between teasing and abuse as soon as you notice a change.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support on their website.