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Dear Dr. Saltzman,

I am very disturbed by my husband's frequent "jokes" about death, primarily, the death of our son, who is 10 months old. He says things such as "he may not make it till morning", "I'm going to put him to bed and euthanize him". He has never exhibited any violence or anger towards the baby, yet these jokes are occurring with more and frequency.

He does, as a rule, have a very off color sense of humor, but this is crossing the line and I don't know how I should proceed.

He is an intelligent, successful man, not some degenerate, and he should know better. I have never heard anyone make jokes like this, he thinks perhaps that he is being humorous.

I do not understand where this could be coming from. He did suffer physical abuse from his Father when he was a small child, but he sweeps that under the rug like it is no big deal.

What should I do? Please help me.


"concerned mother"

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I wonder if your husband's humor is an attempt to protect himself against his fears that something bad could happen to your baby. In other words, it could be that the jokes are expressing not some kind of hostility against the child, but quite the opposite, that they are an attempt to deal with an excess of anxiety about the child's health and survival.

Be well

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Dr. Saltzman,

Thank you for the insight. I too suspected this could be the cause.

Whatever the reason he has for making these jokes, they are not well received by family/friends. Do you have any suggestions of how I could approach him, and convey to him how bothersome the remarks are? He will get defensive, I don't want to make any accusations, but rather appeal to his sensible side.

Thank you once again for your help.


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You are most welcome, Debra.

I don’t know your husband, so I would only be guessing, but I wonder if simply sharing our correspondence with him would speak to his sensible side. You could begin by telling him that the tenor of his jokes had been worrying you, so you wrote to an anonymous online psychologist for advice. You got a helpful answer back, so now you are able understand the meaning of the jokes, and so are no longer worried by them personally. But you want him to see what the psychologist said--you would tell your husband--because you still worry that other people, not having had benefit of the psychological interpretation of his jokes, might fail to understand that kind of joke, fail to see the humor in it, or even be put off by it.

That approach, it seems to me, has several virtues, not the least of which is honesty. However, as I say, I don’t know your husband. You do, so do your best.

My one general suggestion regarding this kind of communication is that there must be no blame. When I say no blame I mean just seeing things as they are in a non-judgmental, totally accepting frame of mind. Seeing things as they are means not projecting into a future, but really seeing, hearing, and understanding the person with whom you need to communicate, and then making that person know that he or she has been seen, heard, and understood.

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Now, maintaining such a state of aware listening requires shifting ones focus away from what you want that person to be or not be, or what you want that person to do or not do. You put the focus instead on simply seeing, hearing, and understanding, and then on conveying to the other person that you have seen, heard, and understood.

If that style of listening is not possible for you, your efforts would be better spent on learning to attain it than in trying to get someone else to change.

Be well.

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page last modified December 4, 2008

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