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Embarrassed by Spouse
Mom with a View

Embarrassed by Spouse

No matter what, we should always have our spouse’s back.


“Honey, How Could You?” read the title of the recent WSJ piece. Apparently many of us are at risk of being embarrassed by our spouses and of wanting to just run away and hide as a result.

There are two types of embarrassment. One (the one we are NOT dealing with here) is where your spouse, intentionally or un, targets you for embarrassment – either through teasing that can range from allegedly good-natured to downright cruel (and possibly abusive) or through revealing private information – which may run a similar spectrum.

The other type is when your husband or wife says or does something, perhaps silly or foolish, that embarrasses you.

Why are we embarrassed? Frequently it is because we imagine that people are laughing at our partner – and therefore us too by association. Or we think that they are looking at him (and therefore us too!) with disdain or contempt. We are embarrassed to be linked with someone who behaves like that, who thinks like that, who is the target of the scorn or derision of others, the butt of their humor. What does that say about me? My judgment? My choices? We feel judged and found wanting.

We should never be embarrassed by our spouses.

But what’s wrong with this scenario? Just like we should never be embarrassed by our children (so they should know we ALWAYS have their back), we should never be embarrassed by our spouses. Our first and most important commitment is to them. Our loyalty is to them. Our support is to them.

Whose opinion is more valuable to us than theirs? What do we care about how other people, who are less important to us, whose opinion if accessed objectively is actually irrelevant or certainly flawed, respond?

When my children would come home from school complaining about name calling, my husband would always ask them if it was true and if it came from someone whose opinion they valued. The answer to both questions was always no. I still remember an incident from college. My dorm mother complimented me on the dress I was wearing. I floated through the day feeling very good about myself until I remembered she was the same person who had chosen the really dreadful material for the couches in the common room. Her opinion shouldn’t have had the weight to inflate or deflate my sense of self.

What does it say about our marriage and our commitment that we are so vulnerable to the opinions of others? What does it say about us and our sense of self-worth?

Please God, if you have many years together, your spouse will inevitably say and do some foolish things along the way (yes even your spouse). And, believe it or not, so will you. But whatever you say or do, you want your partner’s support. You want to know they’ve got your back – even when you make a mistake or exercise less than stellar judgment.

An individual sense of embarrassment can be a healthy thing. It may prevent us from behaving in ways that we later regret, that are a source of shame. It may act as a fence against loss of control or foolhardy behavior. It keeps us in check. It’s a good personal tool for self-control.

But the key is self-control. We don’t want to control our spouses (well, maybe we do but that’s another problem!). Our job is not to keep them in check (although we may sometimes need to gently suggest that certain behaviors should be scaled back). Our job is to be supportive, however they act, whatever they do. We don’t want our husband or wife to ever be embarrassed by us. And we need to respond in kind. With unconditional love and support. Whatever they say (however bad the joke!) and whatever they do.

September 29, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 14

(10) Anonymous, April 24, 2014 1:02 PM

This article misses the mark

To say we should never be embarrassed by our spouse is simply naive and unrealistic. Judging by other comments on this page I can see others feel the same. Yes, I "have my partners back" and have defended her when others criticise her. Yes she is first and foremost to me and the most important person in my world. But marriage or a committed relationship doesn't give anyone a free pass to selfishly embarrass of humiliate their partner in social settings. We should be able to let our partners know when we feel that their behaviour is inappropriate and humiliates us. Our partners presumably love us, and would want to change their behaviour if we make it clear that it isn't acceptable. If we do not communicate our embarrassment and disapproval of their behaviour, they will not change, and the behaviour will continue. Or we will begin to avoid the social settings in the first place.

Martha, November 27, 2014 3:25 PM

I agree with all of the comments.

I'd prefer to not be in social settings now. I am not quick in telling my husband what bothers me right away so he continues to act inappropriately. Sometimes, I do not even realize what is bothering me until weeks or even months later. I am asking for wisdom and boldness. It is hard when you have issues with low self esteem. When our children behave inappropriately, I have no problems correcting them.

(9) Anonymous, October 6, 2013 2:56 PM

It's all about self esteem which few of us really have.

"Just like we should never be embarrassed by our children (so they should know we ALWAYS have their back), we should never be embarrassed by our spouses." Who says we are not embarrassed by our children? Having been brought up by Holocaust survivors, I was weaned on the belief that anything I did wrong would embarrass my parents and I, unfortunately, have inherited that belief. It is a great struggle every day to deal with 'what will they say' because my children look/act like this. Your article assumes that most of us have the required self-esteem to be able to ignore society's opinion of us. It is a very erroneous assumption. Most people really care about what others think even if they don't admit it. First that issue needs to be addressed before we can work on having our spouse's and children's "back."

(8) Chana, October 4, 2013 12:42 PM

What does is say about the relationship?

I was married to a man who I eventually left. And one of the reasons was his social awkwardness. While he was quite bright (in fact, one of the most intelligent men I have met), it was painful to be around him even at home, when the conversation was not intellectual (e.g. chores, relationships, etc.). Later I realized that he was on the autistic spectrum and his inappropriateness was just not knowing how to act in social situations. In fact, this feeling of embarrassment told me that there was a problem with our bond and that it was not deep enough for the relationship to continue. His inability to interact socially in public or one-on-one with me lead to the rift in relationship. And since the marriage was fairly young and we had no kids, it seemed the best to split. However, to this day, it is painful to remember how terrible I felt going out with him and even talking to him about household. And yes, indeed, my friends were surprised by my choice (although they did not say it until after I got divorced) because being with him was changing me into a person who stays home to avoid being in public with him. So, treat your embarrassment as a symptom that something is off. If it is tolerable, treat it how Ms. Braverman said. But if it is a bigger and more persistent problem, get a therapist and figure out what's going on.

loppy, March 9, 2016 10:21 PM


sounds like you married him for selfish reasons and left him for the same. good for him.

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