Is Sarcasm Killing Your Relationships? Try This 48-Hour Challenge.

Donald Miller

Sarcasm may have it’s occasional place, but people who are too often sarcastic are protecting themselves.

Not long ago I was talking with an older, wiser friend and when she asked me a difficult question, I made a joke. My friend laughed but then noted I often made jokes when it would be more appropriate and healthy to connect. She said I was definitely funny but she’d rather know the real me than to watch me hide. Ouch.

The truth is she was right. I was hiding. Sarcasm and joking around are great in moderation, but often what hides behind the cynical exterior is a heart that’s been hurt (if that last line made you search for a sarcastic comeback or a joke, you’re likely the person I’m talking to.)

So here’s a little experiment for you. If you’re the type to joke around a bit too much, take a break for the next 48 hours. When you’re tempted to tell a joke, don’t. Instead, move toward the people you are with. Ask them serious questions about their work, their relationships, their dreams. Connect on a real level rather than trying to entertain.

Your heart will thank you.

* If you’d like to know more about relationships, consider registering for the Storyline Conference. One of the modules in the Storyline process is all about relationships. Learn more by clicking here.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • I love this advice, I think it really applies to me. I spend way too much time trying to hide my faults and sensitivities from others, and it only results in keeping people at arm’s length.

    On an unrelated note, please don’t turn into some Joel Osteen-esque self help guru or I will officially lose all faith in humanity.

  • I often do this when a touchy subject comes up in conversation. Also my band have released a song that is based on “A million miles in a thousand years”. Is there anyway i can get this to you?

  • I have found myself frustrated at work and sinking too often to sarcasm. Thanks for the healthy kick in the pants. I’ll take this challenge and let you know how it goes.

  • Donald,

    GREAT idea! I just sent this email to my family & staff. I’m with you on this. See you in 48 hrs.


    Hey All,

    To those people to whom I am accountable.

    We’ve had this conversation before. But I’m pledging to swear off of Sarcasm for 48 hrs – see Donald Miller blog post. Then re-evaluate on Wednesday morning.

    Help keep me honest!

    Your husband, father, leader and friend,


    • Maureen Gibbons

      Hey Joel, Think of the possibilities! Maureen

  • Jim

    Great post Don. I think Chandler from Friends was a great example of this too. If you are ALWAYS joking, you are probably trying to hide something, namely your insecurities.

  • Beth D

    Right. As usual…
    I hate swearing off sarcasm, as it seems to make life less fun for me. I already think really hard about what I say, and apparently people don’t like to wait that long for a response – usually sarcasm is the thing I think of first.
    HOWEVER, I think you have an excellent point, so I shall accept your 48 hour challenge! Maybe even a few times 😉

  • Trying this out. I have a feeling the people I work with won’t know what to do with me…

  • Ben

    Speaking from experience, ya, sarcasm is a coping method for having been hurt and feeling inadequate. A professor once affirmed me for having the spiritual gift of sarcasm in my preaching. As I’ve grown and become more confident I’ve become less naturally sarcastic. I can still break it out at times, but now it’s more appropriate and less of a crutch to keep from showing how unconfident I really was.

  • Your MOM is killing my relationship!
    jk ha
    Good challenge.

  • Don,


    Can you help me get in touch with Bob the helper in California?

    Let’s go sailing!


    • Kristi

      If you really want to get ahold of Bob Goff, he has a Facebook account and responds to personal messages (or at least he responded to mine).

  • If you find it easier to joke than to examine serious issues, especially those related to yourself, your perceptions, your emotions … this is probably true of you as Don notes: “often what hides behind the cynical exterior is a heart that’s been hurt.” But the answer isn’t to stop the joking. It’s to get closer to Christ and ask Him to deal with you, one on one, regarding those issues you’re afraid to approach. You can fix the tendency to joke, but that won’t give you the courage or strength to examine your issues … you’ll probably spend more time connecting with others regarding their issues if you stop cracking wise, but you won’t necessarily allow them to be part of your internal life. It’s hard to do until Jesus has healed your heart. I’d quit the joking if you like, but more importantly, I’d begin spending quiet time with Christ, asking Him to show you why you prefer to joke than examine your own heart … He will meet you, heal you, and bring you joy and courage. Good luck!

  • Nancy Smith

    “Oh, yeah, sure this applies to me”, she said sarcastically. Unfortunately (or not) sarcasm is one of the languages that I speak fluently. 48 hours, hmm??? I’ll give it a shot….I know you’re right, but I hate admitting it. I agree with Danny above; I’m not sure people will recognize me.

  • Upthehillwhat

    I am so thankful you are addressing this! This was some of the best advice I was ever given about 5 years ago. and it changed my life.

    I come from a pretty sarcastic & snarky family and most of the time it is all in fun and hilarious, but we all know each other really well. When carrying that style of communication over to other relationships (work, friends, romantic, etc.), it does nto translate very well.

    One of my close friends asked me a simple question, “Does being sarcastic SO much of the time actually add any benefit to the conversation? Or does it actually take away from it?”

    After I reflected on it for a little while and tested out being less sarcastic & snarky, I noticed that I was able to enjoy conversations and those around me were less and less awkward or defensive.

    Sometimes I think about whether or not Jesus was sarcastic. I do not think He was. Witty for sure, but not biting and under-cutting to His friends. Telling the Truth always, but He had nothing to lose so I am guessing He left the sarcasm out. So it all comes back to the Gospel, surprise, surprise. 🙂

  • Peg

    I heard years ago that the root of the word sarcasm meant “tearing flesh.” Don’t know if that’s true or not, but it gave me pause, as I’ve been one of those people who always comes back with a wisecrack. Then, a few years later, during a 360 at a retreat, someone described me as having “a wicked sense of humor.” It was meant as a great compliment, but I thought the word “wicked” was telling. So I’ve tried to give up sarcasm and other humor that is based in tearing something down — even myself. It’s been hard and a lot of times it means I have nothing to say. I sometimes miss feeling wickedly witty, and can only hope it’s made my spirit more gentle.

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  • Bill

    sometimes i think sarcasm is all I got.
    This hits too close to home.

    I will try it though.

  • Susan

    I’m looking for a rubber band to put around my wrist because I need a reminder. I’ll try.

  • Jim

    Great post Don. Interesting that I have been in several conversations over the past few days with people who have been hurt by misguided sarcasm. Most of the time the sarcastic commenter has no idea how hurtful they can be and how noticeably they are hiding or compensating.
    48 hours is a good start… but may not be enough for some…
    Thanks for keeping us honest.

  • A year ago some individuals who I trusted a lot hurt me pretty badly, damaging trust and changing the way I viewed them both. A dear friend walking with me through that season said to me what could be a paraphrase of your post. It was so true. Hard to hear, hard to adjust, but truth. Thanks for posting this for everyone.

  • Snarky is my love language…but my life was so serious for so long that laughter is something quite valuable to me. But yes, there’s a time and a place. (so want to add “anytime and anywhere” to that, but I won’t 😉 )

  • Regina Moss

    Well if it is only a 48 hour challenge it really don’t apply to me because I am only Sarcastic during the weekends when I am around people that are getting really close to getting to know the real me. I am not Sarcastic at work or at home because at work I don’t spend anytime with anybody enough for them to get to know the real me, and I am not home enough anymore to get to be Sarcastic that much. Not saying that it isn’t true or that it don’t apply to me it is just that 48 hours isn’t anything to me I can blow right though it.

  • Christy Stewart

    Interesting. I always thought people with a keen sense of humor and a quick wit (the kind required for sarcastic commentary) had better relationships because people want (italics implied) to relate to them. Everyone loves a class clown. Maybe chronically sarcastic people have a lot of friends but fewer deep and meaningful relationships? I don’t know. Either way, I still wish I had their humor 🙂

  • I think you are brave to have the friends you do. Sounds like they call you on stuff when you need it. They love you. And I am impressed with how well you respond.

  • I hear your point Don, but I just want to separate sarcasm — that constant snarky, sarcastic responding to good old humor. Thank God my husband is funny, and often opens my eyes to new ways of seeing a situation by making me laugh… as does my son. I’ve been yanked out of a bad mood or a angry frustration by simply being unable to contain laughter. That has it’s own place, too.

  • Judi

    Love the timing of this. I actually gave up sarcasm for Lent this year, in part because of the very ideas of this post. It’s been much harder than I thought. Not only the cessation of saying sarcastic things, but replacing them with genuine sincere positive things. Been very challenging, but I hope one of those things that will help me be more Jesus like in the end.

  • Thank you Donald for posting this.
    Being aware of sarcasm is very important. I am with certain friends and family and they know the sarcasm versus the serious marked as it.
    I have had to work on the level of sarcasm I do use.
    Again thank you, I will be sharing this.

    K, bye

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