Monica worries that their 3-year-old son, Joseph, is being influenced by their banter. "The first time my son said the words 'dirty whore,' my husband laughed hysterically. I did not," she recalls.
She and Joe fear that their son could call his teacher or playmates the names he hears at home. Yet, she doesn't want to give up her teasing ritual. "I read Family First,and I do believe that this behavior is what makes my marriage and my home life so wonderful. I really don't want to stop this name calling, because this is part of who we are," she says. "But if it affects my children, I will."
Turning to Dr. Phil, she asks, "Is the way my husband and I express affection for one another normal?"
Joe explains, "It's a humor that I have and she fell right into it."
Monica adds, "If it were true, if he actually thought I was ugly, if he actually thought I was fat, he wouldn't say it. I'm not happy unless my husband calls me fat."
She does clarify that when she and Joe get into arguments that they are very respectful of each other's boundaries.
"Kind of. If we're in a rough spot, I get more compliments like, 'I think you're wonderful. I think you're special,'" she explains.
"I only pull those out for special occasions," Joe jokes. "I don't want to over-use them. "
"Has he ever hurt your feelings with anything he's said?" Dr. Phil asks.
Monica and Joe's playful language is referred to in relationships as interpersonal coding. Certain words take on a special meaning for the couple, but are obscure to everyone else. In their internal dictionary, "crap head," and "jerk face," mean, "He's flirting with me. He's in a good mood. He's playing around."
Turning to Joe, he says, "You are a powerful model for him, and you're already seeing him starting to bring some of it back. What you guys do between you, there's nothing wrong with that ... but the modeling can be toxic, and you've got to really, really watch that."
"All of our time is spent together with our children. We don't spend one-on-one time. How do we replace our day-to-day banter?" Monica argues.
"You either have to make a decision, you have to use this symbol system, or you want to model this for your child," Dr. Phil says bluntly. "It's a choice. Life's about choices."