Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Your Married Friends Argue Publicly

DH and I went to a party recently with a bunch of married couples. Among them were I and M, who are a married couple with 4 daughters. I and M have been married for about 14 years and now have an Obviously Dysfunctional Relationship. Not the kind of dysfunction involving anything one might ever feel the need to report to the authorities or anything, just enough passive aggressive tension and spite to fill an entire episode of Dr. Phil (and to take that cloying shine right off his scary white teeth, too). Let me give you a flavor.

At the party, I goes over to DH and one of my girlfriends, C, and starts in about his wife M's incessant nagging of him; how M is a bon-bon-eating SAHM who is constantly out with the girls while he busts his ass working (sorry, I, not true - M is constantly doing Kid Stuff, like schlepping her passel of kids around to way, way too many activities, but I digress)... and his little diatribe goes on to the point where it all gets reeaaallly uncomfortable for DH and C, as they eventually realize I is 1) not at all joking, not even a little bit, and 2) has NO IDEA how socially-inappropriate he is being, and how everyone feels about it. (Granted, I'm not the world's most socially-appropriate human being ever, but well, it takes one to know one I suppose.)

Then I heads over to another group, including M (!!!), and repeats the same conversation/diatribe to a new group of innocent bystanders, including yours truly. M handles it as gracefully as possible, kind of disses him playfully, and ignores I for the rest of the night. Later I ask M if she's ok, and she denies that anything is amiss or bothering her (which I don't believe for a nanosecond.)

A few days later C calls me up and eventually gets around to her main reason for calling: after what went down at the party, she was trying to figure out if I is a total dick or if she's taking crazy pills. I assure her that I is a total dick - and we bond over that for a minute. I've always thought one of the best beginnings of a friendship is disliking the same people and things.

Then when DH and I finally have a date night to ourselves, DH brings up I's party commentary, and says he feels like he needs to say something to I about it. He rehearses a few things with me, and we come up with something like a bottom line: "Dude, at that party you chose to make your marital problems public, and you talked shit about your wife in front of her friends who happen to like her a lot, and it was totally awkward, and we're worried about you guys...WTF, man?" (My guyspeak is not very fluent, but that's the gist of it.)

Then DH said, "you know, I really think therapy would be good for them. It turned things around for us." Amen, honey! We learned how to put the fun back in dysFUNctional.

And then DH says, "M needs to hang around with you a little more so she can learn to be bitchy in a good way, because there is no fucking way you would have ever let me get away with disrespecting you like that in public. You would have been like, 'Excuse us everyone, we need to leave now,' and you would have dragged my ass out of there, and I would have dreaded the ride home..." Um, thank you, DH? But he's right - that does sound exactly like me though - all sweetness and light. ;)

Then we talked a bit about maintaining boundaries around friends' issues - such as how do you draw the line between giving unsolicited ass-vice that will 9 times out of 10 be disregarded anyway, and making an observation that might actually open the door to a welcome conversation. Like in this example, "Dude, I, it seemed like M was really on your last nerve at that party...." and see where that statement takes the conversation?

What would you do?


Melba said...

Gah, I hate this! Why do people do this? If I was in the conversation, I probably would have said some jokingly not joking remark about how he should keep his marital woes to himself. After the fact, I don't know how your DH can bring it up without the guy getting his back up about it, you know?

And also, very few can be bitchy in a good way, there's some kind of art to it that most get wrong and end up just plain bitchy. So good on you if you are. I think its a compliment. :)

Maria said...

I would lean in the direction of talking to I about the impact the incident had on me rather than injecting myself into their marriage. It's real hard to inject oneself into the middle of a marriage and tends to inspire blind defensiveness regardless of the situation.

I am also completely non-fluent in guy-speak, so you or your DH will have to do the translation, but I might say something like Dude, hearing to you rip on M at that party when she was *right there* really sucked. WTF? If you want to talk, give me a call and we can get together but I was mortified listening to it in that setting.

He could go on to say Hush and I saw an awesome therapist and it helped a lot, and if you want me to give you the number let me know, because I know how shitty it is to be in a bad relationship situation.

Maria said...

Sorry about all the typos!

NK: Style-ING w/ Children said...

my best friend and her hubby (who's best friends with my hubby) argue a lot in front of ppl. Actually she yells at him and he takes it. We love them both very much and are privy to some of the reasons why things are this way for them. But it is never a pretty sight and we try to keep our interaction relatively manageable. WHich is a shame, because, as I said, we love them to pieces. funny how that is... they are so much in love.

but i don't think that's what you guys are witnessing. Maybe just not say anything at this point?? Just keep in mind how you would respond if it happened again. I'm non confrontational like that. Especially when it comes to other ppl's relationships...

you guys sound like a really smart and happy couple :)) I also think its an art to be bitchy in a positive way. I'm trying to darnest to learn....

you should write a post about that! :)

Cloud said...

I can't imagine taking that abuse from my husband, in public or private. Yikes!

If M doesn't want to talk to you about it, I'd drop it. But if your DH can let I know how uncomfortable he's making other people in some non-awkward guy speak way, that would be cool.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. In the past, I have generally said soothing things to half of married couples, "I'm sure she didn't mean it that way" or walked away. On the internets I have sometimes been more blunt, "Have you considered therapy?" but that doesn't get very far as some folks find it insulting... so instead I blog about how people on the internets make me sad. ( http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/the-mommy-boards-are-making-me-sad-again/ )

Fortunately the people that I'm close enough friends with to address as your DH is going to address have gotten their dysfunctional relationships out of their lives and are either single or happily partnered. Way back in the day I'd only give advice (to unmarried folks) on that if they asked ("Dude, you don't have to put up with that, you're awesome.").

Jac. said...

I would say that married couples who argue in public is one of my biggest pet peeves. It's just so RUDE! I can honestly say that DH and I, for all our flaws, have never, ever done this.

But, it doesn't actually sound like that's what was going on. It sounds like one person was belittling another in public, which to me is a whole different scenario. So, if I were to say something, I would probably frame it that way. I'm not generally afraid to call someone out if I think they are acting like a bully, and frankly, making derogatory remarks towards ANYBODY in public where that person is likely too polite to make a scene and defend herself, is bullying.

I don't think there is much you can say after the fact. During the moment, I probably would have said something like, " Dude, you're hilarious! Although, isn't it awful when some assholes actually DO belittle their spouses for REAL in public. That would segway into a story about my "friend" whose husband was completely disrepectful about his wife in public and he wasn't joking and how rude and awkward it was for everyone.

I love framing things like that because - what's he going to say? Actually, I'm not joking - I am a huge asshole.

Claudia said...

Argh, my comment got eaten.
I totally agree that he was belittling, and there seems to be a serious dynamic of that going on (I say from my far-flung armchair).

I think your DH could say very briefly something about counseling being very helpful for him, and here's the counselor's card, if you ever want to go that road. End of convo. I'm not decided about bringing up the awkwardness at the party. On the one hand, he may be an overbearing jerk who doesn't know that he's crossing lines all over the place. On the other hand, he may be like all of us schmoes, who are in the middle of turmoil, and after we pro-actively get through it, look back one day (or run into a schmo at a party who makes everyone uncomfortable), and thinks, "oh crap, that was me. What a fucktard I was."

As for the wife, she is probably not in a position in the relationship where she can leverage for counseling. If their interactions are what I think they are, it will be so much yapping from her in his ears. So the buddy making the counseling suggestion will likely be more effective.
Finally, don't expect them to call up for a consultation the next week. They could well stew on it for a year or more before taking action, even if they want to from the start. That shit is scary, and it's really easy to face the evil you know.

Ok, this time it better show up in the comments!

hush said...

@Melba - Yes, WHY do people do this? I think in part Mr. I was looking for some validation, maybe trying to tease out what is normal? Probably has some anger issues he can't express in a healthy way, plus there's the passive-aggressive dynamic, and wanting to shame his wife. He's a real prick, no?

@Maria - With you on the talking about the personal impact his words had on people, which is irrefutable. "It's real hard to inject oneself into the middle of a marriage and tends to inspire blind defensiveness regardless of the situation." Yes! Amen.

@NK - "Maybe just not say anything at this point?" That's generally my go-to personal plan in situations like these! ;) DH feels like he needs to say something to I, and let the chips fall where they may.

@Cloud - "Abuse" is the right word for it, I agree. And I agree that dropping it with M is a good idea.

@nicoleandmaggie - ""Have you considered therapy?" but that doesn't get very far as some folks find it insulting... so instead I blog about how people on the internets make me sad." LOL! I'm really loving your blog's archives.

@Jac - "..making derogatory remarks towards ANYBODY in public where that person is likely too polite to make a scene and defend herself, is bullying." True dat. "Bullying" and "abuse" like @Cloud called it - are spot-on descriptors. I lack your ability to think on your feet and come up with the exact right thing to say in the heat of the moment.

@Claudia - Fuck... Blogger/booger seems to have an insatiable appetite for all the best comments! "I think your DH could say very briefly something about counseling being very helpful for him, and here's the counselor's card, if you ever want to go that road. End of convo." DH may actually do just that, or just talk about our experiences and hope the seed is planted.