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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five rules on public discourse for married couples 

Traveling for business this month, I saw a couple interacting in a way that was totally dismaying to me.  I felt it would be worth re-telling.

This actually happened. 

I took my customary aisle seat on my packed flight and pulled out my tablet to begin reading.

A couple who looked to be in their thirties boarded together. His seat was across the aisle from my right; hers against the window to my left.

He gallantly announced that he would take the middle seat next to me and offer his aisle seat to whomever was assigned to the middle - a noble gesture offered, I assumed, in an attempt to have them sit together. She smirked and said with a huff, "no way." She then proceeded to plunk herself into his aisle seat without so much as a glance in her husband's direction. I noticed a confused look on his face as I stood to allow him into the window seat that would otherwise have belonged to his wife.

As I settled back into my seat, I heard the wife justify her actions by muttering to no one in particular something about him just falling asleep anyway and snoring the whole way. (As a snorer myself I took particular offense at that statement.)

Just then a mother with a fussing (screaming actually) child pass down the aisle. The woman across from me muttered again, to no one in particular that she was going to need a strong drink to get through this. Her husband muttered in reply, also to no one in particular, "I hate kids. I have kids and I hate kids."

Turns out that their concern was in vain.  The screaming child ended up more than 20 rows behind us.

I suppose in response to her comment about needing a drink, the husband ask sheepishly across me, toward her, if he could also have a drink. "No way!" his wife barked in his direction without looking his way. "You're on water!"

As he settled into his magazine, she dug into her bag for her novel. Pulling it out, she announced, to no one in particular, "I'm gonna' have a drink and go off to France."  On the book she was waving I noticed something about Paris in the title.

As I shifted my attention back to my tablet I thought to myself, "There's definitely a post here."

I Know You Would Never, But...

I am sure that you and your spouse would never interact like this, especially not on a crowded airplane. But for the record, let me just draw a few lessons from this unhappy couple.
  1. Keep your private issues private - Maybe you've got stuff going on between you. Maybe you fought that morning or one of you said something harsh to the other, but don't drag your issues out in public. Either fix it in private or stuff it until you can. Ugly public displays are just that: ugly.

  2. Don't cut each other down in public - I honestly don't get this. How can you treat your spouse worse than you would treat a total stranger? Watch your words, and if you can't say something kind, keep it to yourself. You shouldn't cut each other down at all, but a public dissing cuts ten times deeper. At the same time public praise counts ten times more. It says to your spouse, "I'm proud to be married to you."

  3. If your spouse tries to make a kind gesture, respond in a like manner - None of us are going to bat 1000 when we try to do something kind or helpful, but acknowledge your spouse's effort when he or she tries to make a kind gesture but ends up annoying you instead. A kiss with bad breath, a shortcut that makes you late for the movie, or a bad choice of a new restaurant are all opportunities to smile and show some grace.

  4. Don't neglect each other in public - You probably see it all the time. A couple sitting in a restaurant both occupied with their cell phones. Do your best to focus on each other when you are out and about together. Chances are it doesn't happen that often, so take advantage of the time you have together.

  5. Lastly, if you have a passive-aggressive habit of speaking out loud to "no one in particular," please don't. Just don't. "No one in particular" does not want to hear what you have to say.
Maybe you aren't "that couple." But perhaps you can take this opportunity to consider how you treat your spouse in public. What would people say about your marriage from watching you interact with your spouse? Can you think of any areas where you might do better?

If "that couple" happens to read this post, thanks for giving us all a lesson in how not to interact in public.

What other rules of public engagement would you have to offer?  Leave a comment with your thoughts.

image credit: cluckva /


Andrew said...

So true! Thank you for putting together this list. It's something I've seen all to often.

I'd like to add a 'do', if I may -

In Viet Nam, couples are enjoined to treat one another as honored guests, and to think before speaking - "Is this how I would treat a person whom I have invited into my home?"

In truth, we have made that invitation, and make it daily, by the exchange of vows.We have invited another into our lives, and as gracious hosts we must accommodate their needs first.

Scott said...

Andrew - Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of treating your spouse as you would an honored guest. Good way to test your words and attitude.

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