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Hospitable environment turns hostile when wife, husband start bickering

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hosts offer hospitality while seemingly engaging in hostility

Bystander: We just spent a weekend with another couple. The wife nagged, carped, belittled and fought with her husband all weekend over minor issues. For the most part, he stoically took her treatment while my husband and I sat in silence. Occasionally, he snapped and snarled back. My husband insists that we not enter into the fray. I don't want to return for a scheduled spring visit and sit in silence again. It's very hard for me to witness bullying behavior and stay silent, but the husband is a big boy and has not asked for my "support." How can I (we) request some peace and harmony for the spring visit and not take sides? Or do we decline their offer of "hospitality"?

Carolyn: It depends on how well you know this couple, how valuable the friendship is, and how new (or not) the fighting is between them.

If one of you is close to one of them, then skip the speculation and just call. Ask if everything's okay.

If your individual bonds aren't that tight, then you need to consider that what you got during this weekend was a snapshot. They may be better by spring, or the same, or separated. Meanwhile, what they revealed (her antagonism, his stoicism) may not accurately represent what happens when they're alone. Hard to say (though their history would speak to that some).

If this was one bad visit and you value these friends, then give them another shot — and if the sniping starts up, you can say, "We're going to step out . . . you two seem to want to talk." Followed by, if needed, "I fear we're in the way here, we're going to get a hotel." It not only spares you the awkwardness of sitting in silence while they snap at each other, but also sends them a very polite message that their hostilities are spilling over and need attention.

In the end, is relationship really worth the extra effort?

Dallas: I've asked my boyfriend of almost two years to do couples counseling with me. We have some communication issues that have caused our relationship to stumble.

But then I got to thinking — is it worth being in a relationship where, less than two years in, we need to be in counseling? We are not married, have no kids, no shared property, so we could walk away without causing financial hassles or damage to other people.

Carolyn: Is your dissatisfaction limited to this one relationship with this one guy, or is this just the latest example in your life of struggling to connect with somebody?

Sometimes people limp along in a kind of semi-dysfunctional state, getting enough from and giving enough to their friends and family to allow them to feel like everything's okay — and it's only when they meet someone really special, and that relationship starts to falter, that they realize they're not working as well as they could emotionally. Counseling in that case makes a lot of sense (individually, not just with him).

But if you've had good friendships, rewarding family ties and generally smooth romantic relationships, then it is smart to ask yourself why you want to choose a mate with whom even everyday life requires extra effort. That just sounds exhausting to me.

Hospitable environment turns hostile when wife, husband start bickering 02/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 1, 2010 4:45pm]

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