Saturday, January 10, 2009

Airing Your Dirty Laundry in Public, Poison to Any Relationship and Marriage

Problems at home can be so frustrating that you want to vent them outside the home. Don’t do it, unless of course you like the idea of sleeping alone…

We’re going to do something just a bit different today. I usually write primarily to and for the benefit of the men, occasionally throwing in something that the women here will also find useful or at least amusing, but today I’m speaking to everyone equally, and I hope that the majority of you will have at least one person to whom you can forward this little wake-up call to help them stop making this really big mistake. It’s not just an attraction-killer, it’s a relationship-killer, as sure as the sun rises in the east every morning. It’s also a symptom of a pretty big problem, much bigger than the one being voiced when this happens, as you will see.

One of the two couples who live next door to me are an elderly couple who married late in life, and for the life of me, I don’t know why they got married or have remained married. They don’t even like each other, let alone love each other, and don’t seem to need each other either, unless it’s simply in the capacity of having someone available to call for an ambulance if they collapse from a heart attack or something. They seemed okay when I first met them several years ago, but either their relationship has steadily declined or they have become less concerned with keeping their problems private, and they now they are constantly at each other’s throat whenever I visit them or see them away from their home in a public place.

The main problem seems to have started because they don’t communicate very well. They’re both head-strong, and neither are good listeners, but people manage to live like that for fifty years or longer without the kind of malicious behavior I see these two engaged in regularly. So what’s continuing to escalate the hostilities?

Every time I talk to either of them, they are demeaning and insulting the other, and they both know this is going on, so when I see the two of them together, it’s like a competition to see which of them can say the nastiest things about the other one to me and another competition to see who can defend themselves against whatever insults they suspect have been dealt in their absence. Hence, they’re both hurt, mad, and frustrated all the time, and quite paranoid about what is being said about them while they aren’t present to defend themselves.

I remember the day it started like it was yesterday. The man and I were standing in my front yard talking about grass seed, fertilizer, weed killer, etc., as our lawns had not fared well through the winter, and she drove up, having been out shopping. He had remarked to me earlier that she was out and he’d had to give her all his cash because they were out of checks and they had cut up all their credit cards, much more personal information than I would have ever been comfortable hearing from a neighbor. He went on to say that he hoped she’d not spent all his cash while she was out because the home center where he was going to buy fertilizer and seed was only a little over a mile from our homes but his closest credit union branch was across town and he didn’t want to have to drive that far out of the way to get more cash. When she got out of the car, he said, “Well, I’d better go see if I have any money left,” and she heard him. Most unfortunate…

She exploded! “What are you doing telling our neighbor that I spend all your money all the time??? What else are you saying about me behind my back???” she yelled. That one remark, taken almost entirely out of context, caused an explosion, the shockwave from which is still tearing their relationship down and the fallout from which has not begun to settle, several years later. What do you think happened next?

You guessed it! She found occasion later that day to come over to my house to defend herself, and make a few nasty remarks about him in retaliation. He walks up quietly behind her while she’s railing about him using her good towels (“the show towels”) and messing up the kitchen, stands listening for several minutes before clearing his throat to let her know that she’s busted, and then says, “And you had the nerve to jump on me about talking behind your back???” War was at that moment declared.

Since that time, they’ve thrown each other out of the house regularly; every other week I’m outside getting the mail or something and hear, “Why don’t you just pack your s**t an get out?!” and they’ve become the two unhappiest people I know; combatants seemingly locked in a duel to the death to see who can get in the last and worst word about the other.

The lesson? Keep your problems to yourself, especially your relationship problems, and don’t succumb to the temptation of verbally bashing your partner, whether in front of them or not.

Ladies, I know that is a particularly hard pill for you to swallow, but face it, if there’s a problem between you and your man, it’s between you and your man, not between your man and your fourteen girlfriends with you acting as the mediator. You know as well as I do that your girlfriends will most often say either whatever they think you want to hear or whatever they think will keep you upset so they can continue to feed on your emotion, and that’s okay when you’re discussing a television show or a party that didn’t work out well, but don’t take chances on screwing up your relationship or marriage by inviting your girlfriends into your intimate life. You never know which of them has secretly wanted your husband since she met him and might take the opportunity to drive a wedge that will help her get him, right?

Nor do you know which of them is competitive and jealous of your relationship and secretly watching for a way to help you become as miserable as she is, do you? I know you’re driven to share and commiserate, but the stakes are too high when it comes to marital issues to risk having someone say something to you to manipulate your emotions or sabotage your relationship under the guise of helping you.

And guys, even though we’re generally not as socially-oriented as women, there are still times when you’re sitting in the bar, the barber’s chair, a coworker’s office or the break room, etc., during which you might be sorely tempted to vent as well. For some of you it’s like some kind of bonding experience. Don’t do it. Nothing good can come of it. Be a man, and deal with the problem at its source, and don’t wait for your partner to take the lead. That’s your job, and if you can’t do it, there are others who can. And you can bet she knows where to start looking for them and has plenty of time to do so while you’re out with your friends bitching about her instead of being at home fixing your marriage.

If you have a problem with your partner, you need to be at home fixing it, not bitching about it to someone outside your family. The person you need to be talking with is your partner, not your bowling buddy, your drinking buddy, your girlfriend, your hairdresser, or anybody else, other than maybe a professional counselor if the two of you can’t work it out on your own. The likelihood of anyone else being able to give you much appropriate and competent input is very slim at best, unless that person’s own marriage is such a shining example of a truly great marriage that they’re a bona fide expert, and that’s going to be hard to know if they are keeping private things private like they should. You never know what really goes on behind closed doors.

Look at what usually happens in such a situation, attacks bring defensive action and then counter-attacks, and then the feud has started and isn’t going to go quietly into the night. The fastest way on Earth to escalate such a feud is to bring the outside world into it, especially by trashing your partner in front of his or her friends. It’s embarrassing, humiliating, and if you think trying to take back something you’ve said in anger to your partner is hard to take back, trying taking something back that you’ve said to or in front of your partner’s friend or coworker, or to anyone who lets something you said get back to her.

Treat each other with respect. If some of your friends start trashing their partners or your partner’s gender in general, try to break the momentum quickly by saying something positive about your partner, especially if they are standing there listening, before your partner has too much time to wonder if you’re thinking the same thing about them. When you show each other that kind of respect and support instead of publicly airing your dirty laundry, you will be more willing and able to work your problems out peacefully, and will try harder to work them out before they become a heated debate or a fight that you’ll later regret. It creates trust, which is crucial in any problem-solving operation, not to mention a secure relationship or marriage.

There is nothing about heated conflict that is good for a relationship. If you’re in one of those relationships where you’re constantly at the extremes, either fighting or in bed together, you need to take a good hard look at your relationship, your life’s desires, yourself, and your partner. I can tell you what you’ll find: a relationship that is based on attraction or need, not compatibility and love coupled with attraction. Lacking anything in common, your life together is one contest or conflict after another, one fight after another, and the only part left to enjoy, or escape to, is the sex. That’s no way to live, and you can both do a lot better.

Good relationships that last require being well-matched to your partner, communicating effectively, and keeping the fun and attraction level up to the point that you enjoy living your life and living with each other. That sounds difficult because you see so few couples doing it successfully in the long-term these days, but it’s not. The reason that you don’t see it often isn’t because it’s hard; it’s because very few remember how or ever learned how. “Knowledge is power” became a cliché because it was universally true, not universally false, right?

Opinions are like bowels; everybody has one, and they are usually full of crap. Knowledge IS power, the power to create a great relationship and the power to fix one that you started but has become stale and boring over the years, as well as the power to take one that is going fairly well and kick it up to notches unknown to humankind! That knowledge is contained in “THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage,” and if you don’t have your copy, get over to
http://www.makingherhappy.com and download it right now, because you’re missing out on a better life. Life’s too short as it is, without wasting it in a bad relationship that could be improved or replaced, so get to work!

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!

David Cunningham

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