How to Handle Argumentative Couples How to handle couples that quarrel and how to stop if youíre the guilty party. BY DIANE GOTTSMAN
A few simple steps can help you handle couples that don't know when to close their mouths.
“ Practice looking for your partnerís good qualities; appreciate them and compliment your spouse on them. You have the power to change the tone of your relationship by changing the way you think.
If you and your spouse spend any time socializing with other couples, chances are youíve encountered them: the couple that seems to thrive on having an audience to air their frustrations and dirty laundry. They punctuate each other's sentences with sarcasm and snide remarks. They undercut each other in casual conversation. They bring up embarrassing stories that put each other in an unflattering light.
When couples snipe at each other (especially in front of others), itís uncomfortable for all concerned, themselves and those around them.
If you and your spouse find yourselves sitting across the table as team "Bickerson" goes to work (and for each otherís throats), itís hard to know what to do; do you avoid eye contact with them and just continue to shovel soup into your mouth? Do you stand up for the spouse thatís being ridiculed? Do you grab a whistle and offer to referee?
Here are eight ways to deal with quarreling couples:
1. Resist the urge to jump into the fray. There are two likely outcomes: your input will be seen as an intrusion or they will both turn and jump on you and your spouseósome people think itís fine to criticize their own spouseís, but heaven help anyone else who does.
2. Use humor to calm things down. When things get overly heated, the classic line, "Are we having fun yet?" may be the remark that puts things back into perspective.
3. Use empathy. If one spouse is getting the worst of it, empathy can help diffuse some tension. If Mr. Bickerson is telling an embarrassing story about his wife backing her car into a telephone pole, take the sting out of it by sharing your own story. "You know, I did something just like that one time. I felt pretty silly, but things like that can happen to anyone."
4. Donít play along. If Mrs. Bickerson is making snarky remarks about how Mr. B. canít seem to remember to take the garbage out, donít chime in with your own marital complaints. Youíll not only throw your own spouse under the bus, but it also validates and reinforces the other coupleís habit of fussing at each other. Rather than saying, "You think thatís bad? Well, George here never learned how to pick his clothes up off the floor, let alone do a load of laundry!" Opt instead for, "Well, Iím sure he has many other good qualities, which is why you married him in the first place."
5. Change the subject. If the conversation is getting too intense, try to redirect it to a more neutral subject matter: movies, sports, books, current events. Basically, anything not remotely related to the spat du jour.
6. Call it a night. If thereís too much tension for you and your spouse to enjoy yourselves, itís fair to ask the waiter for the check and say goodnight.
7. Be honest with the Bickersons the next time they call. "Your lively banter makes us feel uncomfortable" is more authentic than "I'm sorry, we are both busy washing our hair." If you address the issue honestly and with kindness you may be doing this couple a big favor.
8. Visit solo. Maybe itís best if you donít plan any more couplesí outings with them. If the friendship is important to you, maintain it in ways that eliminates your role as an audience to their battles. Spend time with your friends separatelyómaybe the guys can go catch a game together or the women can plan a lunch date.
What to do if the above scenarios hit too close to homeóAre you the Bickersonís?
1. Change your outlook. You may have fallen into a pattern of focusing on the negative in your spouse (and life, for that matter) and ignoring the positive. Practice looking for your partnerís good qualities; appreciate them and compliment your spouse on them. You have the power to change the tone of your relationship by changing the way you think.
2. Clean the filter between your brain and your mouth. Remember that old expression, "If you canít say anything nice, donít say anything at all?" Thatís a good rule of thumb for when you spend time around other couples together. Remember, just because a thought pops into your head doesnít mean it has to come out of your mouth.
3. Spare your friends. If your goal is to embarrass your spouse, dragging your friends into your latest fight should do the trick. However, if thatís the case, you need to find new goals and new ways to deal with your frustrations. Itís safe to assume that your friends donít want any part of it, especially when all they wanted was to have a fun evening together.
4. Air it out one-on-one. Feel like you need to vent after your spouseís latest transgression? Have a talk with your spouse about it privately when you can talk about it in a calm, non-emotional way or call your best friend and give yourself a few minutes to gripe about it. Then let it go.
5. Call in the professionals. If none of these tactics make a dent in the hostility you feel toward your spouse, itís time to consider some marital counseling. It is worth the money and effort to get your marriage back on track.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.