I’m good friends with the woman next door, but she and her husband fight constantly in front of me and others. Recently, we were all in their car. She was driving, and he repeatedly told her everything she was doing wrong. Then he called to order a pizza, and she laid into him, saying he was ordering wrong. He yelled, “Why do you always complicate things?!” It was really unpleasant. Then, last week, they came to a dinner party at my house and started fighting right at the table! Is there any way to stop the tension and this rude behavior? –Uncomfortable
It’s so sweet when you look at a couple and realize that their relationship reminds you of a classic romantic comedy – like Apocalypse Now.
There are social conventions we all just know to adhere to, like that you don’t get to use other people’s ears as hampers for your relationship’s dirty laundry. Unfortunately, this couple seems to have reached the “winning is everything” point – the point at which social conventions get crumpled up and thrown out the car window and you and your guests are dismayed to find your dinner party doubling as a jury trial: She Never Listens v. He Orders Pizza Wrong.
Well-meaning people will advise you to take the woman aside (embarrassing and uncomfortable!) or chirp “Yoo-hoo, I’m right here!” when they go from zero to “I hate you” right in front of you. But there’s a good chance these suggestions won’t work, thanks to our body’s sloppy and imprecise “fight or flight” system, which is seriously in need of an upgrade. It turns out that the adrenaline rush that would get triggered to help our ancestors escape a hungry tiger’s attack can also be triggered by a verbal attack by a wife when her husband fails to meet certain apparently essential takeout-ordering standards. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this an “emotional hijacking” because the brain’s reasoning center gets bypassed. He explains in his book Emotional Intelligence that the surge of adrenaline and other crisis hormones make a person’s emotions “so intense, their perspective so narrow, and their thinking so confused that there is no hope of taking the other’s viewpoint or settling things in a reasonable way.”
In other words, the behavior you should have the best success modifying is your own. And no, the modification shouldn’t involve riding in the trunk when you go places with them or having the garden hose close at hand at your dinner parties so you can break up any snarling dogs or married couples. A couple whose party manners fall off faster than pants on a nude beach doesn’t deserve your company – much as they might like to have a witness in case one of them needs to claim “self-defense.” You may want to see the wife alone, but you should decline all future opportunities to be in the presence of this duo. Of course, on occasion, it may be worth it to you to make an exception, like when you want to see a big boxing match but can’t afford pay-per-view: “Hi … I’m having a party next Saturday. Wanna come over so I can take bets on which one of you will end up biting off a piece of the other’s ear?”
©2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon