Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Ultimate No-No for Couples

It's happened to everyone at some point or other. We know the feeling, dread it, and do what we can to avoid feeling it again. I'm talking about the discomfort we feel when we're out with a couple and one member of the couple starts making passive-aggressive digs at the other. In these moments, we're being used.

What's going on exactly in the couple that argues or gets passive-aggressive with each other while in the company of trusted friends? Are they even aware they're doing it? Is it intentional? Most importantly for us, the audience, do they care for a minute that their actions are making us feel uncomfortable?

Sometimes these couples do it consciously, while other times they do it unconsciously. These moments reflect the accumulation of anger and resentment that has not been handled at the time of the precipitating event. The couple is showing two major symptoms of relationship dysfunction.

1. One or both are unable to express their anger and frustration effectively.
2. One or both are unable to read the social cues of their audience or there is such a vast
reservoir of anger that they can read the cues but don't have the luxury to care about how
anyone else feels in the situation.

For the sake of the friends or audience in these situations, I think it's important to monitor ourselves when we are in public situations. Simply having known the friends your with for years does not give you license to act out in whatever way you choose when you're in their company.

Life is hard enough as it is. I think our days would be less trying if we could all learn to have more respect and empathy for others in the simplest social interactions. It's a good rule to never argue or air dirty laundry in the context of others. That's what we have homes for.

The responsibility, however, lies not just with the inappropriate couples. The next time friends of yours do this to you, I encourage you to address the situation in the moment. No one can fault you for saying, "Can you please save this for later?" The more we address this issue, the less we will have to deal with it in the future.


NHinCA said...

Dr. Seth,

I am really enjoying these posts.

How to brilliant to look at this issue not only from a psychological perspective but also vis-avis appropriate etiquette. It never pays to keep matters bottled up, but there is a time and a place. Good manners contribute to good mental health, and it is refreshing to see that point of view in your blog.

Gage said...

Hi Dr. Seth,

Great post and so wise. A good read and good stuff to keep in mind in a relationship or a first date.

Gage (Los Angeles)

Amanda said...

"A vast reservoir of anger" is a wonderful description! This post really got me thinking. I believe that in order to maintain the relationship, the couple needs to vent some of this anger--it is just too much for them to contain. But expressing anger directly may be too threatening to the relationship. Attacking your partner in front of others serves to humiliate and subordinate the other person. This reveals an ongoing power struggle. Passive-aggressive acting out becomes just plain aggressive when it is done in front of an audience.