Not long ago my husband and I met up with another couple for drinks. I will not go into any details, but suffice it to say that from the moment we arrived, it was clear something was amiss. And by amiss I mean there should have been a referee present, because it was not pretty. The thing is, there wasn’t any overt arguing between the two, no name calling or raised voices. But the barely concealed disdain for one another hung thick in the air. All in all, it made for an uncomfortable evening.
As soon as we parted ways, my husband and I were like, what the hell? After eight years together, the two of us have had our fair share of fights, and on more than one occasion we’ve had a spat just prior to going out with people. We have a tacit agreement that we can have words at home, and in the car, but the moment we open the doors and step outside to go wherever we’re going, the bickering stops and we each put on a smile. It’s impolite to air your dirty laundry in public. But there’s another side to our understanding, one which scores of marriage counselors would undoubtedly raise their hands in horror at, but that I find to be true:
If you slap a smile on your face and pretend to be happy and have fun, eventually you do have a good time. The laughter and chit chat overrides the bad mood, and it’s hard to stay mad at someone you’ve just spent an amicable evening with, even if it started out under false pretenses.
Yes, I’m sure some would say that’s ignoring the problem, but the truth of the matter is that, for my husband and I, most of our tiffs are inconsequential. Maybe one or both of us needs to eat and are therefore irritable, or perhaps we’re running late and stressed. In other words, the basically unimportant stuff that brings out the bitchy. So, nine times out of ten, whatever we fought over before arriving at our destination is forgotten by the time we leave.
The interactions of the other couple, however, were not the result of an argument that happened before we got there. It was the sort of behavior that can only come from extensive buildup, and it was rather ugly.
Obviously we discussed it the whole way home, and at breakfast the next day, and again a few days later. I’m not sure what it is about being confronted with another couple’s problems that make you question your own union, but it definitely happens. At any rate, my husband brought up an interesting point, which was to ask whether either of them were even aware of what they were doing, and how it came off to others. I think the answer is no, they didn’t, which to me is worse than if they did. Not realizing how they were behaving signifies that it’s their default mode. All I could think was, if that’s how they treat each other in public, what goes on at home?
Anyway, right after leaving my husband turned to me in the taxi and solemnly said we needed to pinky swear to never end up like that, which I complied with, because there’s nothing quite as comforting as knowing you’re bound by the pinky. But later, I wondered more about the incident to myself. How do you protect yourself from ‘ending up like that’? No one, or no one I know anyway, gets married with the thought that one day they’ll end up treating each other like shit in public. We all know communication is key in a relationship, and blah blah blah, but we also know it’s easy to fall out of synch with your partner. Life happens, and the chances of a couple experiencing a life altering and extremely stressful event only increase the longer they are together, and those sorts of things can be game changers. Or, perhaps it isn’t any one, or even a few major changes that cause problems, but an accumulation of small and inconsequential things. Like those insignificant arguments I referred to earlier in my own relationship.
I don’t know what happened between our acquaintances, maybe they’re just going through a rough patch, or maybe they’re on the road to splitting. I will say it made me grateful for what I have, gave me something to think about with regards to my own marriage, and provided me with extra determination to not go down that road myself.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find my husband and make him pinky swear again.