Have you ever been with a married couple that argues with each other while you’re with them? As the arguing progresses, how do you feel? Awkward? Embarrassed? Closed in? Uncomfortable? Yes …we feel that way too. We know many others who feel that same awkwardness about spouses arguing in front of them.
It is like these arguing couples have blinders on that erase anyone else who is around them. They just argue away, no matter who’s there. If children, other family members, friends, or even if strangers are with them, they still argue. It’s as if no one else matters. That’s because it becomes all about what concerns THEM at that present moment!
Spouses Arguing Openly
We talked with a couple whose adult “child” and spouse often put them in this situation. This young couple thinks nothing of breaking out into full-blown arguments with each other when their parents are with them. The parents have expressed to them their feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment. They’ve asked them to take their disagreements into private places. And yet nothing has changed. This young couple is convinced that it’s “healthy” to air out their differences like this. For this reason, they continue to expose their parents and others to their arguing tirades.
But it isn’t healthy or mature to do this. And it isn’t considerate to the others in the room when spouses can’t settle their differences privately. My dad and step mom sometimes put us in this place. Several times we were in the car with them on long trips when they would argue. We felt like we were trapped in a cage—and essentially we were. We were VERY uncomfortable the whole time. I even joked with them one time saying, “Don’t let me come up there and break you two apart.” And yet they didn’t skip a beat. They just kept fighting as if we weren’t even there.
It was bad enough when they did this in our home or theirs. But it was even worse to be trapped in a car with them when we couldn’t walk away. We finally made the rule that we wouldn’t ride in a car with the both of them. They didn’t like it; but we didn’t care. It was better for us to drive separately in a peaceful vehicle than to allow them to expose us to that type of toxic behavior.
“Escaping” Spouses Arguing in Front of Them
One couple we read about became so desperate to get away from friends when they would argue in front of them that they “developed a secret sign.” The author wrote, “One of us removes his or her watch and re-buckles it —so we know when it is time to go.” How sad is that to have to come up with a “secret sign” so they could get away? We’re reminded of the scripture in Philippians 2:3-4. We’re told:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.“
We’re wondering… how are we looking out for the “interests of others” when we expose them to our arguments? It’s just plain rude to put them in the middle of this situation. That’s why we’re encouraging you to be kind. Take your arguments with each other elsewhere.
Spouses Arguing Privately
We can’t say it any plainer than this. Be considerate. Please don’t subject others to your fights. Look beyond your angry situation and S.T.O.P. = See The Other People who are around you. Go elsewhere to settle your disagreements. We’re told in the Bible, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.“ And this includes a time to openly conflict with each other as husband and wife. It also includes a time when it’s best to NOT openly disagree with each other.
Also, S.T.O.P. = See The Other People and be considerate of EACH OTHER. As author James Bardot says:
“Keep it private. Nobody wants their dirty laundry aired in front of others, and violating this rule becomes especially painful when our private affairs (and faults) are exposed by someone we love.”
So, not only do OTHER people NOT want to be part of your arguments with each other, you shouldn’t expose your spouse to this invasion of privacy. It shows that you aren’t valuing your spouse as a marriage partner. Even if he or she is the one who initiates the argument in front of others, do what you can to get out of it.
Considering Time and Place
When it comes to spouses arguing, we agree with the advice that author Cherie Barboch gives:
Consider the time and the place. While it can be difficult to hold your fury when you first realize you’ve been wronged, wait until you and your partner are alone in a quiet place and space. If your partner is busy at work, out with friends, or in the midst of a family visit, wait until he or she can speak with you one on one [alone]. (From an article titled, “Fighting Fair”)
On this issue, Gerald Foley, from the article “Courage to Love When Marriage Hurts” wrote:
Do not involve other people. The argument is between the two of you. Young couples make the mistake of involving friends or parents. The damage comes later in several forms:
• A parent will more likely remember the issue long after a couple has forgotten.
• The respect and perception once held by a parent for a child’s spouse will decline.
• A couple may feel uncomfortable facing the parent even after an incident has been resolved.
• A parent’s natural reaction is to protect a child and this reaction may cause further damage to the relationship.
When it comes to spouses arguing, those are good reasons all on their own to keep it private. But here’s something else to consider:
It is important that the fight take place between those directly involved and that neither party elicits the help of friends or family members to validate their position. It doesn’t matter how many other people agree with you, that doesn’t necessarily make you right, so don’t involve others in your fight.
This is not only fair to your partner but it is also not fair to those who are dragged into the argument. While you may have many people who agree with you and believe you are right, bringing them into the fight just isn’t fair. And it also isn’t effective. (From an article titled, “How to Fight Fairly”)
Exception to Spouses Arguing Privately
The exception to this rule is when you are seeing a counselor or mentor(s) who are trying to help you with your issues. But this is an arranged time together; so it’s different. Sometimes a third party can be more objective. As a result, they can offer you good counsel or advice on how to work through your disagreements in a healthier way. But make sure the counselor isn’t someone who is more partial towards one spouse above the other.
This is especially true if you are in an abusive situation. You may need to talk to others about these matters. Abuse grows more insidious in the dark. But be careful of who you talk to. You can find tips to help you in this type of situation in the Abuse in Marriage topic.
As far as “normal” fighting, the best advice is given in the Bible. It states in Ephesians 4:29:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
In Proverbs 18:2 we’re told, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” And Titus 3:2 it is stated, “Remind the people to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” These are good guidelines for us all!
In closing, we remind you to look beyond your angry situation. S.T.O.P Arguing … See The Other People who are around you when you and your spouse are arguing. Be considerate of them, AND each other. It’s important to go elsewhere to settle your tense disagreements. Ultimately, this will benefit ALL who are concerned.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
We give a lot of practical tips to help you grow your marriage in this issue of spouses arguing and others in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else so you can invest in their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the “Now Available” picture below to do so:
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4 responses to “Spouses Arguing in Front of Others”
What if you do end up arguing in-front of your boyfriends entire family? Is there any recovery?
I have asked my husband repeatedly to not start fights in front of family and yet he will inevitably make a scene. We even came up with a ‘safe word. But when I have tried to use the safe word he calls it out in front of family making it more embarrassing for me.
I am extremely private. I don’t want to air my dirty laundry in front of my family. I don’t ever start fights or do this in front of his family. I feel completely disrespected and embarrassed. I’m at my wits end. I love my husband but this is a big deal for me.
Kim, I can well appreciate why you’re upset. Hopefully, someday, your husband will “get it” as far as how unfair it is to you that he pulls your arguments out in front of others. But it’s also unfair to others. They don’t need to, nor should they know your personal business, and it’s kind of disturbing if they do (which I don’t know if they do or not). They shouldn’t even want to know your business because this invites them into your personal twosome husband/wife space. When any of our family members start to cross the line into an argument I either ask them to “talk” about that issue at another time, or I remove myself. It’s just not appropriate for me to know their personal business. It’s like going through their underwear drawer. There needs to be boundaries.
I would try again to talk to your husband about this at a non-combative time. (Make sure it isn’t a H.A.L.T. time when one of you is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.) Ask him to partner with you on this. Sometimes we slip up. But we need to try approach it in a healthy way again in the future. If he won’t, then you might have to protect yourself… if he won’t, then you should. But try to see if you can talk about this again first. Don’t try to fight about it. Approach this in a softened manner where you express your feelings over this issue.
If he just won’t honor you concerning this matter (some people don’t see the problem… or they just get caught up in the moment and lay down their self-restraints) then you might have to find out ways to lay down boundaries until he “gets it” that you won’t involve yourself in this type of public behavior. It’s not that you don’t want to work through the issue–you just don’t want to work it out in front of others. Also, some people want the validation of others that they are right and you are wrong so they drag the fight out in front of others. (It’s called “right fighting” –they will fight at all costs just so they can feel that they have won.) But that’s really unhealthy behavior–especially in marriage. When one spouse “wins” the other has to lose. As a result the marriage relationship loses because of the hurt feelings that result. You are to work through your disagreements so both spouses eventually feel they’ve been heard, understood, and have reached an agreement that you both can live with.
So, if your husband eventually doesn’t change the behavior of fighting in front of others, you have to come up with some kind of plan that you can implement so you do not participate. You need to put down some type of boundary, that when he steps over that line you walk away, or go out for a walk, or go into another room, or sit quietly–not saying a word or validating the behavior, or whatever. Just don’t participate. That would be hard. But it works. And if it doesn’t, then figure out another way you can stick to the boundary of not participating in fighting in front of others. You may have to go at it from different angles until finally you land upon one that works.
The first approach is pretty obvious. When he steps over the line, just politely ask him to stop and wait until you are both alone to talk more about this matter. If he won’t, then politely say that you are not open to arguing about this point at that time and walk into another room. That will take bravery. You may even get some rolling of eyes and sharp remarks. But hold to your ground on this. Don’t participate with that type of disrespect. You may even have to leave early.
At first all of this will be really hard. But hopefully, you will see it turn in a better direction in the future. It’s a type of “retraining” that is necessary (although I would never tell my husband that this is what you are trying to do… he will resist “just because.”) You may not like the sting of what happens at first, but later, when things go in healthier direction, you’ll be glad you put the effort in and did the difficult thing.
And if it doesn’t go well, then try, try again. Find another approach. I’ve had to do this many times in our marriage over different issues. And I’ve had to do this with other family members who step over the line in their argumentative ways. But when it’s important enough (which this is), you just have to keep trying until you land on the right solution. I hope this helps.
Thanks so much for your comments. This is helpful!