Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Complaint Temptation

Get a group of guys together, and it's not uncommon for someone to dust off a rousing, "Listen to this stupid thing my wife did or said," story. You know, the kind about how your wife can't add, or buys the stupidest thing, or spends too long with her makeup in the morning, or is confounded by the simplest appliances. My undercover sources tell me that at all-female gatherings, the equal and opposite happens, with hilarious anecdotes about husbands inability to cook, lack of hygiene, social gracelessness, emotional cluelessness, obsession with sports, mechanics, hunting, etc.

Whether drawn for humor or simple camaraderie (after all, most people beyond a certain age have a spouse, so in a given gathering there should be at least that one level of commonality for most people) spouse put-downs are cheap and easy conversation.

The problem is, getting into the habit of complaint is dangerous. It's easy for us all to find things about our spouses we could wish otherwise, but when we complain about them with others, we implicitly distance from the spouse while drawing close to others. More importantly, once you start to complain about something, you notice it more. Complaining frequently about your wife's spending habits or your husband's tendency to leave his dirty socks scattered around the room makes you notice it more, and makes the repetition more annoying.

"There she goes again! Sheesh. Wait till I tell people about this one."

What seems like a way of making small talk can actually become a way of identifying things about your spouse which will come to annoy you more and more. Feigned annoyance for social purposes can turn into a real grievance, making what seems like harmless socializing dangerous.

12 comments:

Danimal said...

hear hear, brother Darwin! No-one has ever heard me say a word of criticism about my wife, and I actively dissuade others from doing the same. How can one speak poorly of one's partner, and expect a good relationship?

What maddens me more is when someone speaks ill of their spouse in front of her. How is that supposed to make her feel? What does it say about the relationship?

bearing said...

Occasionally at all-female gatherings, I find myself casting about frantically for an aspect of my spouse about which I can complain. I have a hard time coming up with faults, frankly. It's sort of embarrassing.

Bragging about how wonderful one's husband is seems to cause different problems.

Anonymous said...

However, if we can avoid insulting, mocking, disparaging, etc. I actually find it nice to know that my husband isn't the only one to do X. As long as we don't go on about it, it's sort of like seeing someone else's kid have a fit- you know everyone's kid does it, but it's nice to know yours isn't REALLY the only one! I don't expect my husband to be perfect, and I actually think it would be sad if certain of his foibles disappeared, but there can be an encouraging comraderie that comes from finding difficulties in common with others.

chris

nicole said...

I've quit play groups and stopped reading some blogs because of what you are talking about. I hate listening to people complain about their spouses. Why did you marry them if all you have to say about them is rude and demeaning?

Daddio said...

You nailed it.

Jess said...

This is something that has always frustrated me about people. My parents never spoke ill of each other and I don't disparage my husband to others.

I used to work with a woman whose favorite topic was the stupidity of her husband. I would always listen to her and think, "Well, he may be a nitwit, but YOU married him!"

Dorian Speed said...

I know just what you mean. Man, my husband complains ALL THE TIME. It's ridiculous! Let me tell you about the other night over dinner...

(heh)

My husband, to my knowledge, never complains about me, and I consider it one of his finest traits. Very honorable and loyal. We can leave it unsaid whether I consider it especially virtuous that he doesn't complain about me, as compared to all possible wife choices in parallel universes.

I'm a champion "venter" and will be forever in recovery. It's hard when you build a friendship based on a shared frustration with such-and-such or so-and-so and then have to realize there's not much else you have in common.

Mama Bean said...

i have thought about this phenomenon all the time! on the one hand, i don't like offering up my husband as the source of others' amusement. on the other, i'm really good at telling funny stories. and he's so damn funny! anyway, thanks for the post :) glad i'm not the only one who thinks about this.

The Gold Digger said...

I use my husband as my straight man in my blog, but I don't criticize or complain about him to others. It's tacky.

I was at a bridal shower and one of the games was supposed to be complaining about our SOs. I suggested we play something else or find something positive to say about the guys instead. I didn't want to man bash. I don't like it.

cliff said...

Another excellent post. I've always felt that complaining about one's spouse is almost akin to adultery. I've just never had the words to express why as eloquently as you.

Marie said...

I've found in observing other marriages I seem to see a curve. There are marriages where all is sweetness and light and spouses are discussed as if sculpted out of delicate saccharin, and those are really hardly marriages yet. Next comes the marriage where a spouse can admit to the quirks of the other and is able to find the humor and humanity in it enough to tell a good story -- strong and practical marriages. Then there are the men and women who have passed by that stage, the quirks are all part of "us" instead of "him" or "her", the stories are all about what "we" do and both spouses can smile with genuine enjoyment at them.

The problem comes when, at stage two, a spouse begins to enjoy not how funny the humanity of the whole thing is, but how funny the other spouse is. It becomes a competition within the couple and exhibitionism outside it. Then that spouse can never get to the third stage, because the story never is about "us" but only about that other guy -- they guy she happened to marry, largely to better get the dish on his faults.

Tony said...

I never criticize my wife in public either in all male or mixed company, with or especially without her.

We may joke about each other when we're alone together, but it never leaves the house.