Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spousal Loyalty vs Tag-team Bullying

My aside yesterday about the "trashcan of my affections" inspired a squeak of protest from a Reader who has recently been bullied by a married couple. That's not her analysis: it's mine. In short, she called out a colleague, he complained to his wife, his wife sent her a nasty email, and so not only did the Reader have to patch up things with her colleague, she had to patch things up with his wife. But husband and wife see nothing wrong with his wife getting involved in the collegial dispute. They are One, etc.

I call shenanigans on this one. And here's why.

First, husband and wife are not One, except in a mysterious spiritual sense which means that when you hurt yourself, you hurt your spouse, and when you hurt your spouse, you hurt yourself. Your reputations are linked, too, so if your spouse behaves like an ass in public, people will pity you or blame you for not exerting more control over your spouse.

For example, I was once verbally attacked outside Mass by a married lady in one of the many countries in which I have attended Mass. She took exception to something I wrote years ago which she remembered imperfectly, to say the least, and accused me of nasty and even obscene speculations about her. I thought the church steps were the wrong place for this conversation, and said so. However, she persisted, so I said I had had enough and walked away.

"Wow. Just wow," she said loudly, and at once consulted her husband, who began bellowing after me. And suddenly I was hemmed in by two righteously angry people accusing me of x-year old (and fictional) nasty behaviour, all in earshot of other church-going married couples and their children. It was extremely embarrassing, and although mutual friends had praised the man, whom I barely knew, he plummeted in my estimation. Not only would MY husband never make a scene in public, let alone outside a church he would never stand by and let ME make a scene in public, let alone outside a church.

And the character of Benedict Ambrose is key to what I said yesterday. B.A. is an adult man with women colleagues and occasionally women superiors. Thus, he is used to women fighting their own battles. He is also used to women fighting battles with him with dirty tricks, e.g. bad-tempered tears. Benedict Ambrose is a very kind-hearted and good-natured man, but he is not moved by any old female tears. And it would never occur to him to fight my battles for me, which is a very good thing, as I write op. eds and so annoy people.

It also would not occur to me to fight B.A.'s battles for him because he is...how to put it...a MAN, a real man, an old-fashioned man, a manly man. He would never hide behind a woman's skirts, and he would not thank the woman who threw her skirts in front of him. He is not a baby boy, and he would not appreciate being treated like one. He would feel like a fool, and he does not like feeling like a fool, and he doesn't relish being thought of as having married one, either, which is why he would never let me make a scene in public. I can just imagine the subsequent scene in private. Erg.

If B.A. has a problem with someone annoying enough that he tells me about it, I do my spousal job, which is to listen and say, "How dreadful, darling. You don't deserve that. I'm glad/I hope you stand up to him/her." And I remind him that he is marvellous, which is easy to do because he actually is. He doesn't pick fights with people and will put up with a lot--not everything, he's no coward--for "a quiet life." And this is why if any of my friends or acquaintances pick fights with B.A., I quietly drop them into the trashcan of my affections. But his relationships with his work colleagues, his church colleagues, his old college pals are not really my business.

The other day he was having lunch with two female colleagues and I dropped in with my shopping. I like both colleagues very much. One is older, one is younger, and they are both Single. The younger one shares an office with B.A., and at some point she complained that he whistles, hums, coughs, sings and generally makes noises all day. And I was edified to discover that he does this at work, too. Instead of getting mad, I felt a strong sense of anti-whistling sisterhood. It would never have occurred to me in a million years to brood and send her an email defending B.A.'s humming, whistling, etc. and HOW INAPPROPRIATE OF HER blah blah blah bargle bargle. And if I--being bored or a born troublemaker or secretly jealous or whatever--had done something so stupid, B.A. would have been horribly embarrassed and felt utterly betrayed.

But even in private life married people have no business ganging up on Singles. Marrieds are in a position of social power, and not just because there are two of them. If a Single woman is making a sexual play for a married man, then I can see the married woman taking her aside and telling her to cut it out--simply because the sexual realm is the one place were most men are weaker than most women. And if a married woman's Single friend is nasty to her husband, than I can see the married woman having a private word with the Single friend to tell her to shape up or ship out--or, if the insult is the straw that breaks the camel's back, bringing the friendship to a swift and quiet close. (If the Single woman was the husband's friend before the marriage, though, the wife should expect her husband to deal with the problem, confining her activities to saying "How dreadful, daring. You don't deserve that," etc.) But, in general, two-against-one is totally unfair.

My idea of spousal loyalty is sticking with your spouse when he or she has a run of bad luck, or makes stupid (but non-violent) mistakes he or she regrets, or falls desperately ill, or goes to prison, plus not making an ass of/insulting him or her in company, plus choosing him or her over your own friends and family. It's not about starting or exacerbating fights with his or her colleagues or friends. It's about contributing to people thinking well of him or her; fighting his or her battles doesn't help.


Nzie said...

This is extremely timely for me. I was scolded on Facebook the other day by my brother's fiancee. There is a lot of complication to this (my brother & I don't always communicate well, esp. in writing, he thinks the whole family is judging him according to childhood behaviors (blaming others), which is probably true to a certain extent, but the rest of us also feel that he often perceives slights where there are none).

I had written one sentence saying I thought he had misunderstood the article I shared about a somewhat controversial topic (on which my brother and I agree!). I then had a somewhat intense Facebook discussion with people of extremely different values about it. Later, after it had died down, I came back to a post by his fiancee that told me for someone who was so tolerant of people whose views were different than mine, I sure was dismissive of my brother. I tried to diffuse the situation, explain, and say I wish he had talked to me directly, but nothing I did was enough for her. She did the "we are one" in response to something like "I appreciate you sticking up for him, but I really prefer he talk to me himself." I found the whole discussion inappropriate, embarrassing, and mean, both because she's not the mediator of my brother's and my relationship, and because it was all done publicly. All this over one sentence which was, from an objective point of view, possibly terse.

I called and sorted it out with my brother and asked him to talk to me directly or else really let it go rather than complain (at which point I also edited the offending sentence, and deleted her posts & my responses). I think I may have to explain to him at some point how inappropriate and wrong it was for an otherwise nice girl to go attack dog on me on his behalf. He did use the phrase "shared defense" or something, to which I said, "But I'm not your enemy."

I don't want to interfere between them, either, but I wish there were a way to make her understand that there are things you don't understand about someone until you live with them. Being sandwiched between family members who struggle with depression, and having a parent in the same boat, I have long been acquainted with the perceptive myopia that characterizes their interactions, and the conflict that happens when they are unable to understand that their perceptions may be flawed. I feel that his perception was really the driving force, and she went along without considering other possibilities and then viewed everything I said through the lens of dismissiveness.

Sorry if that's overshare, but it's definitely been weighing on my mind since then. I would appreciate any suggestions, especially because I think something similar happened between her and my mother several weeks ago. I like this person in many ways, but I don't want this dynamic in my family.

Nzie said...

I guess it's not exactly tag-team bullying, because he tends to let it fester, but I felt bullied out of nowhere, because he wouldn't talk to me directly and give me enough benefit of the doubt to explain.

Seraphic said...

Dear Nzie! How awful. My SIL would never do that! My advice is treat her like a new sister, which means to let bygones be bygones, and accept that your relationship with your brother has changed. It's too bad she's starting out on the wrong foot, but truth is what is. But I'll have more of a think.

Seraphic said...

Dear Nzie! How awful. My SIL would never do that! My advice is treat her like a new sister, which means to let bygones be bygones, and accept that your relationship with your brother has changed. It's too bad she's starting out on the wrong foot, but truth is what is. But I'll have more of a think.

Nzie said...

I am happy to let bygones be bygones with her and also with my brother over past disputes. My concern is that she also "defended" my brother against my mother several weeks ago over something that actually could not possibly be construed as hurtful except through jealousy. I am not planning on tickling the dragon on this, but if keeps emerging as a pattern, we're going to have to address it.

In the meantime, I'm going to make a better effort to communicate more regularly via phone with my brother. He seemed okay with the outcome of our conversation and sent me a very nice text the next morning.

sciencegirl said...

You know love languages?

Words of affirmation
Acts of Service
Affectionate touch
Quality Time

I swear we need to add a 6th: Springer-style Showdowns aka, "I've got your back!"

In this love language, people feel loved only when someone is willing to attack or criticize (verbally or physically), anyone perceived adversary. They may show the other kinds of love very well, but think the best way to show they care is to fight for the loved on. You can easily tell if you are one of them. 6th grade girl doesn't get along with your friend? Do you tell your friend she is great, play a game with her, or wage a gossip campaign against the other girl all year? Your sister-in-law is debating on Facebook? Do you give your husband a backrub or write a public takedown of the questionable comment. Some lady wrote a column that might have been about you/your wife? Do you forget about it, like a sane person, or yell at her after church years later?

Violence and rudeness equal love. Attacks on facebook are equivalent to the bravery and camaraderie soldiers show each other in wartime. You and your man may never have served in the armed forces, and you not even be under actual attack, but it doesn't matter, because aggression is the only way you know how to show you care!

People who have this love language will pair well with either other highly aggressive people (as in Seraphic's church steps Springer couple), or with passive-aggressive people (such as Nzie's brother). In the latter case, the passive-aggressive person, who may have coped with any conflict by secretly complaining about it for years, may either be alarmed or delighted that someone is finally doing what he has wanted to do for a long time, in directly fighting instead of sneaking. I notice he did not apologize for his wife's behavior, and that you ended up having to conciliate both of them. This behavior sickens me, as it is a highly unpleasant combination of passive-aggression (refusing to discuss a problem to fix it) AND rudeness, the worst of both worlds.

Several of my family members have the "I've got your back!" love language, and since I don't, it has sometimes harmed my relationship with them. I neither want to give or receive that expression of love, and sometimes that leads to mutual frustration. My relatives feel like I am not on their side when I stay out of fights that don't involve me, and I feel like when I have a conflict, they stop hearing me because they are so eager to fight.

Anna said...

sciencegirl, I am awed by you.

Seraphic said...

Sciencegirl, thank you! Sanest, best thought-out stuff I've come across all day.

All I have to add is that Fiancée has only Brother's word for how his family has treated him all his life. The attacks on his mother and his sister may reflect that Fiancée has bought the story (whatever it is) hook, line and sinker. As she is not yet married to him, she has not discovered yet what it is to be his female family member.

She will.

This "We are ONE" stuff strikes me as engaged-or-newlywed stuff. The Sister-in-Law will very quickly discover that they are not "ONE" when it comes to housework, money, social life, or whatever else they end up squabbling about, and they will end up squabbling about something.

Anyway, I would suggest to Nzie that she not attempt to nip anything in the bud, for that would merely reinforce any of her brother's "my family is out to get me" stories. I would back right off and let time do its magic. To any further remarks of her brother on Facebook, I suggest writing only "I agree" or "Interesting!"

At the end of the day, the prime task of a Sister-in-Law (from a Sister's point of view) is to make one's Brother happy. If the girl is truly making your brother happy (or as happy as he can be), then be glad that she's there, and practice a very gentle art of self-defense.

Julia said...

Once I refused to take sides when my Babcia was complaining about a mutual family friend (and others). She kept trying to push me into agreeing with her. I stuck to my guns and refused to be pulled into the blame-game. She said exasperatedly, "You're just like your father!" (He also refuses to get sucked in when Babcia launches an attack on someone who's not there).

Sheila said...

Funny, people seem to always want me to do the opposite. That is, when my husband offends someone (as he often does, being unfortunately blunt), they always run to ME and ask me to talk sense into him! It's as if it doesn't occur to them that I might actually agree, just happen to be less argumentative so I keep the controversial opinion to myself. I have to keep repeating the same mantra: he's an adult, his sins are his own, his quarrels with you are none of my business, TALK TO HIM if he has offended you! He is usually quite willing to explain himself in a nicer way if he realizes someone is upset.

And in private, I might remonstrate a bit: "You know, dear, X is quite sensitive and you can't be so brusque with them .... they actually thought you meant Y when I am positive you can't have meant anything other than Z!" He sometimes takes my advice, sometimes not, but it beats my leaping into the fray *against* my husband, which I would be aghast at doing in public.

Unfortunately, people don't understand this, and I have lost one good (or, I thought good) friend over it. My husband offended her somehow, and secretly I thought he was entirely right though too blunt. She called ME and told me how awful she thought it was. I did what I could to make peace, but because I wouldn't "make" my husband apologize to her, she stopped speaking to me. I just can't fathom how people think I am supposed to *make* my husband do anything -- or why they assume I would naturally take their side against my husband in any fight.

I tell him and everyone that his social life and his quarrels are 100% his own, and they will have to leave me out of it. But that's when I discover that we ARE one in some sense -- because if someone is mad at him, they will correspondingly be mad at me, whether or not either of us deserves it.

Argh. It is rather difficult to manage. But the problem described here, the spousal attack dog, is likewise unimaginable to me. It seems very disrespectful of one's spouse to think they can't fight their own battles for them. If someone directly insults your spouse in front of you, it seems fair enough to say, "Hey, that's my husband/wife you're talking about! I don't appreciate that/ That isn't true!" But no need to start a new and separate fight .... isn't ONE quarrel bad enough?

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Stellamaris said...

I'm more the type to sympathize when a friend is complaining to me about someone else, though I try to point out when I feel my friend was actually in the wrong. It's the kind of thing I sort of expect from other people as well. Either a little sympathetic agreement until I calm down, or a simple "I disagree Stellamaris, and here's why. (logical argument)"
Recently, I ended up confiding something really frustrating that someone had said, and my listener straight up told me she didn't want to get "dragged" into it. I was very angry with that, though I didn't push her. It just seems like cowardice. You must have an opinion, even if it's only "I would need to hear the other person's side before making a decision on this - I suspect they would make points you're not bringing up."
(I'm not married though. That's a whole other ball of wax.)