How do you treat your partner when you’re out in public socializing with others? Do you show your love, appreciation, respect, and support? Or do you tease, make negative comments, or even embarrass your partner?
Six years ago Steve took me to a Toastmaster Division contest and I wasn’t a Toastmaster myself yet. I was looking forward to meeting all the people he’d been telling me about. He was making a lot of friends in Toastmasters and I hadn’t met any of them yet, so this was my first opportunity to see what these people were all about. He assured me that all Toastmasters were friendly and could easily engage in conversation with complete strangers. I was excited because I love meeting new people.
We sat at a round table and enjoyed dinner with a bunch of Toastmasters from his club and a few other people even he didn’t know. Everyone introduced themselves around the table and we engaged in lovely social conversation for the duration of dinner. There was an older couple at our table, and at one point we were talking about something computer related. The wife made a comment like, “Oh when that happens I just reboot my computer. And the problem usually goes away.” Her husband responded with, “You? Use a computer? What do YOU know about computers? You’re a total nincompoop with anything electronic. Why you can’t even work our microwave!” He started laughing like he was making a funny joke. But his wife was not laughing. She looked mortified, and literally shrank in her seat. He continued to point out her flaws to us. “You guys should see my wife try to use the remote control on our television. It’s hysterical. If I’m not there, she ends up watching the same channel for hours.” He continued to laugh. No one else at the table was laughing. In fact, we were all extremely uncomfortable. But he didn’t notice. His wife put her hand on his arm and said, “Come on, honey. I’m not that bad.” He snorted. Before he could launch into more of his insensitive tirade someone had the good sense to change the subject. But I was watching the guy’s wife and her lower lip was trembling, and I knew she was holding back tears. I felt sorry for her, and I was annoyed at the husband for treating his wife like that in public.
I don’t understand when people publically tease or embarrass the people they supposedly love. I don’t mind a little good natured teasing, but when it’s hurtful or obviously upsetting to your partner, you shouldn’t do it. Or if you’re sharing private and personal information that your partner doesn’t want you to share, you shouldn’t do that either. Why would you want to hurt someone you love?
A few years ago Steve was making a 90 minute presentation in our Toastmaster club. We got there early to set up and I planted myself in the front row. While he was talking to our club President, preparing for his PowerPoint presentation, I was looking at Steve with a great deal of love and pride. Next to me, one of my male Toastmaster friends caught my stare and said to me, “I hope one day a woman looks at me the same way you’re looking at Steve.” I was caught by surprise by his comment, but when I thought about it I realized that when you love someone you SHOULD be caught looking at them with love and pride. How else would you look at them?
I started to really consider my interactions with Steve when we were out in public. And I realized that I’m the type of person that expresses love and appreciation publically. And I know it feels good because when we would go out Steve would do the same for me. He never put me down in public. Or tried to embarrass me. Or revealed private information I wouldn’t want him to share in public. I really thought all couples did that. So I started taking note of how some of my other coupled friends treated each other. And I saw some things that surprised me.
In one such couple, every time I went out with them I noticed the female partner was always putting down her male partner. “Oh, you know Scott, he’s such a baby. You can’t count on him in a crisis.” Or “Scott leaves his dirty underwear all over the bathroom. It’s disgusting. I hate cleaning up after him.” Hello? He’s sitting right there! I took my friend Scott (not his real name) aside one day and asked him how he felt when his partner said things like that in public. He said, “Oh she’s only teasing. I know she loves me.” I said, “You wouldn’t know it by listening to her. All she ever does is complain about you.” He thought about it said, “You know, you’re right. I can see how it might look. I’m not sure why she does it because when we’re alone she’s always very supportive, loving, and appreciative.” I said, “I know she loves you, but when she complains about you when we’re out it is really disrespectful and inconsiderate. It makes the rest of us uncomfortable to hear her air your dirty laundry in front of us.” He gave it more thought and decided he would talk to her about it.
He took her aside one day and told her the following, “Stacy, I know you love me and I love you too. Sometimes when we’re out in public, though, you reveal things about me that are sort of private and personal, things I don’t really want my friends to know. I think it makes them uncomfortable. And sometimes you say things that are sort of negative and teasing and it makes me sound like a total dolt. Would you be willing to alter the way you talk about me in public?” She took it extremely well, understood completely what he was saying, and realized that what she was doing didn’t accurately express how much she loved him. She immediately agreed to change her manner around their friends and also took that opportunity to point out to him that he often corrected her in front of others in a way that made her feel stupid. He realized she was right and agreed to stop doing that as well. Things got a lot better for this couple after that talk.
Another couple I know didn’t fare so well. She was constantly negging (speaking negatively) her partner in public. I actually brought it to her attention one night because I was sick of it. I said, “Do you have anything NICE to say about David? Because based on the way you talk about him, I can’t even imagine why you want to be with him.” She looked shocked and said, “Well yeah, I mean, of course.” I said, “Go ahead, tell us what you like about him.” She literally had to think about it for a while, and finally said, “Well, he pays for my drinks. I like that.” It wasn’t much. I said, “How long do you think he’s going to want to stay with you if you keep complaining about him?” That seemed to kill her buzz. She said, “I am kind of mean to him huh? Maybe I SHOULD be nicer.” I suggested she try a 30-day trial of only saying positive (but true) things about him in public. She thought that was an excellent idea. I asked the guy what he thought about all her negging and he said, “I just tune it out. I don’t really care.” And I said, “You shouldn’t have to tune out your partner though. What does that say about your relationship?” He thought about that and realized it could be a sign of incompatibility. They are no longer dating, not solely because of the negging, but that was definitely a sign of problems for them.
I’m not suggesting you can’t tease your partner in a good-natured way while out in public. But there’s a difference between gentle teasing and downright embarrassment or negging. If you’re uncomfortable with how your partner treats you in public, talk to your partner about it. It could be indicative of an underlying problem in your relationship. Is it possible your partner complains in public because they feel uncomfortable bringing up relationship problems privately? How good are your lines of communication? Do you know whether your partner is holding something inside because they are afraid to bring it up? When people pick on each other, it’s sometimes indicative of problems that are being swept under the rug.
Check in with your partner. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s something bothering them. If they have to complain in public about where you throw your dirty socks then the lines of communication are clogged. Complaining about your partner in public is often indicative of repressed anger bubbling to the surface. It’s best to work these things out together, not at a dinner table full of friends.
Think now about how your partner treats you in public. Does he or she speak of you with love, pride, and appreciation? If not, are you okay with that? Are your friends okay with that? What kind of relationship would feel better to you? And are you currently in such a relationship?