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mX Column: Couples Who Argue in Public

There are few things more uncomfortable than watching a couple air their domestic disputes in public.

Whether it’s tears on a street corner or all-out yelling in front of friends, no one wants to be the bystander in what is undoubtedly the messiest of all fights. Years of history and complicated emotions go into a couples’ argument. No one wants to be in the shrapnel path when one of those explodes.

Do You Argue in Public?

What you’re doing when you engage in a tiff in front of others is forgoing your right to privacy.

There are many types of public laundry-airing. Apart from the no-holds-barred fight, there’s the good old zinger approach.

That would be the little jabs at each other that you cover with “I’m just joking.”

While you may think you’re “just joking”, if you take a good look around you’ll find your partner is usually sitting red-faced while the rest of the table has gone silent.

“More wine, anyone?” (aka the catchcry of the awkward dinner party guest).

You can tell a lot about a partnership by their public interactions.

Wisecracks about weight gain, wrinkles or your sex life are personal attacks and often signal some sort of insecurity on behalf of the jibing partner.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of crowd-pleasing. The public jest can almost turn into a sibling rivalry, with the audience playing the parents and the couple competing for attention – though, as with a tantrum-ing toddler, not always in the most constructive way.

Then there’s what the experts call billboarding – taking a private grievance with a partner made very public, hoping for back up from others.

If for example, you’re not getting the response you need at home – say you want them to unstack the dishwasher every now and then or be a little more, ahem, forthcoming in the bedroom – you’ll bring it up in public to gain weight to your argument and then you get to – oh holy grail of holy grails! – Be. Right.

Everyone knows a couple guilty of doing some form of public arguing.

And everyone has probably been guilty of the behaviour in the past as well, whether they meant it or not.

Even if you’re not a serial partner-underminer, think back to a time you may have had one too many wines and let one slip by the filter before you realised what you’re saying.

Sometimes you may not even realise your little joke is hurting your partner.
One common danger is misjudging their sensitivity to a certain subject.

The best thing to do is stop before you blurt something out and have a think about what you’re trying to gain from the interaction. How are they going to react to it? Do you have their best interests at heart or are you going for a cheap laugh at your favourite person’s expense?

When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, you are privy to very tender, personal information about them. By poking fun at their bald patch and their exorbitant Rogaine bill in front of friends, you’re abusing their trust.

What about you? Guilty of staging public domestics? Or know a couple that is?

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Author |

Writer, dating columnist, wife, coffee addict, foodie, fashionista... Melburnian through and through. Muser, dancer, blogger, tweeter. Likes to get her head on telly now and again. Sleeper, dreamer, a sucker for romance. And of course... a cheap date.


3 comments for “mX Column: Couples Who Argue in Public”

  1. Posted by Suri Cruise | January 4, 2011, 12:09 am

    I know a couple that is always arguing in front of friends. But, they never actually had any real problem like silent couples… maybe that is their way not to make serious problems…

  2. Posted by Adam - Ditto Effect | January 18, 2011, 6:32 pm

    Fighting in public is often quite messy but sometimes difficult to avoid.

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