I didn't defend my wife...what should I do different the next time?
May 27, 2009 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I think I put myself in a compromising position that I think I could have handled differently. New acquaintances came to me privately to essentially say that my wife was very rude to them. I was a tad astonished at their directness, but essentially nodded knowingly. I was there when the *rudeness* happened and said nothing. My wife loves this couple and is trying to make further plans with them which I know will go unanswered. I can't tell my wife why they're not calling back because I did not defend her. What should I have said to this couple when they came to me?

My wife is very opinionated and has a hard time when others disagree with her. On multiple occasions over the course of a weekend house share together, some disagreements came up. My wife usually responds to such disagreements by raising her voice and emphatically saying, "No! You're wrong!" (or something like that) and generally laces her rebuttal with eye-rolling, knee slapping, and simply utter contempt at the other person's position. Most people who know her and love her have simply just avoided conflict with her or just have learned to back down. I mentioned this once to her long ago and she feels that people are intimidated by a headstrong woman and she doesn't want to be the meek, irrelevant woman of yesteryear. A man who acts as she does would be considered in a positive light, according to her, apparently.

Could I have handled this differently? Should I have played dumb and defended my wife when they came to me?
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure why you defend something you agree is rude.

In retrospect, you probably should have stated that it would be appropriate for them to speak directly to your wife.

At this point, let your wife deal with the consequences of her interactions with them. If she asks you about it, suggest that she contact them.

Stay out of the middle.
posted by HuronBob at 12:01 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you should have defended your wife, because it sounds like your heart wouldn't have been in it. You're not defending her here, more explaining why they might not like her, or be ok with the way she is with them.

Can you have that conversation with her again, but this time let her know that you feel this way about it? You could mention, albeit perhaps a little dumbed down, that your friends said something and suggests she casually tries to make amends. If she really loves them like you mentioned perhaps it will be enough to make her reconsider her social awareness.

Good luck!
posted by greenish at 12:01 PM on May 27, 2009

If your wife is pissing people off by behaving like an asshole, that's her lookout. You're in no way obligated to try to defend her - nor will it help.

She's wrong about it being a gender issue. Contempt and dismissiveness are about the most aggressively unfriendly ways to behave that I can think of, short of outright violence. I wouldn't hang out anywhere near her, if I could possibly avoid it.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:03 PM on May 27, 2009 [8 favorites]

I can't tell my wife why they're not calling back because I did not defend her.

Of course you can. Your wife is being immature and you should tell her so. Eye-rolling and contempt for others in friendly conversation are not "headstrong", they're asshole behavior. In fact, you're obligated to. It sounds (and I mean no disrespect) like you are also intimidated by your wife, at least in this context. Don't be. Everyone needs to be taken down a few pegs when they're out of line. How you do that is up to you, but you should approach her privately and mention that your mutual friends were offended and that she should make an effort to talk to them as equals. Friendships aren't practice for the boardroom.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:03 PM on May 27, 2009 [28 favorites]

What is there defend? If your wife is being rude and everyone has to walk on eggshells when they are around her to the point where she's losing friends that she loves, then perhaps it would be in her best interest for you to be forthright with her.

She needs to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. There is a difference between standing up for yourself and being a strong, assertive person and being an asshole with no regard for other people's feelings, and by losing friends, she's definitely falling into the latter category.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:03 PM on May 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

It seems another brand of rudeness to complain to one acquaintance's spouse that the other is a jerk. I wonder what they expected you to do. As I see it you're all adults. They should have spoken to your wife directly if they wanted to accomplish anything but complaining. You could have said something like, "Yes, she has a very strong personality, and I happen to love her, so what is it you'd like to accomplish here?" And from the sounds of it, your wife is either strong enough to handle this couple's silent rejection, or could use feedback like this as a course correction to her behavior. Or both.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:07 PM on May 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

A man who acts as she does would be considered in a positive light, according to her, apparently.

Oh, bullshit. When men treat others with contempt, impatience, obnoxiousness, and obvous disregard for their feelings and points of view, they're every bit as rude as your wife. And I say this as an opinionated women with a little bit of a stubborn, bossy streak myself. Having opinions is not a license to be an asshole.

That's why I don't know what to tell you in terms of what you "should have" said to your friends, or what to say to them now. Because I think the problem needs to be backed up several steps so that the question as to why you and your wife's loved ones seem to think it's acceptable that you're all walking on eggshells to keep her from behaving dreadfully to everyone who has the temerity to express their own opinions and expect to be treated respectfully.
posted by scody at 12:07 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

There is a difference between being meek and being polite. It is possible to argue politely.

Perhaps look into or buy books about arguing effectively, how to argue, productive arguing, etc.

There are ways to disagree without hurting the other person's feelings.

The fact that you all encourage this by not stopping her is not helping the issue. :)
posted by royalsong at 12:07 PM on May 27, 2009

sorry, should be "so that the question becomes why you and your wife's loved ones..." note to self: no coffee, no post.
posted by scody at 12:08 PM on May 27, 2009

I can't tell my wife why they're not calling back because I did not defend her.

You could tell her they aren't calling back because she offended them by acting like an asshole. In fact, it might be a good idea that she realizes her assholery has consequences.

You don't have to say you didn't defend her so much as "Jane and John approached me and mentioned they were very offended by your argument this weekend."
posted by jerseygirl at 12:09 PM on May 27, 2009 [16 favorites]

There was nothing to defend, IMO. Her attitude is not polite or respectful. Unless you feel it is ok, which it doesn't seem like you do.

Your new acquaintances, however, needed to direct this to her. She offended them, so they needed to talk to her. Circumventing her by going through you just creates drama and stress. So next time, I would interject as soon as it is clear that someone is complaining about her to you and say, "You should discuss this with my wife, I'm not comfortable being put in the middle. Your issue is with her and not with me." A lot of people will chicken out, but perhaps someone will indeed tell her how this behavior makes them feel.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:10 PM on May 27, 2009

Is it possible they mentioned this to you in hope that you might say something to her? If I were in the same position as the new acquaintence, I would likely go direct to the rude person, but perhaps they felt she would completely go psycho and yell at them, based upon her past behaviour in the event of a disagreement.
posted by kellyblah at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd be curious to know what kind of disagreements. I can think of a few things that would cause me to get that worked up but I probably wouldn't "love" the type of people who would bring that out in me. I have a friend who can be very strident and forceful in her tone and she is putting off a lot of people. I'd bring it up with her but I mostly just try to limit my contact with her. My Dad had to learn the hard way that not all of his friends agree with his strident, right-wing political beliefs and decided on his own that he better tone it down if he wanted to keep these friends.

Being loud, strident and aggressive just isn't a nice way to behave when you want to be friends with your friends. Perhaps your wife needs to learn this the hard way by losing some friends. If she doesn't understand why so-and-so won't return her calls you may point out that her behavior at the last event may have turned them off. She'll rant and rave and maybe when she calms down she'll be able to think it over.

Also, is drinking involved with the ranting/raving? Think about the situational aspects that surround this as there's probably a few tacks you can take on this.

Also, is this affecting your relationship? It kind of sounds like it is. In that case, I think you should address it with your wife but not in the context of the fact that your friends said she is rude. The relationship with them may be reparable but not by telling your wife that they think she is rude. There are some things about a mate that one cannot change but you don't know if this is one of them until you try.

A possible script: "I want to talk to you about something that is bothering me. I feel like you get too worked up in some situations. It makes me uncomfortable when you get in people's faces. I think it makes other people uncomfortable. I want to understand what you are feeling in those situations and see if we can diffuse them. Nobody likes to be aggressively confronted, man or woman, and especially among friends and family that are supposed to like one another."
posted by amanda at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

A man who acts as she does would be considered in a positive light, according to her, apparently.

In my social circles, a man who behaves as your wife has been described behaving would also be considered an asshole. Her rationalization tactic is unfair both to feminism -- men ARE often allowed to get away with behaviors women aren't, of course, but this is not an example of that -- and to your (former) friends. It sounds like you need to address this with her, somehow, before your shared social life is destroyed, and I don't envy you the conversation. A blunt or abrupt approach would likely alienate her, make her defensive and closed-off, it seems to me. I wonder if you could seek the advice of a counseling or mediation professional on the best way to approach a touchy subject like this non-destructively?
posted by aught at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Here's an alternative view of what just happened - your new friends decided that they like you just fine, but don't like your wife. You seem to like these new people, but not your wife. Your new friends are saying, in effect, "Dude, you're cool, why are you with that crazy mean lady?" If this were not the case, they would not have come to you. They trust and like you. They are throwing you a lifeline or, at the least, they are imploring you to ask yourself, "Why are you with this woman?"
posted by billysumday at 12:30 PM on May 27, 2009

My wife usually responds to such disagreements by raising her voice and emphatically saying, "No! You're wrong!"
Strongly expressed opinions that the other person is wrong are in fact within the bounds in a charged debate and your wife would be correct that our society often holds women who express themselves in this way as "bitches" while men who speak in the same way are "forceful" or even "powerful." Argumentation and debate are rife with unfair sexist baggage and it is crap.
laces her rebuttal with eye-rolling, knee slapping, and simply utter contempt at the other person's position
Eye-rolling is not a reasonable debating tactic and carries a risk or being labeled as rude no matter the gender of the listener and treating others with "utter contempt" is undeniably rude. If, in fact, this was one of those "frequent" times, your wife was out of line.

However, I would have handled this situation much differently. My wife is an attorney and a forceful debater who is passionate about many things and not afraid of a lively dispute. On occasion, she is able to ruffle feathers of those who expect women to take a different tack in discussing politics or other issues. I never consider her behavior rude, but I could imagine that someone who caught the wrong snippet or had the wrong attitude might do so. If I was confronted with someone in the way that you were, I would have advised that I was certain that my wife did not intend to be rude, rather that she was passionate about her opinions and perhaps her zeal to convince them led to some misunderstanding. I would suggest to them that they would benefit from discussing it with her directly, because only then they could they find a common understanding. If they refused, I would feel obligated to discuss their opinion privately with my wife later. They either (1) expect that you can control your wife's behavior (in which case, I'd have nothing to do with them henceforth) or (2) expect that you will relay to your wife that they were upset and put the burden on her to approach them and discuss it (which is still a bit chickenshit, but more forgivable). By doing neither, you have put everything on a very poor footing. They expect that you told your wife and she took no action and your wife is completely clueless as to the source of their current behavior.

You also should consider working on your whole communication with your wife. If you think that she is contemptuous and rude to other people and are seemingly embarrassed by her actions, you really need to have a quiet and calm conversation with her to get you both on the same page. If you and others consistently see her actions as rude and contemptuous, you really owe it to her as her partner to help her to understand this.
posted by Lame_username at 12:35 PM on May 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

A man who acts as she does would be considered in a positive light, according to her, apparently.

You don't sound entirely convinced at this and I think that's the right approach. While there are, in my personal opinion, some gendered aspects to how polite we expect people to be, I also feel that there is a line over which pretty much anyone is considered an asshole and it sounds like your wife may have crossed that line.

So, what to do? I think it's not entirely crazy that when people have had an altercation with one member of a couple, they may tell the other member of the couple. Since they will, I would presume be declining invitations from the two of you, they maybe wanted to let you know what was up. They may have not wanted to let your wife know what's up because she was rude to them and they don't feel like extending that social grace. Unless you are afraid that your wife will be angry at you for not defending her [more on that in a sec] I think you should tell her.

You also have to figure out how you feel, for you, about this. And you and your wife should talk. If this is an isolated incident, then maybe it's okay to leave it be. If you feel that your social circle is shrinking and this is isolating you and you would like it to be otherwise, you should try to talk to her about this. She is clearly choosing to exhibit this sort of behavior [regardless of her feelings about her feminist justification - a point that I, incidentally as a pretty out there feminist, do not at all agree with] and she should be aware of what the consequences are (consequences that aggressive asshole men also have to deal with, incidentally) and how they affect not just her but the two of you.

As far as defending your wife, different couples deal with this differently. My general point is if there's a "reasonable people can disagree" point, then you should defend or at least support your partner. However if supporting your partner means that you wind up basically saying "I think it was okay for her to treat you this way" and you do NOT feel that way, then I think you are okay being supportive to your partner but also being supportive to your friends "I do love my wife but she seemed to get a little hot under the collar and I am sorry if it made you uncomfortable, that was not at all cool..." So for the smaller issue I'd mention what they said to your wife and be supportive of her but also clear that this is awkward for you and that should be something that concerns her [and if she starts with the "you're WRONG" then I'd think long and hard about the balance you have in your relationship] and then further down the line try to find ways to avoid this sort of thing happening in the future.
posted by jessamyn at 12:36 PM on May 27, 2009

Could I have handled this differently? Should I have played dumb and defended my wife when they came to me?

"If you're comfortable being this direct about what's bothering you, you ought to talk to my wife about it. I can tell you that she likes you very much, and I hope you'll be honest with her about how her comments made you feel."

Your choice there wasn't to defend what your wife said or to agree with your friends that she was rude. What you had to decide in that moment was how to react to the rudeness these friends directed at you. It was rude of them to treat you like the responsible party for your wife's (perceived) rudeness to them.

In the mean time, you can either tell your wife what happened and why the friends are upset, OR you can call the friends up and say, "Look, I haven't said anything to my wife about what you said to me because really that business is between you and her, but she keeps mentioning to me that you're not returning her calls and I don't want to be in the middle anymore; could you please just talk to her about your concerns?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:44 PM on May 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

How would your wife respond if anyone responded to her comments with the "No! You're WRONG!" and eye rolling? Would your wife be caught off guard or offended? Her behavior doesn't change people's minds to agree with her. It is causing people to avoid conversations with her or spending time with her. She has established a pattern of behavior and you've all allowed it to continue.

She's going to do this behavior again. Even your title acknowledges this as fact. If you can, and you must, discuss this with her and she can accept her behavior is unacceptable, she's going to need to work on her behavior. You may need to actively help her. You may need to say "Honey, you're doing it..." every time she rolls her eyes, slaps her knee, has a vocal outburst, or shows any condescension towards other people. She's not checking herself and she needs to. If she's not willing to work on her behavior and become an active listener who can dialogue with people and not dismiss them, she'll only have herself in the conversation.

This latest incident can be an illustrative moment. She needs to understand why the other couple will not respond. She needs to accept her behavior drove them away.
posted by onhazier at 12:45 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should have told them to complain to your wife. I mean, you agree she is rude, so i'm not sure defending her behaviour would make any sense. If your friends are so forward as to complain to you like this -- which seems kind of obnoxious -- then they should be forward enough to deal with her directly.

And you're wife is wrong, a dude that acts like her would probably be called a dick.
posted by chunking express at 12:49 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not to disagree with everyone, but to clarify: are we understanding you correctly? I have some friends, dear friends, who have just evolved this style of interaction between themselves. When we get together, it is accepted that things are said not only directly, but BS is called out in the most undiplomatic way possible. If an outsider witnessed this (yes, eye-rolling, exaggerated BWAHAHAHA type roaring laughter, arm waving etc.), they'd be convinced we have zero respect for each other - but it isn't true, it's just an act - immature act to be sure, born of wanting to conspicuously signal "we don't trade in BS, no way, no how". However, and this is the critical element - we are aware that this can be perceived very negatively by outsiders, and so we never employ this style of interaction with someone who is not in on the game. And here's why I ask: sometimes, one of those friends slips, and starts acting like that to mere acquaintances, out of habit, and that does not go over well - so chastened, they go back to their cage. May it be the case, that your wife does not really have contempt for opposing views, just a very vigorous and somewhat immature way of expressing herself? If yes, then explain that to your acquaintances, and then explain to your wife that she needs to dial down the act until the people get to understand the rules of the game (and they may still not enjoy it, in which case she should not do it in their presence).
posted by VikingSword at 12:50 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's what I would have said:

"Oh, I'm sorry this happened and you guys feel this way. The wife loves you guys, she's just a bit passionate sometimes, she honestly meant nothing against you personally. I hope this won't interfere with us getting together."

To my wife I would say:
"Honey, you're pissing people off by acting and talking like that. Yes, we've been over this before and I know how you feel about it. However, you're still pissing people off, right or wrong and I think you need to be aware of that fact. Simply put, what you intend is not how it's being interpreted and this isn't the first time. I love you, but we just had a couple say they didn't want to hang out with us because of something you did/said. Perhaps you should consider that?

Being married sometimes means being diplomatic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:52 PM on May 27, 2009 [11 favorites]

Not that i'm calling your wife a jerk-ass or anything: I don't know her.
posted by chunking express at 12:53 PM on May 27, 2009

A man who acts in the way that you have described your wife as acting would be considered a Grade A Asshole, and such a man would very quickly alienate his friends--just as it appears your wife has soundly done. If your wife wants to keep grown-up friendships she must alter her behavior so that she is very much less of an asshole.

p.s. I’m a woman. And also a litigator. I KNOW asshole. (Ugh.)

posted by applemeat at 1:01 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to disagree with the prevailing opinion expressed so far in the answers. It is ALWAYS your job to defend your wife to others, even if you don't agree with her behavior. You are a team, a single unit, and if you have problems with some of the things she does in front of others, take it up with her in private.

This is, I believe, the angle you were originally approaching it from in your question: assuming that it had been your duty, and that you failed to live up to it. I commend this and am just offering my own reinforcement

That said, I think you should tell her exactly what you posted here. Be honest, and express your disappointment in your own shortcomings when you failed to defend her. But maybe if she knew that other people felt the same way about her, and not just you, she'd be more willing to seriously consider her actions instead of dismissing them.
posted by relucent at 1:18 PM on May 27, 2009

Your wife was being an asshole and you know it, even if she has some lame-ass 'feminist' justification for her behaviour, which is also BS and you appear to know that too (my boyfriend behaves like this in arguments and I most certainly do not view him in a positive light for it) you are not obliged to defend her behaviour. You could have told them that they should take their complaints to your wife but you know that they wouldn't.

You need to tell your wife that her rude behaviour is the reason these people wont call back and if she really wants to maintain a friendship with this couple then she better apologise profusely for her rudeness and work on being more respectful of other people's opinions/beliefs/feelings.
posted by missmagenta at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think billysumday is be onto something: They are throwing you a lifeline or, at the least, they are imploring you to ask yourself, "Why are you with this woman?"

Because, and I don't know how else to say this, your wife is really a piece of work and your questions and comments regarding your marriage, even on other questions, has stood out in my mind. When I read this question I thought to myself "I wonder if that's...?", checked your AskMe question history, and said "Yep, it sure is."

I know that we only get one side of the story from one point of view here. And maybe I'm reading way too much into this. But, at risk of derailing this whole thread, I have to say your marriage doesn't sound like one I'd want any of my friends to be in. I'm sorry about that.
posted by 6550 at 1:32 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the others that that your wife has issues, from what you say here. Why has her childish behavior been allowed to continue for so long?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:37 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm just a little curious - does your wife treat you this way? @Brandon Blatcher is right - Being married sometimes means being diplomatic. It can get pretty old getting a reaction like the type you describe in the middle of Home Depot because you think one type of rake is different from the one she wants. A viewing of Jon and Kate Plus 8 might helpful in seeing just how something like that can wear on you and if that's the case maybe you might want to have a entirely different conversation with your wife than what you're talking about here.

If not, then all of the advice above is pretty good and you should go with whatever you're most comfortable with. Or alternately, going back to your friends and telling them that you've thought about what they said and you want to explain that while your wife's behavior can be sometimes off-putting, she's a good person who really likes them and you hope that they'll give you both another try. There's no rule that says you only had that one time to respond.

And good for you for feeling connected enough to your wife to feel like you should have stood up for her! You're a good husband.
posted by katyjack at 1:40 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do two things:

Take Brandon Blatcher's advice and have that conversation with your wife, pretty much verbatim.


If your wife keeps up the "Oh, people don't like an assertive woman..." defense, show her this thread. Print it up and keep your name out of it if you don't want her to know your username here, but get her to read it.

Some people are just bullies. It's hard to stand up to them, but it's the right thing to do. If your friends don't want to spend time with you any more because of your wife's behavior, her behavior is out of control.
posted by misha at 2:41 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find it absolutely true that strong women get accused of being bitches. But it sounds like she's rude, which is not the same as strong. Tell her you think they did not appreciate her abruptness, that they were offended by her behavior. You can soften it by saying that people who get to know her are able to overlook it.

You love her. She has a personality attribute that keeps her from being friends with people she wants to be friends with. I think you might have stopped them from turning it into a triangle, putting you in a bad spot, but give some thought to how much better her life could be if she chose to soften her edges.
posted by theora55 at 3:31 PM on May 27, 2009

"Your wife was rude" is another way to say, "The things she said and did made us feel bad." Maybe take the emphasis off of "rude" and put it where it belongs: people feel like you don't respect them if you shout them down, roll your eyes, and act in a way that seems contemptuous. It takes away their enjoyment of the get-together. And new acquaintances, especially, don't have any way to know that she's "just kidding" or "just being herself."

Your other problem is that you're pretty sure she would have wanted you to defend you. Maybe you and your wife can discuss the best way to handle this sort of thing in the future. My guess is that the best you can do is say, "I'm sorry your feelings were hurt. I'm sure she didn't intend to put you down." You shouldn't be expected to disagree with them, or to try to justify what your wife did and said.

She may be angry at first, but hopefully she'll realize that an apology could salvage the relationship with the new friends -- and a gentler manner would give new people a chance to get to know her.
posted by wryly at 3:47 PM on May 27, 2009

One of my best friends--Bob--is a very easy-going, smart guy who never argues but loves to debate and discuss issues. His wife--Bertha--only argues and makes declarative pronouncements--a very black-and-white worldview. I've never liked and my wife feels the same. We like hanging out with just Bob, but don't like it when it's the four of us because of Bertha's rude and condescending attitude.

I would never think to tell Bob this, though; in fact I frankly do everything I can to hide my true feelings for Bertha. Because Bob's my friend, and it would, I'm pretty sure, damage my friendship with him if he knew how my wife and I feel. In other words, I find it a bit rude that your friends would complain to you about your wife. They should talk to her about it. A good way might be for them to point out her rudeness the next time she gets into a debate with them. Bob and Bertha are, natch, not their real names.

That said, nthing the opinions about the "strong woman" bullshit. It's such a hollow argument whenever I hear "Well, I'm just headstrong." "I have strong opinions." "If a man did the same, he'd be respected." Maybe in the man-centric worldview she's ingrained with, but not with me. Jerks are jerks and assholes are assholes, gender be damned.
posted by zardoz at 4:55 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

On preview, I don't mean to sound harsh, I'm not saying your wife is an asshole, it's just that justification that drives me up the wall.
posted by zardoz at 4:56 PM on May 27, 2009

zardoz is right- gender has nothing to do with it.

I have a friend who is married to a person like that. I love them both and learned not to take that stuff personally, because I know that is not how it's intended.
posted by gjc at 7:16 PM on May 27, 2009

Am I reading this clearly? It sounds like everybody who has decided to remain in contact with your wife rolls over to avoid conflict. It is easy to imagine that you are all terrified of her temper. Does she brow beat people? It sounds like it. Are you afraid of her reaction if she learns you didn't defend her?

This could be an opportunity to suggest she modify her behavior. If she asks why you didn't defend her- what is that about? These people were attacking her? You do not sound like you believe this. If she asks why you didn't defend her you have a couple of choices. You could tell her you thought she was rude. You could tell her you didn't know what to say. I think both of those are true. Good luck.
posted by pointilist at 7:49 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't have to defend your wife - but what you might want to do next time is try and explain her to people. She may need you to sit and discuss this with her simply because she may not know how people are reacting to her eye rolling and attitude that may seem like contempt to everyone - she may not even realize that it's coming off this way.

Problem is that some people think being assertive is merely being loud about one's opinions - but you can be assertive and quietly explain why you disagree. And with friends, you then have to listen to their opinions too - and accept if not everyone agrees 100%. Polite means that the listening works both ways. If your wife was ever in a situation where she was bullied into not having her own opinions on things, or at least discouraged from expressing things, then that may be why this is so important to her. If that's the case then she'll be concerned that she's becoming a bully herself by going to the opposite extreme.

In the end, it's not so awful to have people talk to you and then for you to relay the information to your wife, as long as it doesn't become a frequent occurrance. It gives you a chance to talk to her - and in the end, you're trying to figure out what's the most comfortable way for both of you to be social.
posted by batgrlHG at 8:40 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I acted like this, I wouldn't expect my husband to defend me. I would expect that he would be forthright and discuss the issue with me.

Be honest with her, brutally honest. Be respectful, but don't sugarcoat anything. Sometimes the truth hurts but such is life. She'll need to put on her big girl pants and get over it. Present the facts but don't debate or argue with her, because in the end she will have convinced herself even more that "they're wrong" and "she's right".

Something that might be effective in modifying her behavior: videotape. The next time she acts like a jackhole, videotape it and then present it at a later time. Sort of the whole "a picture is worth a thousand words" concept. Some people have no "self awareness"; if she is able to see herself from somewhat of an objective view, it might be enough to get her to at least think about how she acts. This plan of course takes into account that you have a phone that can record video and audio.
posted by cdg7707 at 9:50 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I agree with what everyone else says about the whole gender issue. It's a cop-out. When someone acts like that (male or female) it says "I'm over compensating for a lack of self confidence". It sounds like she needs to learn the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.
posted by cdg7707 at 9:56 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is ALWAYS your job to defend your wife to others


Your job, in the situation you've described to us, is to say "If you have an issue with my wife, please don't put me in the middle of it. It would be best if you talked to her directly. If you choose not to, I'll understand."

If they talk to her, it shakes out however it shakes out. If they don't, that's when you talk to your wife and explain that her tone and attitude are driving people away.
posted by tzikeh at 11:41 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your friends probably came to you about this because they either wanted an explanation for your wife's behavior (which, from what you have described, is really not nice regardless of gender and would probably make most people not want to be around her) or they wanted to make sure that your wife knew that her behavior was unacceptable. They probably approached you rather than your wife because they are not comfortable speaking with your wife and quite possibly also thought she simply would not listen to them anyway, dismissing their opinions as "wrong" and possibly laughing at them or rolling her eyes. Either that or, as previously mentioned, it was a giant "wtf are you with her" type of segue way.

Your wife sounds like an incredibly hard person to deal with (from your previous questions and comments it sounds like she thinks she is more important and valuable than everyone else) so I'm not sure if you can get it through her head that it just isn't nice to treat people this way. Even so, you certainly aren't helping her by not mentioning these things and it's a horrible behavior model for your children. I don't think it was your "duty" to defend your wife in this case (unless, of course, there actually is a legitimate reason for her behavior other than that she just doesn't give a damn if she belittles anyone else's opinions) but just nodding to your friends about it is equivalent to passively rolling out of your wife's way. If you're content with her behavior and don't mind her alienating people regularly, then you don't need to do anything at all. If you agree with your friends then you really need to talk to your wife and you need to let her know that she made these people feel badly. Use one of the diplomatic and tactful examples here if you want, or bring it up in therapy. The problem I see with this, though, is figuring out how to approach her so she actually listens to you and doesn't just automatically dismiss your opinion. If she doesn't want to change this behavior, she ain't gonna.
posted by Polychrome at 2:19 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can relate in more ways than I'd like.

Right or wrong, there can be a wariness of approaching these issues directly with the person because of a reasonable concern that they will be... eye-rolling, dismissive.

I have experienced this with a friend of 40 years, tried to put up with it, understand it and eventually addressed it because it about killed the friendship.

"Rick, the opinions get harsh, aggressive and rude. Feels not so good when things on my mind and opinions about various issues get trashed."

"Dude, grow up." Cue Jack Nicholson--"You can't handle the truth."

"Well, Rick, I'm close enough to more than a few people who are comfortable with disagreeing, relating their thoughts when they think my planned choices and views aren't wise, but it's a comprehensively different tone and approach, one that comes across as caring, compassionate and thoughtful as opposed to cold, belittling and judgmental, what feels like getting toward mean-spirited."

"Oh gawd, this girl I know says the same thing. I guess people just wanna be stroked."

And that--being utterly dismissive of someone ostensibly respected and cared about--is both more displeasing than the issue that led to the conversation and so utterly typical, not surprising in hindsight.

It's more of the mindset of "I am always right. Those who would take issue with me are wrong, weak and dumb."

We're now at a point where we talk superficially about twice a year. Damn shame, but this is who he is and the interaction is too often far too unpleasant.

Point is that if this mindset takes root too deeply, it can become embedded and people are more than reasonable in distancing themselves from it, be it an individual or someone's spouse.

But some people are that way, men and women. I've dated a couple women who go to full-on crush, kill, destroy mode when it comes to discussing news of the day, other thoughts and views. I have related that it felt more like bludgeoning than conversation. The people have said, "Yeah, that's me not leaving my being a lawyer in the office," or, "Sorry, that was the normal conversational approach among me and my peers at Cal Tech," but it never really changed.

Here's hoping that your wife does hear about these reactions--and I would be real surprised if she hasn't heard some of this from someone at some point--and makes a real effort to throttle it back.

In terms of being the person with a friend who has a spouse who gets really tiresome and rude, been there.

It ain't so easy to go to a friend, even a long-time friend and say, "Well, we haven't seen so much of each other in recent years because...," so I cut your friends some slack.

If it's arguably (no pun intended) the best choice to speak directly to the wife, it's tricky bidness, 'specially if the friend(s) know you better than they know her.

It's all the more frustrating if there's a sense that the friend adores the spouse, the spouse can do no wrong in the friend's eyes.

(I came to learn that a mutual friend had exactly the same reaction to the friend's wife, has spent a lot less time around them as the years have gone by.)

Those things aside, dunno that it's so much a matter of your friends being likely to step back because you didn't defend her.

Not clear whatcha coulda said that woulda made a difference. Seems much more that your friends know that, absent words of efforts to adjust this approach (which may or may not be successful), they will very likely face more of it from her and don't want to.

If you had said something like, "Nobody's perfect; that's the way she is so don't take it personally," the friends would be more than reasonable in thinking, "Oooookay, and the way we are is that we don't wanna be around that if it's more the norm than the exception."

I s'pose that if you had said something more along the lines of, "Yeah, not the first time someone has made this point. She's working on it," the friends might be open to seeing how things progress.

Maybe this is projection, but my sense is that people generally accept that nobody's perfect, we all have our irksome qualities, we all have our moments, a thing or two that pushes our buttons... but will pull the plug or create distance when they can reasonably feel like someone is too often rude and inconsiderate--words that do seemingly apply.

I can live with the thought that people should say/should have said, "Enough of this shit. I have two questions: Who do you think you are and who do you think you're talking to?"

Feels like your wife will either rein it in or you will see a lot less of the friend(s) who spoke to you--and quite possibly encounter more of this as time passes.
posted by ambient2 at 2:22 AM on May 28, 2009

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses, including those that answered my actual question and those that dealt with some of the underlying issues.

Someone asked what kind of disagreements came up. Topics included religion, homeschooling vs. public schools, and Dems vs. Republicans. But the most telling blowup for me was when the husband of the couple who ultimately came to me to complain said that after the men all cooked a meal (which was technically difficult because of the lack of pots/pans/etc.. in this share house), he voiced a simple, "That was a tough meal to cook." My wife jumped at him with a, "Are you kidding, that meal was easier to cook than 90% of the meals that we women could everyday for our families." The tone was not very nice. His wife (the other half of the complaint in the OP) jumped in to defend her husband saying, "Butch cooks 90% of the meals in our house because I work out of the house and he works at home, so that's not fair." Wife responded defensively with, "Well..then...good for him." I read this as a feminism issue with my wife; seemingly every task that historically has been done by women that now is being done even 51%/49% F/M instead of 100%/0% is still an injustice, regardless of the overall division of duties in a household. Perhaps some of my underlying issues with feminism are derived from the fact that I'm not living with a feminist, but rather, something else.

Indeed, this has been a problem in our marriage. We're currently in therapy; my wife's number one issue with me is that I'm not a good listener which is sometimes true. After reading all these responses, it almost seems laughable that this is her issue considering that often people abandon her as a friend because of what she has to say and how she says it. It has come up in therapy in a slightly different context. She considers it a weakness of mine that I'm so cool and collected. She claimed she's *passionate* and that's why she is like this. And I, because of my calmness, am passionate about nothing. Sadly, I am terrified of how she'll react to this if brought up, but that's a whole other issue I have to deal with on my own.

Not to derail the thread entirely, but my fear is that there's some mental illness going on here. Could she be borderline? She lives at the extremes. When it comes to the opinions of others, for example, the people are always "brilliant" (if they agree with her) or "morons" or "idiots" (if they don't agree)

I could go on and on, but won't. I'm in a bit of a pickle with two kids in the house, and frankly will eat a lot of this shit to keep things stable for the kids. It may be not the greatest example for them.
posted by teg4rvn at 6:44 AM on May 28, 2009

I just wanted to add that if your friends are uncomfortable with her behaviour and that's the way she acts a lot of the time, maybe it is for the best that they don't spend time together.

Life would be a lot easier if people didn't try to force themselves to like people they don't or worry about people who don't like them. The best we can do is be polite to each other, we don't all have to be best friends.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:12 AM on May 28, 2009

Terrified or not, it sounds like you have to talk to her about this if you want to have any friends left. My comment earlier in the thread was a reaction to the situation your friends put you in, rather than a reaction to your wife's behavior (though, with context, it makes a little more sense to me now that they would approach you rather than her). Can you discuss in therapy the difference between being passionate and being shrill? I wouldn't be quick to jump to BPD assumptions, but it would make sense to talk about the fact that she defends pretty insulting language by saying it's just "passionate" language. Sometimes it really helps for a person to learn how other people are hearing her--particularly if a person gets into a pattern where people either just try to appease her or avoid her altogether, but never directly confront her about how she's talking to them.

In the context of a therapy session, you could try to say, "I would like for you to try to imagine how you sound to other people. You mean to make a passionate argument for your side, but it comes across as harsh, dismissive, and disrespectful. It's hard to have the kind of passionate discussion you're aiming for if your language leaves everyone around you cringing and looking for a way to change the subject or leave. It's not your passion that's alienating our friends, it's your language. Calling people 'idiots' and being dismissive, like you were with Butch about his cooking, shuts down conversation. The words you are using are hurting their feelings and making them feel disrespected by you."
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:48 AM on May 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your wife has a chip on her shoulder. (Does anyone use that expression anymore?) Anyway, the "feminist" thing that keeps coming up may be a bit of a shield for something else. I consider myself a feminist and I sure do get bent out of shape about certain inequalities and dismissive attitudes. Here's something I want to throw out there to think about. Your wife feels like she's missing out or missed out on something. She got married and had kids and settled down into the wife/mom role and feels like she should be "out there" doing something. Maybe something big. Maybe she regrets not following a dream or passion of hers and, rightly or wrongly, blames our sexist world for thwarting her. Maybe she always wanted to be a wife and a mother but not that she's landed there, things are not satisfying. She feels she should be happy but she's not. She's trying to assert herself in a way that comes across as not passionate but angry. She may be angry. She needs to get to the root of that. We are all responsible in a large part for our own happiness. If she's not happy, she needs to decide what she's going to do about that.

A stop-gap while you guys are going to therapy may be for her to take classes, switch jobs, volunteer with an organization doing something inspiring, go on a vacation by herself, go to a woman-only retreat and socialize. Something.
posted by amanda at 12:17 PM on May 28, 2009

Please don't get mad at my reply...I am the same way myself.
I have a feeling that you aren't defending your wife or telling her about what was said because either action is confrontational and you don't like that...right? This may be one of the reasons she married you...to be in charge and controlling. This is evident in the WAY she debates. A true debate, in my mind, would focus on the facts and these theatrics are more a ploy to control the others; "make them shut up" as you have observed. She doesn't want to be wrong, ever, and would be shattered if she ever was. Of course the result is that she is closed off from others who do not think alike.

I have not been married to someone like this but I have a 25 year friend who is the same way. Bombastic, loud, opinionated, unquestionably intelligant. His wife would come to me and ask me to mention something or other to him 'because he listens to you'. You'd never know it at the time I mention it but aparently it seeps in over time. He's getting divorced (I am DEFINITLY not in the middle of that) after she couldn't take it anymore...or after she cheated on him once and told him lately that 'I don't love you anymore' so he went out and found someone on her (take that you *@$#%). Granted she saw this in him before they moved in together (within a month) but she thought that was confidence. SHEESH. More than enough here to keep a team of psychologists busy.

Perhaps you can say 'Can you tone it down, this is bothering other people enough for them to count us out of their activities'.
posted by CodeMonkey at 5:14 PM on May 28, 2009

Your wife isn't a feminist...She's a Narcissist. She perceives your ability to discuss topics and disagree without her level emotional intensity (and generally be different from her) as a weakness. She needs people around her to be sycophants. You have learned to appease her because you don't want her to destroy you. And it's not just affecting you or your friends: it's affecting your children already and you don't even realize it.

If you want to stay with her, you better get on your knees, because that's where she needs you to be. Here's a popular book about it. But do you really want to spend the rest of your life apologizing for her and losing your sense of self just so this woman can keep up her "winning" streak so that her ego won't have to suffer?
posted by mynameismandab at 10:43 PM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not to pile on to criticisms of your wife, but it seems like it would be important to point out, in the example you provided about the men cooking, that knee-jerk derision of men's supposed lack of ability to do a stereotypically female task is not feminist, but simply prejudiced. How would she feel if a man nitpicked a basic carpentry or auto maintenance issue? ("She changed the oil?? Jeez, that's nothing compared to changing the brake pads and doing tune ups that many men do all the time!") Pissed, I would guess.

The (feminist) women I know would assume that competent adult men would be capable of putting a meal together. So as long as that other man was not fishing for "Someone make a fuss over us men for doing the cooking" type comments, I do think she was unfair. However, if she honestly thought the other man was fishing for compliments, I can see how that would have been annoying to those with feminist/egalitarian sympathies.

After reading all your comments, it sounds to this armchair psychologist (IANA shrink etc.) like your wife may over-compensating for some root insecurities or anxieties. The thing is, she can't really (deep down) be much happier with the way things play out than you are, or your alienated friends are, if you think about it - all this must be very frustrating for her too. Best of luck working with her to address all this (while you, as you say, work through your own issues).
posted by aught at 8:53 AM on May 29, 2009

Looking back over the years, my only consistent window into *feminism* was through my wife's behaviors. That has often led me to believe that feminists were women who were angry that they were not born as men, and chauvinist men, to be more precise. I have always been on the lookout to assume as much or as many of the stereotypical female tasks as I could to see if that made any difference. It hasn't. It actually has made things worse..."Why are you vacuuming when the cleaning girl is coming on Friday?"..."Please tell me you didn't dry my blouse."...."Great, now I'm stuck in this room because you're mopping the hallway."...to give evidence of a few.

Narcissist she is likely not, although, she may have some tendencies. She devotes hundreds of hours yearly to charitable groups/causes, volunteering at the kids schools, and is always the first to volunteer child care to her out-of-the-house working female friends.

I guess I'll just continue with therapy and see where things go...perhaps then I'll have a clue as to the best mode of communicating some of the issues in the original post.
posted by teg4rvn at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2009

I don't think she has psychological issues, she just doesn't seem like a nice person to hang out with. I wouldn't want to hang out with someone who even thought I was "brilliant" simply for holding a similar view as her as it comes off insincere and I'd be scared to say anything for fear of being called an "idiot". That's not fertile grounds for friendships.

She can either address that or continue to alienate people. Get yourself out of the middleman position and help her become more self-aware. I mean, seriously? Criticizing you for doing light housework? That sounds more like a jerk than a feminist.

She must have lovely qualities or else you wouldn't have married her (right??), help her focus on those and cling less to her rantiness.
posted by like_neon at 4:42 AM on June 3, 2009

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