Argument got out of hand. Police got called to the house. Now what?
June 8, 2014 12:53 PM   Subscribe

We're a married couple with two kids. We got into an argument that spiraled out of control and wound up with screaming and yelling and slamming things around (on both parts). There was no physical violence between us, and nobody was at risk of being physically harmed. Nevertheless, someone (a neighbor, we assume) called the police.

The police came, talked to us separately, and basically let us off with a warning, with the caveat that if they had to come out again that night, someone would probably be arrested. There was no report filed, and nobody was arrested.

It has been a terrible year for us, involving near-deaths of loved ones, extreme financial strain, and extremely difficult health problems, so we've been fighting a lot more than usual, and lot more aggressively than usual. We're in couples therapy and individual therapy, and it's largely okay, but the stress still sometimes gets away from us.

Our kids slept through the whole thing, fortunately. On the other hand, both of us are now completely mortified and having a lot of trouble moving on. Specifically, we're both trying to cope with being that family that had the police called on them (to our neighbors), and being the kind of people who had the police called on them (to ourselves).

It's not a huge neighborhood, and we know about half of our neighbors socially. How do we cope with our feelings of embarrassment and shame?

We had a bad moment in public, and we need to move on: please constrain your advice to that. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How do we cope with our feelings of embarrassment and shame?

Well, recognize that we all have our moments of embarrassment and shame. Your neighbors too. We've all metaphorically pooped our pants somewhere. I mean, I suppose some people haven't, but I don't know anyone like that and couldn't relate to them anyway.

Let it foster compassion and grace for for when you witness someone else's walk of shame, and refuse to beat yourself up about it -- you're doing all the right things. The embarrassment is sometimes useful because it's a wake-up call of 'oh, my God, things have gone horribly wrong' but it sounds like you're past that and taking the steps to fix things.

Cut yourself a break.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:01 PM on June 8, 2014 [56 favorites]

You will have to just suck it up. Yes neighbors have noticed, people will talk, and that is the consequences of letting a fight get so out of hand like that. Have a plan next time ("Honey I'm taking a walk") so it doesn't get to that level of fighting. Do consider yourself warned though.

No neighborhood apologies, no witch hunts for who ratted, no holding your head high either; just hold it steady and carry on.

People will talk, and then they'll forget.

These bad feelings are ok, they are normal when you get reprimanded for stepping out of line, and these bad feelings will pass. Kiss & make up, and carry on. Good luck you two.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:01 PM on June 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

I have something else to add: the concept of 'paving it over'. You will feel less weird the sooner you get back into the swing of saying Hi to your neighbors, inviting them over for drinks or doing whatever it was you did previously, even if it's just waving when you bring the groceries in. The ordinariness of routine and new memory is like a layer of mulch.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:05 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Among yourselves, I would choose to look at this as a situation in which your neighbors cared enough to call someone -- presumably out of concern that one of you or one of your kids might be hurt. So maybe they are judging, but they also cared, so there's that.

Beyond that, I would carry on as usual. Doing anything public and overt will look fake, and it sounds like you don't need the emotional and financial strain of hosting a barbecue or anything like that. Good luck.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:06 PM on June 8, 2014 [47 favorites]

I am sure time will soothe your embarrassment, especially as you find out whether there will be social consequences. It probably won't be as bad as you imagine right now.

And honestly, that you DO feel bad is an indicator that you are not full-time assholes. If you did not feel bad you would be horrible people. As it is, it seems only fair that your discomfort last at least as long as the neighbor who has to wonder if bullets from your house can hit theirs, if it comes to it.

It'll pass. You're going to poke at it like a bad tooth for a while, because that's what we do when we experience trauma and massive adrenaline dumps. Your therapist may be able to provide some post-traumatic exercises you can do to help.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:07 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Specifically, we're both trying to cope with being that family that had the police called on them (to our neighbors)"

I lived next door to a couple who had the cops called on them a few times for noisy fights, and we definitely heard more fights than just the ones where the cops showed up. Our thoughts were:

"Wow, the houses in this neighborhood sure are close together."
"Man, Joe and Mary sure are having a tough time since Joe got laid off and Mary's sister died, I hope they're doing okay."
"God, what kind of dick calls the cops about a noisy argument?" (I'm pretty sure I know which neighbor it was. That kind of dick.)

I mean, yeah, I get it, you want to be sure it's not domestic abuse, but when nobody shows up in criminal court your neighbors will mostly forget about it. Everyone's had arguments, in various degrees of publicness, that they're not proud of. People understand ... even when the cops show up.

We did not actually even like the neighbors who had the cops called on them for fights, and we still felt nothing but sympathy for them about their tough year AND the fact someone called the cops on them and they must have been mortified.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:08 PM on June 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

In my neighborhood growing up, everyone was up in each other's business all the time. Things like you're describing (and worse!) happened from time to time, and everyone talked about it for like a week until something else happened (a football game, a kid's broken leg, a bird in someone's fireplace etc.) People who were the subject of the gossip-of-the-week maybe chilled a little from attending/hosting big neighborhood events, though their kids carried on as usual. People have short memories for other people's mistakes, especially if you have friendly relationships with them already.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's entirely possible that your neighbors are feeling embarrassed for over-reacting and calling the cops when there turned out not to be any danger to anyone.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

In the body of the question, you ask for help coping with feelings of embarrassment and shame, but in a way, I think the postscript to this question is the most revealing part of it: there is a lot of anger here, directed at the people (MeFi readers, your neighbors) whom you imagine judging you.

I get the sense you wish you could drag your neighbors out of the house and read them this whole question - "We've had a terrible year...we aren't horrible people, this isn't a toxic, abusive have no idea what's going on, so HOW DARE you judge us?" But you're powerless to do that; you're constrained by etiquette to putting on your politest faces while you seethe and imagine your neighbors going back to their houses and smugly judging you... and that pisses you off.

I don't know what to say about that, other than it seems both difficult and natural, and it will pass with time. I will also say, though, that as a general rule, when we imagine what other people are thinking, we usually oversimplify. Maybe some of your neighbors are sitting in judgment on you and think you're an embarrassment to the neighborhood. But I will say that I once called the police on a domestic disturbance, and when I did, I was not even remotely thinking "Oh, how loud and annoying, what terrible people these two must be." I was terrified, as in sick to my stomach, that someone was going to get hurt or killed. I still think about it sometimes, and if I could imagine that the people involved had gone on to write a question like yours, it would be a huge relief, and weight off my shoulders. Maybe you should consider the possibility that the person who called the police isn't judging you at all, and is just glad you are okay?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:09 PM on June 8, 2014 [31 favorites]

A couple of things:
Specifically, we're both trying to cope with being that family that had the police called on them (to our neighbors), and being the kind of people who had the police called on them (to ourselves).
You can start by reassessing your definition of "the kind of people who had the police called on them" to realize that there is not, in fact, a separate and inherently different sort of person who falls into that category and who is separated from you and other "regular people" by some intrinsic quality.
How do we cope with our feelings of embarrassment and shame?
Try not to focus on the "embarrassment and shame" part -- try to focus on the part where you learned something surprising about yourselves that you need to understand and deal with.

Embarrassment and shame is likely to make things worse (and possibly create a negative feedback loop.) Try instead to use your shock at this event to break yourself out the pattern you see yourself falling into -- if you approach it constructively it can be your wake-up call or your low-water mark / turning point rather than some line you crossed where things can never be OK again.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:25 PM on June 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm going to risk hurting your feelings to say something that hasn't been said yet. You say your kids slept through the whole thing. You also say this isn't the only time you've had such an explosive argument. Your kids are not sleeping through all of these fights. Whether or not they heard this one, they've heard you, and this is the kind of experience that stays with a kid permanently. I speak from experience; on their way toward their eventual divorce, my parents kept their fighting entirely away from me until one night when they had exactly the kind of fight you describe. I didn't say anything, and they may have thought that I, too, slept through it, but I remember vividly listening to the whole thing, with my dog trembling at the end of my bed. This was over thirty years ago. Forget what your neighbors think and find a way to disagree constructively for the sake of your children.

(I don't mean to generate any excess parental guilt here - I know my parents felt horrible for what I went through when their relationship soured and there's only so much people can do & handle when circumstances mount against them, be they parents or not - but it jarred me to see the focus in this question placed more on the neighbors and yourselves than on your kids.)
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:26 PM on June 8, 2014 [179 favorites]

All good advice above, and this: Maybe you should consider the possibility that the person who called the police isn't judging you at all, and is just glad you are okay?

It will fade from the neighborhood memory more quickly if it is a one off event, so you cope also by acknowledging this as your wakeup call, and coming up, with the help of your therapists, with alternatives and coping strategies for fighting in a way that does not escalate to that level again.

Also, are you able to do something for yourselves as a couple besides therapy, even if it is a "date night" that consists of the two of you at home with a box of pizza and a funny movie and the kids elsewhere for a sleepover? Seems like you need to be gentle to yourselves a bit and catch your breath.

One comment though, as a kid I "slept through" a couple of my parent's fights equivalent to yours (except no police because we did not live that close to our neighbors and times were different then). It was pretty scary, so I did not want them to know I knew what was going on so pretended I slept through it all, and, like you, they were pretty mortified after the fact. But, even as a little kid I knew something was up. Your kids probably at least sense the mood of the house as off, even if they did indeed sleep through it all.

So, wakeup call, brand new day, and you mutually resolve to put this behind you and try not to get to this level again.
posted by gudrun at 1:34 PM on June 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've had neighbors have the police called on them. I have judged them, and I have not forgotten, and it even comes up in conversations sometimes. I know the PC to say is that no one's judging you but to be honest, they probably are.

But the more weird you make it, the harder you make it for them to remember all the things they do like about you. So even if you're feeling weird internally, be as neighborly as you've always been. They won't entirely forget, but it won't be so important because there will be fresh, good memories.
posted by Aranquis at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can I just say that I grew up in a house where this happened frequently and my parents doubtless thought I and my siblings slept through most of it, because they were so focused on how important it was to yell at each other. Of course I pretended to be sleeping, because I was too afraid to leave my room or draw any attention to myself whatsoever when it happened for fear of becoming a target. And this was just screaming and yelling - nothing physical - one single incident where it escalated to breaking a dish stands out in my mind as it was unusually terrifying. Because to me, it wasn't a situation where I was an adult who knew that certain lines wouldn't be crossed, where only some stuff got broken and no one would get hurt. I had no control over it whatsoever and didn't know when it would start, how long it would go on, and how bad it would get. How would I know that? It was a situation of random, unpredictable fear where the next thing that happened just might be really bad and I never knew when it was coming. Maybe more broken stuff, maybe my stuff would get broken, maybe someone would hit someone, maybe one of them would hit me, especially if I tried to get them to stop. I also felt like somehow it was partly my fault and figured out, without being told, that I needed to pretend like everything was OK and not tell anybody.

I didn't find a way to get over chronic, debilitating insomnia until my 30's. Maybe your kids do actually sleep straight through fights that are loud enough to have your neighbors calling the police, but maybe they're not feeling safe in their own home, and how would they tell either of you, with this rage and aggression going on? I just feel like your worries about what the neighbors think are not really all that important here. I'm not married with kids so I don't know what those stresses can be like but from my admittedly limited point of view, I'm not getting how two grown adults can't dial it back from outright screaming, yelling arguments in a house with children. Can't you both just consider that it affects them as concern #1, far above worrying what the neighbors might think. Can't that be a motivation for working hard, both of you, to deal with issues without escalating to this level.
posted by citron at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2014 [73 favorites]

All good advice above, and this: Maybe you should consider the possibility that the person who called the police isn't judging you at all, and is just glad you are okay?


Rather than feeling ashamed, I'd feel heartened to live in a place where people care about the well-being of other people. Remember that your neighbors--humans too!--might not know the particulars of the fight, but they heard something that might have sounded violent, and cared enough to intervene. That's what a community should do.

Case in point: my dad used to smack around my mother, and stopped after court-mandated anger management when the police were called to our house during a domestic agreement. This was when I was two; he passed away when I was eight, but I grew up in a household almost entirely free from physical violence, unlike my older sister. Growing up, my mother occasionally called the police when she overheard neighbors' violent-sounding domestic arguments, and I did once or twice in college, too. For some people, it's not a matter of judgment but a matter of wanting to do whatever they can to help women and children, particularly, be safe.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:46 PM on June 8, 2014 [20 favorites]

You didn't have a bad moment in public. You had a bad moment in the privacy of your own home, and if your neighbor is the kind of decent person who calls the cops in such situations, he/she will probably respect that. Besides, who cares what the neighborhood thinks? You and your spouse clearly have more important problems, not least of which is your kids, who were almost definitely wide awake.
posted by acidic at 2:11 PM on June 8, 2014

Speak to your children about the argument you had. Seriously, I also doubt that they slept through this, and the best way to deal with stress is not to cover it up and pretend like everything is perfect (because they already know it isn't) but to let yourselves feel and express those feelings.

Your kids feel the strain around the house. At the very least, letting them know that you and your spouse have been feeling frustrated, lost your tempers and yelled at each other but that's all that happened could go a long way to making them feel better.

Especially if you put it into the context and also make light of yourselves. Like you feel silly about it now because of course you love each other and man, what were we thinking?!

You aren't talking divorce, no one got beaten up, and you are already in counseling. Cut yourselves some slack.

Use this as a teachable moment now, give everyone a chance to vent over their fears, air it all out. Then forgive yourselves, if you feel the need, for being human and going a little crazy, and move on. The neighbors will do the same.
posted by misha at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2014 [23 favorites]

I have been the neighbor standing there in her yard, overhearing this kind of thing, wondering if she should call the police or not.

You might look at it from the point of view of the person who called.

Is this unusual for the neighbor?
Common for the neighbor?
Are there kids in the neighbors' house?
Are your own kids overhearing this?
Do you want your kids to think it is okay go ignore this kind of thing?
Do you want the neighbors' kids to think no one cares or hears?
Could someone be in danger?
Do you want to be the person who heard everything, said nothing, and now someone is hurt? Or in the case of the kids, terrified?

So you call, right? The police come, things calm down and the arguers know they are not invisible to their neighbors. Then the caller desperately tries to pretend everything is normal and you did not call because you don't want to embarrass the people the police visited.

I would just go about your business as per usual and be grateful someone cares enough to worry.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seriously - you need to find a completely new approach.
Take this an opportunity.

I have been in your situation, and my sympathy and understanding for what you are going through is profound beyond what I can express. But you need to stop now.

First of all - all these (nearly 20 years) later, I can confirm what has been said above: your neighbors will never judge you or use this against you. A lot of people have either been through this or have close friends and relatives who have been through this. But also, most people know this is a really, really bad thing. They know it from experience, not prejudice.

Don't mix up your standing in the neighborhood with your relationship. The only thing you need to change is your relationship.
posted by mumimor at 2:34 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Frankly, I think you should latch on to a little comfort in the fact that you live next door to the kind of neighbours who call when there is a domestic dispute short of gunfire.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on June 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

When I was getting my ass (loudly) kicked around my apartment, I wished someone would have called the police. When big clumps of my hair were getting ripped out, I wished one of my neighbors would have had the guts to call the police. When I was on the floor, getting choked the f*** out, I wished someone would have called the police...No one did.

I will echo others who think you should feel grateful that you have caring neighbors that are worried about you and your kids. It's a good thing, it really, really is. Even embarrassment can be a useful emotion, let it be motivation for you to be cognizant of your voice levels.

If you are worried about being "those people", don't become those people. Resolve to squabble if need be, but not fight. Resolve to become more peaceful and, yes, more mature. Let me tell you, slamming things around is classified as terrorizing in the eyes of the law. I think you should put your focus on maturing and making all the members of your family feel safe and secure, and screw what the neighbors think.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 2:54 PM on June 8, 2014 [26 favorites]

You cope by:

1. Making an action plan. Talk to your individual and couples therapists so that you each know what your plan is when you get so mad. Practice this plan, when you're not angry, in your therapy sessions and on your own, so that when you ARE angry, you know what to do and it's almost force of habit.

2. Talk to your kids about what happened, making it clear that it's inappropriate to yell at people and to throw things when you are mad. Regardless of how shitty your year has been. It doesn't matter how mad you are.

3. Take a step back and acknowledge to yourselves that this is a form of domestic violence and that unless you work on this, focus on this, it's very likely it will escalate.

I'm particularly concerned with your using your past year to justify this type of fighting. People who are willing to justify their abusive tendencies by using their past history often escalate their abuse.
posted by spunweb at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

First of all - all these (nearly 20 years) later, I can confirm what has been said above: your neighbors will never judge you or use this against you.

Oh, come now. We so easily cross the line from being supportive to exaggerating. Some may judge, just as surely as some will judge you for the state of your lawn. The question, how does the OP cope with this? By focusing on the fact that this may well have come from a place of caring and concern, and of course recalling that we tend to exaggerate the uniqueness, gravity, and attention paid to our trespasses.

Of course, this isn't just about the state of the lawn. I agree with the "consider the kids" point, nicely put by AtheniaPolias (without the later, sweeping "kids always know" skein), and others who say work on the relationship and not the neighbors. I'd just note that the OP says that they are receiving therapy, and that there's no suggestion that the neighbors are their only source of concern.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:56 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

A) Keep on working on resolving your issues. Any shame you feel will clear up when the issues are resolved. Failure to resolve them will tend to deepen it. So keep focused on that goal.

B) Nth-ing that you should take some comfort that a neighbor was concerned. Reframe it in that way. They don't know you well enough to intercede themselves and don't want to potentially get in harm's way and they had no way of knowing that the slamming things around was harmless venting. For all they knew, it could well have been a body being slammed up against something.

I tend to get loud when I am upset. I have never had the cops called over it but my ex and I had lots of loud arguments during our marriage. At some point when we were visiting someone and that couple had some friction, the husband was getting all upset at the wife's "yelling" when, in fact, she was not yelling. She had raised her voice slightly and this left him really in a tizzy. Quietly, away from the other couple, my husband drily said to me "He doesn't know what yelling is. Yelling is when the neighbor's know what your argument is about."

For me, that was a lighthearted moment. My husband was not trying to say something bad about me. He was basically saying the other guy lacked a backbone and the other couple was super bad at handling what was really minor conflict. My marriage had weathered worse and here my husband was joking about how loud I could be.

I still get loud when I am upset. I do try to not do that under circumstances where other people will hear me yelling. I know it isn't a nice trait but I no longer feel it is a shameful trait either.

So just keep working on resolving your problems. Maybe one day this will be something to laugh about. It isn't like you got arrested. It only becomes some big problem if you fail to resolve your issues and there are future incidents where the cops are called and worse stuff (like arrest, abuse, etc) comes of it. Use this as a wake-up call and redouble your efforts to fix your shit.
posted by Michele in California at 3:09 PM on June 8, 2014

It sounds counterintuitive, but consider thanking your neighbors for the call. If you don't know who it was, go around until you do. Phrase it as "hey, it's been a shitty year, things got out of hand the other night -- nobody was in any danger, but I know you can't know that from outside. Thank you for looking out for us, it's a comfort." If you stop thinking of this as a wedge and start thinking of it as a bond, it might help with the feelings of shame.

And yeah, don't be so sure your kids slept right through it. Talk to them about it and let them know that when this stuff happens, it's grownup stuff but the kids don't have to be ashamed that it's happening. The feelings of secrecy can be much more damaging than the fight itself.
posted by KathrynT at 3:17 PM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Honestly, there have been so many stories in the U.S. news these days of murder-suicides committed/suffered by white middle class (and upper middle class) families that were seemingly "loving" and "happy" in the eyes of their neighbors that someone might have been spooked into a "better safe than sorry" call. They themselves may feel awkward and embarrassed about the whole incident as well, especially since the police deemed it a non-incident.
posted by blue suede stockings at 3:19 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

My husband and I had a fight a few weeks ago that did not result in the cops being called, but a neighbor who I have known for most of my life pulled me aside afterwards and asked me if my husband was hitting me. I was instantly mortified (JESUS CHRIST WE WERE SO LOUD THE NEIGHBORS THINK I'M BEING ABUSED) and grateful that they actually care if I'm being abused.

I have been consistently mortified ever time I've seen my neighbor since then but I'm working on getting over it.
posted by crankylex at 4:08 PM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Another approach is to put the shoe on the other foot: how would you want or expect a neighbor to handle it, if you had called the cops on them?

I think the cues you've gotten here, to lead with caring and concern and then ... move on to the next topic, are good ones.
posted by Dashy at 4:51 PM on June 8, 2014

How do we cope with our feelings of embarrassment and shame?

You need to reframe this situation.

1) The cops' arrival gave you an opportunity to stop the argument and gather yourselves.

2) It indicates that there are people in your neighborhood who would call, and hopefully keep calling, so that if a physical altercation ever transpired the cops could break it up (not just at your residence, but elsewhere on your street). That is an excellent thing.**

And the most important thing to think about when reframing is this: your social shame is nowhere near as important as learning new ways to halt an argument before it snowballs. Because I guarantee you that your kids were not asleep, and will eventually learn improper modes of conflict management from you if this keeps up*. And that definitely needs to be resolved.

*They've probably picked up on your dynamic plenty of times before, so you can't really afford to treat this like a one-off isolated incident. It's not.

**Please DO NOT, should you ever encounter/overhear an argument of similar magnitude, let your residual shame over this incident affect whether you call the cops.
posted by Ashen at 5:12 PM on June 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

It sounds like calling the cops was exactly the right thing, in terms of your family's welfare. It stopped the fight, and it gave you the wakeup call you needed to see that this way of behaving is one you need to abandon right now. Don't be embarrassed, just be glad it happened this way.

Hug your children and ask them if they heard yelling last night. Tell them you were worried about them because you and mommy did have an argument and unfortunately there was some yelling and you just wanted to tell them you are sorry if you woke them up, and to let them know everything's ok.

And as far as the neighbors go -- meh. Don't worry about it. They're just glad you're fine. If anyone does express concern to your face, acknowledge that it's been a challenging year for you. We've all been there. Good luck to you and your family.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:39 PM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

I called the cops on my neighbors once because I was afraid someone was getting hurt. No one was getting hurt as it turned out but the cops checked it out and things were okay (and in a small town this is how things are supposed to work more or less) my neighbors have never had such a loud fight before or since. I don't know what happened and it's mostly not my business but I figure they were having a bad time of it and are now not.

The next day our neighbors came over to my house to apologize for being in a fight that was so loud that it frightened us for their safety. I thought it was an incredibly class act (I don't know if they went to the other neighbors. They apologized to my landlady and not to me so they didn't know who called) and that, more than anything, was the only thing that really changed my opinion about the neighbors. I say this just to say that your mind is in a bad place is is fixating on "other people" stuff in a way that I think is maybe keeping you from focusing on stopping the bad cycle you're in.

I am sorry you are having a bad time. At the point at which your arguing is becoming this level of public problem, that should be a wakeup call that things are getting out of hand and whatever steps you are taking are not working well enough. I think the best thing you could do to move forward from this all-around bad episode is to work on whatever stresses are causing this level of explosiveness and get some real work done on it or decide it's not getting done right now and move to separate spaces for the sake of yourselves, the neighborhood, and your family.

I speak from experience; on their way toward their eventual divorce, my parents kept their fighting entirely away from me until one night when they had exactly the kind of fight you describe.

This was me also. I spent a lot of my childhood afraid that my angry fighting parents would decide to take their rage out on me (they didn't) and spent a lot of my childhood very very afraid. This is not a healthy situation. You may not be able to make it right with the neighbors if you don't know how it was, but you can work on making it right with your kids as fingersandtoes suggests.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on June 8, 2014 [19 favorites]

How do we cope with our feelings of embarrassment and shame?

I'd reverse that question: how should your neighbors (and maybe your kids) cope with their feelings of fear for your and their safety?

In other words, you deal with the shame by solving the underlying problems and never again acting in ways that frighten other people to the extent that calling the police is the smart option.

I've called the police on neighbors before when it sounded bad enough to warrant that and I didn't think less of them. It happens, things get out of control, and then the caring response is to call the police or child protective services. It's not a reflection on or judgement of you as a person, it what a community does in response to specific actions that have the sound of violence.

Whether or not you say anything to your neighbors depends on what kinds of relationship you have with them. If I was your neighbor I'd be less interested in an apology than I would to never hear scary sounds again, but your neighbors may be different.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:46 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the feeling ashamed is only partly about the neighbors, and partly just the aftereffect of letting things get out of hand -- kind of the same beat-up terrible feeling you can get after all different kinds of excesses and benders. The neighbors will think whatever they think. Even if they think cruddy things about you, it won't loom very large in their consciousness. So the people you really have to face up to are yes, your kids if they did wake up, and just as importantly, yourselves.

You had a hard moment. It wasn't your best moment as people. You're working on it. You are still feeling crappy about it. That's OK. I took a meditation class a few years ago and when someone would tell the meditation teacher about a disturbing or tangled thing that was getting to them, she'd tilt her head and say "well, that's a thought." Meaning, maybe you feel bad right now. But you don't have to believe all the narratives that pop in your mind about it. You're just a family, going through a hard time, feeling a little beat up. And one more bit, you know that quote often misattributed to Plato, "Be kind to the people you meet, for everyone is fighting a hard battle"? Well, that includes you. Keep fighting, be kind to yourselves and each other, and this moment of discomfort will give way to new things.
posted by sockanalia at 1:08 AM on June 9, 2014

I'm sorry this happened.

As someone who has heard their neighbors (with children) have horrific screaming and breaking things matches, I didn't judge them but I felt terrible for them. I worried about their kids, yes. I worried about the safety of everyone in the home.

If it happens just the once, it's possible I'd think of it as a really terrible blip on the screen and move on. If it happened again, I'd be calling the police again out of concern for everyone's safety.

We're in couples therapy and individual therapy, and it's largely okay, but the stress still sometimes gets away from us.

Please discuss this episode with your therapists (not the neighbor shame as much as the fight), because you desperately need some real, concrete ways to deal with stress.

And no, I doubt your kids slept through this, so please talk to them and keep an eye on them for behavioral changes.
posted by kinetic at 3:06 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you've been having such a hard time. In my opinion, the way to put this sort of thing in your rear-view mirror is to know you are doing enough to assure it doesn't happen again. The goal should be to make other people's uninformed opinions truly immaterial, not because you don't give a fuck but because you know you are doing the right things. It sounds like right now, you are in a kind of cycle of shame and denial. "The stress still sometimes gets away from us" is troubling, to me, because it suggests you feel the problem is bigger than you, and that's not a good place to be psychologically. Now you have a sense of social isolation on top of it, because of what happened. This could go two ways right now: you could go deeper into shame and secrecy or you could empower yourself. Maybe you need something like anger management classes or a 12-step program. (Although I don't get the sense you were drinking or using when this happened, or you probably would have been arrested. But if you do do any of that stuff, this would be a great time to stop.)

I don't want to tell you this is not a serious situation, because clearly it is and you know it. But domestic disturbance situations are a dime a dozen, especially ones where the police are called and talk to people and leave. You didn't go out and rob a bank or run someone over with your car. You are not a bad person; you just have too much on your plate. So find whatever support you need.
posted by BibiRose at 4:29 AM on June 9, 2014

I agree with many of the posters here who say that this isn't about you and your husband, it's about your children. If you haven't already, you need to sit down with them and have a long talk, several talks. Don't assume they are telling you the truth if they say they didn't hear it. Be persistent in telling them that you and your spouse feel nothing but love and concern over them, and that the fighting has only to do with you and your spouse's inability to communicate effectively. Kids are smart, even the little ones, and will appreciate any communication you can give them. You must talk to your kids about this and let them know you are seeking help, therapy, for this problem. That will give them a good example to follow rather than screaming and slamming doors. They need to know that mistakes happen but we try to do something about them. The followup is critical here.

And about your neighbors knowing? I think you have several other items to be thinking about. The opinion of your neighbors is not your concern. If you are close to these people, a heart will help, but don't expect everyone to understand, or even care (we all have problems). I doubt talking to your neighbor friends will even help, really, you will probably feel like they are still judging you. It's just something you have to live with if you have screaming matches with your spouse. You can change and over time so just remember that tomorrow is another day.
posted by waving at 5:19 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm 40 years old and still have a severe visceral response to raised voices. No blows were struck. Ever had your stomach cramp up from adrenaline so fast that you're half breathless from panic and half breathless from the pain? That's the legacy left from parent fights. I'll tell you what I couldn't tell mine: STOP IT. You're mortified that strangers overheard you having tantrums at each other. Because you wouldn't behave that way in public, in a store or a restaurant. You care what strangers think, but it's a-ok to let it all hang out for the kids. I didn't have the vocabulary then to express how disrespectful that was to us kids and how angry it made me that we children didn't merit the courtesy obligated to the delicate sensibilities of strangers. Change your focus and reassure your children and most importantly Stop. It. You are responsible for how scary your behavior is.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:01 AM on June 9, 2014 [33 favorites]

Bear in mind that your neighbors did not call the police en masse. Maybe only one of them did, and that one only heard you because they happened to be walking their dog near your house that night, and that person was so embarrassed, especially after it turned out there was no reason for the cops to arrest anyone, that they didn't mention it to anyone else.

When you say you had a bad moment "in public", you're doing some kind of cognitive-psychology error (although I don't know enough about cognitive psychology to give it a specific label).

It is highly likely that talking TO THE POLICE helped give you a feeling of being "in public". But that emotional experience is factually a separate matter from the question of how many neighbors know or what they might have said to each other.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:31 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can be the couple that got the cops called on them once for one godawful fight one time, which the neighbors will get over. Or you can be the couple that does this all the time, for which your neighbors certainly would judge you. "There they go again. Their poor kids."

So, cope with your embarrassment by avoiding the shame of doing this again.
posted by tomboko at 8:50 AM on June 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Last year, our neighbors sold their house and we got new neighbors. They woke up at 5am and ground coffee beans. Then they fought. A lot. Loudly. We considered calling the police on them just to make sure everything's okay, but we didn't because the arguments were relatively short and after a few weeks, they stopped arguing. There were also no kids. And we could only really hear them because it was summer, and hot, and everybody kept their windows open. Even though there were no physical violence, screaming and shouting is not an okay way of dealing with differences in a relationship. At best, it's stressful emotionally damaging and at worst, it's (potentially mutually) abusive.

My point is this: People tend to call the police on these issues out of concern. And nobody is judging you, unless you continue to do this repeatedly. And if you do continue to have explosive fights/arguments, you should be less concerned about your appearances (how your neighbors see you, how you see yourself) and more concerned about the unhealthy relationship you have and how that's affecting you and your children.

(P.S. Your children probably didn't sleep through it. They're probably terrified and don't know how to deal, so they are pretending they slept through it.)
posted by ethidda at 11:55 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised at the unanimous agreement that the kids could not have possibly slept though this. Maybe it's because we have a busy, large and loud household, or close neighbors and poor soundproofing, but my kids sleep though anything and everything and have most certainly slept right through many events/gatherings/music/moving days/lawnmowers outside of open bedroom windows/renovations with power tools/carpet cleanings/hailstorms that went well and beyond the volume of a shouting match.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 12:05 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You have my sympathies for having had a horrible year, and I'm so glad you are doing your work on these issues in therapy. Are your kids in therapy, too? Because it sounds like you need to worry a lot more about your kids' emotional well-being, and a whole lot less about what your neighbors think of you. What your neighbors think of you is none of your business, actually. It is totally beyond your control.

What matters most here is your kids. If you do conflict like most of the US families who've been studied, then you need to assume your kids have witnessed at least 45% of your marital blow-ups. The current research says your children need to actually see you and your spouse RESOLVE your arguments - that's how you avoid actively screwing your kids up with your fighting.

So yes, you ought to assume your kids witnessed this particular fight, too, and/or they know there is some toxicity between you. Kids are not dumb. And sure, even if you lucked out this time and they didn't happen to witness the cops coming to question you and your spouse in your home - THEY KNOW SOMETHING IS UP. Address THIS with your kids. Show them how you've resolved this particular fight.

Look, I'm sure, like most of us, you probably have absolutely no positive role models from your own childhoods as to how to discuss this with your kids - but you must try. Seriously. From now on, just forget the neighbors and worry only about your kids.
posted by hush at 12:42 PM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

My parents used to have screaming arguments, calling names, making threats, saying the worst most hurtful things they could possibly think of, and physically throwing, slamming, and hitting things. With each other, and with my sibling and me. I remember screaming and crying so loudly, it was impossible that the neighbors didn't hear. Nobody called the cops. One time I ran out the front door to get away from my parents and my dad chased me down, then physically dragged me, while I screamed and cried, back into the house. Nobody called the cops. The next time my dad was banging down my bedroom door, while my mom pleaded with him not to hurt me, I jumped out the second story window.

I also threatened to call the police myself many times, but never had the guts to do it. My parents would tell me that I would be bringing shame on my family, that the police would put my parents in jail and put me in foster care and all of our lives would be ruined, and it would be my fault for doing something so stupid. They would tell me that all families fought like that, it was totally normal, and I was an idiot to think that other families aren't just a bunch of phonies hiding their dirty laundry. When I got older I realized this was bullshit, and my parents were just too embarrassed to ever face the fact that they were setting a terrible example and being abusive towards their children. And that saving face was more important than the hurt they caused us.

This is your wake up call. Forget being embarrassed, and forget forgetting about what happened and moving on. What your neighbors did was the best thing for your children, and everyone wants the best for them, yeah? Learn how to disagree with each other respectfully. This is a crucial life skill that your children will need to navigate every aspect of their lives - friendships, relationships, sports teams, work with colleagues, dealing with authorities, etc. Your main concern should be that your children feel safe in their home, they feel able to voice dissent in the household without fear of being screamed at, and they learn how to deal with anger, frustration, and disagreement without resorting to yelling.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:58 PM on June 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Nthing that the worrisome thing here is that you feel shame wrt to people you only cross on the street, but clearly no guilt about the blazingly obvious: if your neighbors heard you, your children definitely did.

Shame is about you. Guilt is about behaviors that affect others.

It would be great to bring this up in your couples' and individual therapies. I too am a child of people who threw screaming matches and blamed it on circumstances, and they only felt badly about it when other people noticed. It was pretty clear that my own feelings about their fights (terror, fear, danger) didn't matter. This is not a lesson you want to teach your children.

You need to learn to handle this more maturely. Life does not get easier; you will have other years like this one.

FWIW, as a positive example, I learned how to "fight fair" in school. I grew up in an abusive family, called the cops on my cousin-beating uncle, have been raped, had an abusive first boyfriend who took everything when I left him, and nearing age 40, am still just barely getting onto financially stable ground. I have never thrown anything nor slammed anything nor screamed at anyone. Raised my voice, yes. Screamed? Never since leaving my parents (the last time I screamed was at my mother, and I was 14). And I live alone.

As soon as you feel adrenaline pumping, stop. Wait a beat. Do not react to anything that happens while waiting a beat. Breathe. Ask yourself, "do I want to scream?" Listen to your heart when it shakes its head and says "no". Look at the person doing whatever they're doing across from you, say, "I'm sorry, I'm not feeling well, I need to go somewhere quiet," and do just that. Sit with yourself, and the calm feeling that comes from having protected peace. Sit with it. Feel it. Experience it. Let the peace wash over you. When you've really savored it, and the adrenaline has left, breathe some more. Then ask yourself this question: "how do I feel now?" Is it better than you feel after screaming? I'm willing to bet it is.

The more you practice that, the more it will become second nature.
posted by fraula at 2:12 AM on June 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Your feelings of embarrassment are primarily about your ego and impression management. This is unfortunate, because, as others have noted, your real problem is not about your image or "what people think" - it's about the dangerous and unhealthy dynamics of your marriage and family life.

My advice would be to completely feel your feelings of embarrassment. Perhaps use this as an opportunity to really acknowledge how out of hand things have become. The situation you've described (screaming, throwing things, slamming doors) - is not acceptable for adults. It's just not. Even if you didn't have children, this would be unacceptable. With children around, it is infinitely more unacceptable. You are creating a harmful environment that will likely scar your kids for decades to come. This should terrify you - not your neighbors' opinions. I know this is not the advice you wanted, but it needs to be said.

Another way of coping with your feelings of mortification might be to take a break from the marriage and separate if possible, until and unless you are able to live together in peace. Your children deserve an emotionally safe home -- and, frankly, so do you. If you cannot provide that right now, it's incumbent upon you and your spouse to think about emergency measures you can take that will prevent these violent episodes from happening. It is not okay for them to happen every now and then.. and it is entirely possible that the only way to prevent these arguments is to spend significant time apart while continuing to pursue individual and couple's therapy.

Your children's well-being matters more than your ego. Your well-being matters more than your reputation. Re-read these sentences until you believe them.
posted by Gray Skies at 1:02 AM on June 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

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