“Happy Birthday to the most amazing little girl in the world,” my friend’s Facebook post read. She’d proudly posted pictures of her daughter, an ecstatic 3-year-old in blonde ringlets and an Elsa dress, surrounded by a heap of wrapped gifts and ice-castle blue cupcakes.
Distant cousins and college roommates alike chimed in to comment, wishing the little princess well and expressing their disbelief that the kid had grown so much.
Let’s break down this massive public insult into its component parts.
Bitter Husband Guy:
1) Implicitly criticizes his wife for overspending
2) Resents having to financially support her and their children
3) Calls her a (debatably) derogatory name
4) Devalues the importance of acknowledging his daughter’s maturation
WHAT?! Oh, no, he didn’t, I thought. What a d!*%!
It’s clear this particular couple is Having Problems.
While many women, like my friend, “opt out” of the workforce – and there are dozens upon dozens of articles discussing the topic that are published every day – we rarely hear about how the dads in these families fare.
Shrink4men.com says these men “…do feel, and rightly so, that they’re having to shoulder the entire financial burden and then have to hear complaints that they don’t do enough around the house or spend enough time with the children” (Is Being a Stay-at-Home-Mom Fair to your Husband?, May 28, 2009).
So maybe Bitter Husband Guy is feeling overwhelmed with the financial stresses of being the sole breadwinner. Understandable, no doubt about it. But that doesn’t absolve him of acting like a douche bag toward her in public. Scientists have come up with a more technical term for his behavior, and they call it “disrespect.”
”Mutual respect is a very simple concept…It means that you avoid treating each other in rude and disrespectful ways, e.g., you do not engage in name calling, and do not insult or demean your spouse or partner” (Centers for Family Change, MARITAL/RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS, Feb. 2, 2015).
This goes for real, in-the-flesh exchanges as well as those on the Internet. Because when we communicate with our partners in a totally public forum, we’re sending a message to the world about how much we value – and respect – them.
So, what does it say about us when we publicize our marital tiffs?
Posting jabs on social media that humiliate your partner is passive aggressive and cowardly. And it tells your community — coworkers, long-lost cousins, high school chums, exes — that you’re angry, hostile, and unhappy in your relationship. You’re proclaiming to the world, “I made a poor choice and now I’m stuck with it! I’m not brave enough to work through it like a grownup so I’m just going to belittle the person who loves me the most! Making sure that her friends see it means she’ll find out just how disappointed in her I am, and I will feel better!”
Under these conditions, how is a partner supposed to react? Should she retaliate with an equally humiliating public pot shot, or should she attempt a civil discussion to address his concerns?
When we’re tempted to lash out about a marital sore spot, we ought to keep in mind the effect our flippant, online zingers may have on our partner and her reputation.
It’s more than just about who’s watching. It’s about how it makes your lady feel: small, humiliated, insecure, and now enraged about your relationship.
“This pattern of mutual disrespect feeds on itself. The more one partner is rude and inconsiderate, the more likely it is the other spouse or partner will behave in similar ways. Thus, disrespect can grow until most interactions are characterized by sarcastic, inconsiderate, blaming, critical, and demeaning behavior”(Centers for Family Change, MARITAL/RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS, Feb. 2, 2015).
So my friend needs to dig deep, resist the urge to sprinkle kerosene on the fire, and maintain her dignity. Reputation.com suggests, “When you’re sitting in front a computer screen, it can be hard to empathize with the people you’re talking to online. In real life, you wouldn’t brazenly insult someone to his or her face (hopefully), so why do it on the Web?” (Guide to Online Etiquette, Feb. 2, 2015)
Being the bigger person isn’t easy. Ever. And if your partner is treating you like a bucket of slop — whether anyone’s watching or not — maybe it’s time to rethink your relationship.
But Dave Boehi of FamilyLife.com has a suggestion that might prevent this cycle of disrespect from happening in the first place: “Stop dishonoring your wife by criticizing her in front of your children or in public.” (40 Things Husbands Should Stop Doing, June 2014).