Dr. Jasmine Davis, Ph.D., shares her blog on how Arguing Is An Intimate Act.
Not too long ago, a woman gave a play-by-play via Twitter posts of a couple’s break up. They were all passengers of a plane, and she was a stranger to the couple. The spectator tweeted the couple’s entire exchange of the man breaking up with his girlfriend and also provided visuals of the woman sobbing. The most comical thing for people watching, probably the most embarrassing thing for the couple, is that after the conflict, they started making out. The video went viral. This is how intrigued and entertained we are by couple’s arguing in public. The interest in watching couples argue is not just about the humorous, embarrassing, and sometimes “juicy” things couples reveal when in the middle of an argument. A part of the intrigue is that outsiders know they are seeing and hearing something that they are not supposed to see or hear, something private. And oh, how people love getting a glimpse into the private lives of others.
It is likely very damaging to your relationship to have heated arguments with your partner in front of other people. That is, unless you are a couple that thrives on that kind of conflict and attention together. For example, if you both have a war love story and like an audience to your battles, then maybe arguing in front of other people adds to your love story in a way that works for you. Maybe it helps you play out your idea of love or you rewarded with make-up sex. Maybe that is what was occurring for that couple on the plan who started making out after their public breakup. However, if the war love story is not a story you wish to play out, then it is likely to lead to some serious problems in your relationship. If you are unfamiliar with the Sternberg’s theory on love stories, you can read more about them here:
I am not suggesting that you should never disagree or argue with your partner. Nor am I suggesting that you should pretend that your relationship is perfect because those suggestions would be unrealistic and silly. However, an argument between a couple is something that if it takes place, should most likely take place in private between those two people. When you are the observer of this behavior you likely find it uncomfortable. However, when you are a participant, it probably feels like you cannot stop yourself or your partner. If you are in a public heated argument with your partner, you are likely emotional and allowing your emotional mind to overtake your logical mind. Meaning, you may be letting your emotions make your decisions for you. In doing so, you may disregard other people’s experiences of the two of you arguing in that moment. Most importantly, you may disregard the experience of your significant other and
the consequences of that experience. On the other hand, your decision to argue in public could be logical, or rather something you are purposefully doing with a specific intent. If so, then you are likely more aware of why you engage in the behavior, which makes it a little easier to change if you would like.
One thing arguing in public does is give you an audience, which can heighten conflict and emotion in a way that would not occur when you are alone. Sometimes, after publicly calling your partner out, even if your partner would concede to your point of view, they may not
compromise because the stakes are higher in front of others. A person may hold their ground just because others are watching. In an argument, versus a discussion, there is a winner and a loser or a loser and a loser. If you catch my drift. People do not like to lose, especially not in front an audience. When you and your partner have differing views or goals in a particular situation, the idea is to somehow get on the same page or agree to disagree. The goal is not for your partner to lose or you win, to humiliate your partner or be humiliated by your partner, or bruise each other’s egos. Healthy people tend not to want to be with people that make them feel like “losers,” and will eventually leave a relationship that invokes that feeling. You don’t even get a participation trophy when you lose an argument.
Some time ago, I was watching an episode of Super Soul Sunday on the OWN network. A married couple who are also relationship experts were featured guests. They said something to the effect of when you argue with your significant other in front of people, you are essentially inviting outsiders into a space that they should never be invited into. You are inviting them into a space of your relationship that belongs only to you and your partner. I suggest that you think of letting people see you argue with your partner the same way you think about letting people observe you in your other private and personal moments that are for the two of you. The best example is during sex. Yeah, unless you are an exhibitionist (no judgment), it’s an extremely embarrassing thought, right? If you wouldn’t leave the bedroom door open to let others get a peek or ask people to join in on sex life, then I would not suggest that you invite them into that
very private and personal conversation, which is an emotional and intimate experience between you and your partner. Now, if it is your preference to invite a third person in the bedroom, there is no judgment. However, unless you are in a polyamorous relationship, you
probably would not appreciate that third person joining in on your argument or relationships discussions with your significant other.
Before your next argument takes place, ask yourself the pros and cons of arguing with your partner in front of others. Human beings usually engage in behaviors that are pleasing or rewarding in some way. In what ways is engaging in public arguments rewarding for you. Is it attention during or after the argument? Is it cathartic? What is it that you get publicly that you do not get when you have a private argument? The next time you get ready to let your partner have it in public, please stop, take deep breaths and think about the rewards and consequences. If it is not worth the negative consequences to you, your partner, or your relationship, consider shelfing the conversation for later. It just may save your relationship.